Forget instant replay

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A University of Tokyo professor has built two baseball-playing robots. I’m sure there’s some larger goal or purpose and these robots are steps toward something live-saving and critical, so if someone reading this understands whatever that is, please write a letter to the editor or stop me at a field hockey or football game and let me know.

The pitcher robot has three fingers, seemingly making a good change-up a problem, but a fairly easy addition to give the robot the full five fingers. It’s more accurate than Greg Maddux in his prime though, but not by much. The pitcher robot throws 90 percent of its pitches in the strike zone.

Of course there’s a batting robot. No word from Fox News or the Associated Press if the next evolution in robotics, or simply building 16 more baseball robots, is next on the University of Tokyo agenda.

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The batting robot can sense if a pitch is a ball or strike and swing accordingly, hitting nearly 100 percent of pitches in the strike zone.

Masatoshi Ishikawa, the Tokyo professor, said increasing the pitching speed, which is now only 25 miles per hour, and getting the robot to throw curveballs is a next step.

For the hitter, getting it to hit the ball to all parts of the field is the next project. That makes all sorts of sense though. Look at Ichiro. He’s the closest thing to a machine when it comes to hitting a baseball. Ishikawa could be using his country’s main baseball hero as the prototype for his studies.

A baseball player that only swings at strikes, always hits those strikes and is just as likely to hit the ball anywhere on the field, that’s Ichiro and that’s this robot.

If the University of Tokyo is looking for financing for future robots, I’m sure there are plenty of Minnesota and Detroit baseball fans who would love to support an umpire robot given the last couple weeks.

Pro tennis has used robotics to make line calls for more than a decade. A robot or computer being able to assess ball or strike, out or safe, fair or foul, home run or not would seem to be an attainable project.

The biggest problem I see, at least right off the bat, is losing some of the entertainment of the game. Sure, the first time Ozzie Guillen or Lou Pinella argued with and got ejected by a robot, it would be hilarious, but after that there wouldn’t be much point in seeing it again.