Robots often look frightening on TV, movies, and computer screens, where they outsmart their creators at almost everything they do. They are portrayed as strong, smart, and able to perform jobs that humans can’t.
While it’s highly unlikely that robots will take over humans anytime soon, what can they do now? Robots are featured in computer games as violent, skillful, devoted, caring, malevolent—you name it. But is there any robot in the world that can play even the most simple video game?
Let’s look at what they’ve got so far. A number of development programs featuring artificial intelligence are currently underway, and so far none have produced jaw-dropping results. However, this does not mean there’s nothing to talk about.
A tennis lover
A group of researchers from the Intelligent Robot Laboratory at the University of Tsukuba in Japan has developed a robot called NAO that can play some games on Nintendo against human counterparts.
It grasps the Wii Remote and swings it in response to the movements of a human opponent. But the abilities of NAO do not end there—it can switch between backhand and forehand and develop new playing strategies based on the patterns of human opponents.
The robot is controlled by a PC app, which is connected to a live feed coming from the Wii. It examines the speed and direction of the ball during the game and produces specific commands for an effective swing. As the result, the robot is able to play against humans and pair with other robots to form teams.
Wii Tennis mastered by robots—that’s a strong start!
A little runner
Another robot worth our attention is called Ozobot. Unveiled by Evollve at the International CES in Las Vegas in 2014, Ozobot can play digital games also produced by its developer, including OzoRace, OzoDraw, and OzoLuck. OzoRace includes a physical track on which two Ozobots race against each other at the blistering speed of about 3 inches per second.
Some companies buy Ozobots to hold office races. “Those little runners are awesome entertainers,” says Ozobot owner Clyde Mitchell. “We often play races and other games at our professional writing service during breaks.”
Currently, the developers are developing more games as well as a developer kit so others can build games too. The future of this tiny robot is quite bright!
Super Mario player
According to a recent study published in Nature, researchers from Google DeepMind (the search giant bought this fast-developing company in 2014) have achieved significant results with their Al. It is a self-learning system, essentially a robot, that can master playing simple computer games.
Unlike Deep Blue computer that beat world champion Garry Kasparov in a famous chess game, this one is given only basic information (i.e., an instruction manual) and must learn on its own. A scientist at DeepMind said, “The only information we gave the system was the raw pixels on the screen and the idea that it had to get a high score. And everything else it had to figure out by itself.”
It succeeded. In fact, the system learned to play range of ’80s-era video games, including Pac Man, Pinball, Space Invaders, Super Mario, and Enduro.
Eventually, Al enhanced its capabilities to become as good as, or better than, a skilled human player at more than 25 different games. And it able to figure out what to do in just a few hours.
A robot that plays Pac Man and Super Mario may not sound like such a big deal, you may be thinking. But it is a promising start. If Al can figure simple games that quickly, DeepMind researchers posit, it will learn more complex ones as well.
Myth or reality?
Considering the examples described above, it’s accurate to say that games for robots are not a myth. And while robots may not yet be able to take on complex games like Grand Theft Auto and Need For Speed, they will certainly learn to play more games in the future.
For more on our complex relationship with robot technology, see Why Do We Fear Robots?