Do you like tennis? Get ready to see him transformed. A professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech gave life to a robotic partner who may soon become the most expert tennis coach and sparring partner ever.
Dr. Matthew Gombolay he is not a simple engineer, he is a visionary. He dreams of a future where human-sized robots play a crucial role in sports and athletic training. The latest technological work of him, ESTHER (Eexperimental Sport Tennis Wheelchair Robot) is a giant leap forward for tennis training.
A life-size video game
ESTHER is not your usual ball pitcher. The robot is designed to simulate human opponents and real game conditions. Therefore, it allows athletes to hone their skills and performance much more effectively. A great tennis enthusiast, Dr. Gombolay is well aware of the need for a tennis robot that can adapt to various styles of play and exploit a player's weaknesses. And, based on the design of wheelchairs used in Paralympic tennis, he and his team solved the question of ESTHER's movement on the court.
ESTHER is not just a tennis robot, she is a pioneer in the field of sports AI. While tennis players like Djokovic train with human coaches, ESTHER offers a technological alternative. This tennis robot is able to learn and adapt to various styles of play, offering an unprecedented level of customization. Additionally, with its ability to simulate human opponents, ESTHER can help players prepare for specific opponents, making training more focused and effective.
With over two years of hard work and the collaboration of more than 20 students, the Georgia Tech team was able to program ESTHER to locate an incoming tennis ball and return it consistently. And while the robot is still no match for the skills of its namesake, the famed wheelchair tennis player for whom it's named (Esther Verger), the creation of a human-sized robot capable of hitting a return shot is an extraordinary achievement.
The secrets of the robot tennis player
ESTHER's secret is in its two engines that provide the agility and thrust needed to cover both sides of a tennis court. The real challenge lies in the "choices" to be made: the tennis robot must anticipate the trajectory of the ball and determine the optimal path to intercept it. ESTHER's current abilities are limited to trading shots, but Dr. Gombolay and his team have ambitious plans for the future development of the tennis robot.
They envision a machine that strategically selects shots, elevates his playing ability, and increases his value as a training tool. A machine that can also learn and develop new techniques thanks to artificial intelligence.
While Djokovic and other top-level tennis players train with human partners, ESTHER offers a unique alternative. This tennis robot can simulate a variety of playing styles, allowing players to practice against a wide range of opponents. Furthermore, thanks to its ability to learn and adapt, ESTHER can also help players identify and correct their weaknesses, making training more effective.
Revolution in training
The advent of "robot coaches" will radically change sports performance. Imagine kids being introduced to the sport of tennis by wise teachers, but trained hard by a robot like this one. Reflexes, attention, analytical skills will be multiplied n times, and will allow tomorrow's athletes a leap forward not unlike that of a current tennis player compared to a tennis player of the early 900s.
It will be possible to train against "famous" opponents: a tennis robot like ESTHER will be able to imitate their styles and strokes. And one day, as happened for chess when the Deep Blue computer challenged the world champion, we will see Djokovic (or whoever) challenge a tennis robot to the last volley, hoping to always be able to distinguish the game of a human being from that of a car.