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Robot dominates air hockey, adapts to opponents' playing style

It's not the first robot to play air hockey, but it's probably the best.

Researchers at Chiba University in Japan have developed a robot that could frustrate teenagers worldwide with its impressive air hockey skills.

What's remarkable about this air hockey-playing robot, which is not the first of its kind, is that it can sense human opponents' playing styles and adapt to defend against them, according to a report from IEEE Spectrum.

The key is how the computer controlling the robot views its opponent - at a speed of 500 frames per second, according to the report. It's comparable to how the common housefly can avoid being swatted because it sees objects coming at it at a slower pace. From there, the robot uses a three-layer control system to determine motion control, when it should hit the puck, defend its goal or stay still, and a third that determines how it should react to its opponent's playing style, according to IEEE Spectrum.

Basically, the robot observes the speed and position of the player's paddle in relation to the puck. This data can be described by what is known as a Motion Pattern Histogram (MPH). The robot uses this data to estimate whether its opponent is playing aggressively or defensively. Over the course of a game, the robot can detect these MPHs in real-time and compare them with reference patterns to help it figure out what you're doing.

While it's unclear why anyone would want a robot that it could never beat in air hockey, it's just the latest in a series of robots that can best humans in non-violent competition. Last summer, a robotic hand designed to process human hand motion at a rate 50 times slower than its original speed proved itself invincible at rock, paper, scissors.

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