Robot Taught to Catch Objects Out of the Air
It can be mildly satisfying to smoothly catch something that has been thrown to you, making it look like no effort was involved. Really though a great deal of effort is involved as our brains have to follow the trajectory of the object, predict its path, and move to intercept it. We learn how to do this by imitating others and trial and error, and now so has a robot at EPFL.
Normally for a robot to catch an object out of the air it will have to perform integration on multiple variables while reacting to the object's behavior. As you may guess, that takes time; too much time to actually catch the object. Instead of programming the robotic arm to react like that, the researchers instead used programming by demonstration and repeatedly tossed an object at the robot while someone manually moved the arm to catch it. Eventually the robot was able to act on its own to catch a ball, an empty bottle, a half full bottle, a hammer, and a tennis racket. The hammer and racket are special as their centers of gravity do not coincide with where they must be caught, while the half full bottle has a constantly moving center of gravity.
This robot and programming technique could have a number of applications from catching falling objects, to avoiding collisions, and even grabbing debris in space from a satellite.