On April 20, 2011, the world may have gotten one step closer to Skynet waging war on mankind. The event in question occurred at Citizens Bank Park in Philly when a robot threw out the first pitch of the game between the Phils and Brewers. Sure. There have been machines that have thrown pitches before. How else do you think hitters practice and we spend time in hitting cages for fun? But the so-called PhillieBot is a unique machine.
The PhillieBot was the brainchild of Gerri Trooskin, director of the city science festival, who tossed the idea to folks at Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory. From there Penn engineers Jordan Brindza and Jamie Gewirtz built the PhillieBot during their spare time. Which is all well and good, but how is this different than the run-of-the-mill pitching machine? For starters, it’s built from a Segway. Of course, it had to be modified with objects like a third wheel and a robotic arm made by Barrett Technology Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. This means that the PhillieBot is mobile, and moved across the field rather easily. The second reason that the PhillieBot stands out from it’s mechanical cousins is the fact that it can change pitch velocity and trajectory. Eventually with the addition of a lens, the computer’s brain will have an eye, which means that it could adjust pitches based on the images captured by it’s lens. I guess it should also be mentioned that the machine could have other uses. It’s arm can be programmed to perform surgical and manufacturing tasks, both of which could still be used at a ballpark. For now, the PhillieBot only threw at a speed between 30-40 miles per hour, most likely so no one would get injured.
Naturally the Philly fans weren’t impressed with the technology. The PhilleBot threw the first pitch very weakly, barely making it to home-plate. This resulted in the bot receiving a chorus of boos from the crowd. Is this the first time that a robot has been booed? I’ll have to look into that. Apparently it wasn’t a default in the machine, but rather a human problem. Turns out that the dude in the Phanatic suit had suffered a broken wrist last season and asked for the bot’s speed to be slowed down considerably. So until we see the full potential of the PhillieBot, it’s way to earlier too call it a success or a bust. While I’m not floored by this machine, especially when compared to the S-3 that was created by the University of Tokyo and unveiled at a Pirates game in 2009, I am curious to see what’s going to come out of this technology. That is unless it’s a T-800, then I’m running for the hills.
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