CUE3: TOYOTA’S NEW RECORD-BREAKING BASKETBALL ROBOT
Even in the pressure of a game, most basketball players can land a free shot in the hoop, but imagine hitting the target not once, not a hundred, but more than 2,000 times in a row. That’s the world record-breaking achievement of CUE3, a basketball-playing robot created by a team of Toyota engineers.
What began as a spare-time project for the group has proved a remarkable success in demonstrating the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence. A machine with unerring sporting accuracy may seem like a novelty, but the same spirit of technical innovation is already being applied by Toyota to create support robots that can help injured and disabled people in their rehabilitation and with day-to-day tasks in the home.
CUE3, the team’s third evolution of their original concept and developed as part of the mainstream work at Toyota, was revealed at a pro-basketball match in Japan in April this year. It has all the presence of a human sports star, standing six feet 10 inches tall and wearing a number 93 vest. A film of it landing a shot from the centre line quickly spread around the world on social media and the enthusiastic public response helped prompt a bid to set a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive basketball free throws by a humanoid robot.
Earlier versions of the robot had proved unsuitable for the feat, as it took up to three minutes to reset the machine after each shot, but in five months’ development work, CUE3 made the record bid a realistic prospect when it took to the court again in May this year.
The team were committed to going far beyond the series of five successful shots required to set the record, but could not be sure what effect the stress of repeated shots might have on their robot. Other factors, such as the air pressure in the ball and the true angle of the hoop had to be taken into account. The process of retrieving the ball and placing it accurately in the robot’s hand also had to be smooth and accurate every time, as any interruption in the sequence would bring the attempt to an immediate halt.
The CUE3 duly landed the first five shots, ensuring a new record would be set, then progressed to 200, which matched the number achieved in a rehearsal session. More than three hours later, the score was 1,000 perfectly scored baskets, at a rate of one every 12 seconds. Eventually the team’s ambition was reached with 2,020 shots – the number matching the date of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics – accomplished in six hours 35 minutes.
Project leader Tomohiro Nomi said: “For the record attempt, we remained members of Toyota, but also collaborated with a professional sports team to embark on a challenge no one else had undertaken. We would be delighted if as many people as possible developed an interest in basketball, robots and manufacturing as a result of watching our efforts.”
The CUE team are now looking to take part in an all-stars match in January 2020, which could see CUE3 evolving yet again.