A bar, club or community space favorite, table soccer – or foosball – is fast and fun for players of all ages. But if you don't have enough people to get in on the spin action, a development platform at the Swiss École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) may come in handy. The blue shirts are controlled by human players, while robotics powers the whites. And the robots are winning.
Designed as a Bachelor's and Master's research platform, students are challenged with developing a computerized platform for table soccer. The robotic foosball table has been in use for several years, but recent upgrades have given the system a speed, accuracy and power boost. So much so that EPFL students reckon that human players with an average skill level have been beaten by the robotic table soccer player.
The robotic system keeps track of play courtesy of a 300 fps camera positioned under the table's transparent playing field. High dynamic linear motors, of the kind found in manufacturing, quickly bring the robot team's players into striking position, then another motor is given the task of rotating the player to shoot. The developers reckon that the millimeter precision and high speed acceleration of the system gives the robots a winning advantage.
But despite the recent upgrades, the system is only able to make use of a very simple strategy. The control software detects the ball as it's served through a hole in the side of the table, it then instructs the appropriate robot arm to stop it at a player's "feet" and then shoot it toward the goal, relying on its speed and power to win the day.
"At this stage, the system is like a bodybuilder with a tiny brain," project coordinator Christophe Salzmann quipped. "But in addition to being strong, we want the robot to be able to fake out the opponent, steer clear of the opponent, and predict the ball's path and the opponent's position."
To these ends, the student team has started to install a laser tracking system that detects the position of the human opponents' handles. The developers are also looking to introduce competitions purely between robot players, with the aim of testing various strategies loaded into the system control software.
The robot foosball system is overviewed in the video below.