Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne


It’s no Willie Mays over-the-shoulder-at-the-warning-track catch*, but it’s still pretty impressive for a robot.

Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have unveiled a bionic arm with three joints and four fingers that can catch objects in mid-flight. It automatically detects the trajectory and shape of irregular objects, and can go from motionless to a closed grasp in less than five hundredths of a second.

The researchers trained the system’s software algorithms using a ball, an empty bottle, a half-full bottle, a hammer and a tennis racket. (Learning to return a serve** will presumably come next.)

“Increasingly present in our daily lives and used to perform various tasks, robots will be able to either catch or dodge complex objects in full-motion,” said Aude Billard, head of the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL, in a statement.

The team already has a specific application in mind: Affixing the arm to satellites to capture flying space debris.

Check out the system in action in the video below:

* This is probably my first sports reference in a story during my journalism career. Feel free to send balloons.
** And this is my second.


Catching items that are tagged with those dime-sized gray transmitting devices, so the arm can spacially "see" the object flying towards it, is a programming feat, to be sure, but ultimately boring.

The next time I'm out walking precariously along the edge of the Grand Canyon, I'll remember to wear my transmitters, so RoboRangerRick, can catch me if I fall in.

I'm not sure what other application the programmers have in mind. But none of the scenarios seem all that necessary.

I take it back, Politicians might have a use for it, when someone throws a shoe at them.


So, step by step and beyond biomedical benefits, if intelligent machines take over all human activity, including art and science, what will happen to the organic body and its conditioned-to-work-and-think brain? Surely, will it decay? Is mankind-machines coexistence possible while people are fighting for jobs and resources: competition, enterprises, nations, and so on? Anyway, what is the endeavor in which a robot cannot take part or channel at all successfully? Why won't the future automatons be alive? What is the fundamental difference between a mechanical structure, organic or inorganic, that imitates life and life itself? Is there any, virtual or real? If it said that there is a difference, is it just some kind of authority who is defining and differentiating between things? Perhaps then, someday, will be a powerful automaton the one who will define life, its unique life, truth itself? Indeed, will he impose his point of view with his outstanding intelligence, a new science? Certainly, will he define where life begin and end too? Therefore, where does death too? Along these lines, there is a peculiar book, a preview in Just another suggestion, in order to free-think for a while


That's pretty cool, but now I want to see more video of the robot catching stuff! That would be pretty entertaining!  :-)