German Scientists Teach Advanced Robots to Play Baseball

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Now that Jorge Posada has retired, the Yankees might want to contact Berthold Bäuml from the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

No, he can’t hit a fastball, but the robotics professor has created something that might interest quite a few MLB teams: a robot that can throw and catch a baseball. Its name is Agile Justin, no relation to mRobo, the dancing robot endorsed by Justin Bieber. It’s the more advanced version of Rollin’ Justin, who is also not endorsed by Justin Bieber.

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DLR researchers wanted to test Agile Justin’s improved dynamic performance, so in a heartwarming scene familiar to robot fathers and sons everywhere, they set up a game of catch. Take a few seconds to watch how eerily natural the throwing and catching motions are.

According to Hizook.com, this is all pretty preliminary, with academic papers on the robot not to be released until later this year. Still, the video alone is pretty impressive.

Coordinating motions between the hands, arms, torso and base of a robot is no easy task. All of the movements you take for granted are incredibly difficult for a robot — which is why footage released last year of ASIMO simply avoiding people in a hall seemed so impressive.

Rollin’ Justin could already catch a baseball (not to mention dance like it was in Pulp Fiction), which requires an amazing amount of agility, perception and coordination. All it lacked was the ability to move its arms fast enough to chuck an object.

Agile Justin is no Roger Clemens, of course, but it can move its arms 1.5 times faster than its predecessor. Plus, it’s built with increased degrees of freedom that allow for more advanced, human-like motions.

Right now it moves on wheels, but this video of a pair of DLR-developed legs makes me think a fully functional robotic baseball player is not an impossibility (and, considering A-Rod’s $32 million salary in 2011, it just might be fiscally prudent).

Additional information and a more complete demo are expected at Automatica, an international robotics trade fair that takes place in Munich. Until then we’ll have to only speculate on what else Agile Justin is capable of.

[via Hizook]

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