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This robot will beat you in air hockey all day

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Armed and dangerous (Credit: Namiki Lab)

Our robot overlords are coming, and they’re really good at leisure games.

In an apparent effort to create a Skynet scenario in which humankind is demoted to second-banana status in the evolutionary food chain, researchers at the Namiki Lab in Japan’s Chiba University have crafted a robot that plays air hockey like, well, a robot. A smart, powerful, tireless robot who exists purely to beat humans in air hockey.

Behold the chilling video evidence:

What’s really crazy about this particular air hockey robot is that it adapts its play style based on the strategy of its human opponent. Using a couple of cameras and a PC, the bot is literally watching you play and reacting on the fly.

From robot watchdog site IEEE Spectrum:

The position data from the camera images is then processed by the external PC, which determines the robot's next move. The robot is tracking the game at an insanely fast rate of 500 frames per second. Which means that, from the robot's point of view, its human opponent is moving at a laughably slow pace. It's like the robot is playing the game in a Matrix-style bullet-time frame.

To keep the game entertaining for human players, the researchers programmed the robot with a three-layer control system. The first layer is responsible for basic motion control at the hardware level. A second layer decides its short-term strategy—whether it should hit the puck, defend the goal, or stay still—to choose which motion can effectively counter the incoming trajectory of the puck. The third layer determines the machine's long-term strategy, and this is where things get interesting.

And by “interesting,” they mean “terrifying.” The robot constantly keeps track of where your paddle sits in relation to the puck, which it then uses to determine if you’re playing offensively or defensively. It then builds upon this info over the course of a match, giving it the ability to adapt to your specific play behavior. This is the Wayne Gretzky of air hockey.

The good news is that it’s apparently pretty fun to play against, as researchers reported increased enjoyment from players who had to mix up their strategies to compete. Not win, mind you. Beating this thing will take more than just some solid air hockey skills. Where's John Connor when you need him?

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