A High-Speed Robot Arm That Snatches Objects Out of Mid-Air

Major League Baseball probably hasn't even considered the idea of allowing teams to add artificial players to their rosters. But games would certainly be a lot more exciting if this EPFL arm—that can react in less than five hundredths of a second to catch an object—were to take the field.

The robot arm seems particularly well suited to sports applications since it doesn't required hours of programming to teach it how to make a catch. Instead, its creators have developed a system where the arm can be moved in real time by a human who teaches it how to catch a tossed object. Once it's got the basics down, the arm can use its camera-based tracking systems to refine its movements and snatch tossed objects before they hit the ground.

The research behind the arm can be applied to more than just sports, though. In fact, the robot's high-speed reflexes could be useful in everything from factories—where they can help protect human workers—to autonomous vehicles that could react and avoid an accident in the blink of an eye.