Ping-pong playing robot proves AI-driven machines can sense human emotion

At CES 2020, Omron is showcasing new AI technology that supports harmony between machines and people.

Ping-pong playing robot proves AI-driven machines can sense human emotion

TechRepublic's Karen Roby talked to Keith Kersten, marketing group manager at Omron Automation, at CES 2020 about artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and a ping-pong playing robot. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Keith Kersten: There's a lot going on, and we're really excited to be back [at CES]. So we brought back Forpheus. If you've never seen Forpheus before, that's our table tennis tutor--the first one ever. Forpheus helps people get better at playing ping-pong. It's not that someone's playing against Forpheus--Forpheus is actually a coach that helps them to get better.

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Karen Roby: AI is powering this, and you were telling me earlier about how it can now sense emotion. That is really cool.

Keith Kersten: That's one of the things that's improved with Forpheus coming this year from last year--this is a sixth generation. This ability to actually look at the player that Forpheus is playing with and to understand their emotions allows Forpheus to be a better coach. They can tell if someone's engaged, they can tell if someone's happy and therefore modify how Forpheus is playing so that it can do a better job of helping the player to get better.

Karen Roby: Talk about what else you want the public to know that Omron is up to right now.

Keith Kersten: The first thing is that we don't actually sell table tennis tutors-- Forpheus is just a way for us to show a lot of our technology. We actually do factory automation, healthcare, and social solutions. The technology that we've gotten in Forpheus--the AI, the vision that's used to sense the ball, the robotics that's used to actually return--that's all things that are used in those other businesses. Essentially, it's just a cool way for us to show all the things that we do that touch people's lives in ways that they might not actually know.

Karen Roby: In terms of automation, we talk a lot about the manufacturing sector. What's going on there? What are you seeing in terms of trends?

Keith Kersten: There's a lot of trends in how people work better together with technology. We look at our technology, and our goal is, "How do we actually bring out the most in people, and how do we have harmony between people and machine?" If you think about even in factories where the ability to work alongside people safely, that's one of our goals. And then, how do we actually make people able to do their jobs better so that we can all have the safe and reliable products that we all want?

Karen Roby: And when we talk about AI, there's always people on the other side that are scared of it, and it's going to take jobs, and it's going to hurt us instead of help us. Talk a little bit about how you see it helping us long term.

Keith Kersten: I know that's something that's out there, but when we think about this, it's important to look at AI as how it can help people. Again, we talk about how can technology and machines understand people better so that allows them to work better alongside people and again to make people better at what it is that they do. We look at AI as a way to, "How can we use it to help people?" as opposed to something that would do the opposite.

Karen Roby: When we look at how companies are working now, how the workforce is changing, people are working from home and remote and in all kinds of setups and working alongside robots.

Keith Kersten: One of the things that we're showing off here is what's called the collaborative robot. It used to be that robotics would have to be more separated from people, but now we've come to the point where they work alongside people and are able to help them as opposed to just necessarily being separate from people. It was almost like a super power tool, if you will.

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