WATCH: Researchers reveal robotic arm capable of catching objects

TORONTO – Imagine if you will, turning on the television and watching a Major League Baseball game — with robots.

Okay, that’s probably not what researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland had in mind when designing the Ultra-fast robot, but it would be pretty fun to watch.

Researchers at EPFL revealed the robotic arm that can react and catch objects of varying shapes in less than five-hundredths of a second.

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The robot’s arm measures about 1.5 metres and has three joints. In order to get the robot to react so quickly, researchers at the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL (LASA) “taught” the robot using the same means humans do: through imitation and trial and error. They showed examples of the possible trajectories to the robot by manually guiding the arm and then repeating the process several times.

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What’s really interesting is that the robot doesn’t catch just round objects like balls: it also catches a tennis racket, an empty bottle and a half-full bottle. These objects all present different trajectories based on their size, shape, and composition.

“Increasingly present in our daily lives and used to perform various tasks, robots will be able to either catch or dodge complex objects in full-motion,” said Aude Billard, head of LASA in a release. “Not only do we need machines able to react on the spot, but also to predict the moving object’s dynamics and generate a movement in the opposite direction.”