CES, the giant, annual Consumer Electronics Show that’s wrapping up in Las Vegas, is full of bizarre technology. From customer-service robots and gesture-controlled drones to massage chairs that cost more than a car, CES is a smorgasbord of stuff that will make you feel a little gross inside (or, alternatively, super pumped to get your hands on a pair of new headphones!).
As a first-time attendee, I spent a few hours on the showroom floor looking for something memorable.
I found a few contenders: A motorcycle helmet from Skully with a camera in back and a small peripheral display in front so riders can see what’s coming up behind them; eye-tracking technology from a Swedish company called Tobii that let me aim my virtual weapon with just my eyes; an 8,000-pound bionic exoskeleton from a company called Furrion that, according to The Verge, can run up to 20 mph. (It was on display but, sadly, you could only see it in action via this video.)
But the coolest thing I found was Forpheus, a Ping-Pong-playing robot from Japanese technology company Omron, a product that drew big crowds each time it was demoed on the showroom floor.
The robot is big — close to 10 feet tall, and probably too wide to fit inside your basement or game room — but it’s billed as a “table tennis tutor” intended to keep a rally going and help its human partner improve.
The technology seemed pretty good. The bot uses a combination of cameras and artificial intelligence software to track the Ping-Pong ball and determine how to hit it back, all within milliseconds.
Anyone who’s ever played Ping-Pong knows that this requires you to take into account things like speed, ball spin and direction, not to mention the angle at which you need to return the ball in order to keep it in play. The bot handled it pretty well. According to the company’s website, “The ball’s location is detected up to 80 times per second.” Forpheus can even use the “movements of its opponent … to predict when a smash is coming.” Sweet.
A Ping-Pong-playing robot is far from necessary. But it’s easy to imagine that kind of technology — with the ability to detect movement and location accurately and nearly instantaneously — impacting other areas of life, like transportation.
And if not, well, at least we can all work on our backhand.