Just over a month ago, KUKA Robotics released a cinematic trailer for an upcoming video project. The teaser for The Duel featured world-class Ping Ponger Timo Boll preparing for a match against a giant orange robotic arm capable of handling a paddle and ball with the same grace as the pros. The trailer promised not just a ping pong match, but a man vs machine battle akin to IBM’s Watson appearance on Jeopardy.
There’s something appealing about robots competing in activities that are inherently human. Watching Watson decipher the “answers” on Jeopardy and process them the correct “questions” in response was truly incredible. Unfortunately what we got from KUKA was an action movie trailer about a ping pong match. An obviously scripted encounter with admirable but inappropriate camera work.
It would’ve been fine for KUKA to feature some of the shots from the video during the introduction to the match. However, instead of a competition, we got a collage of shots of Boll diving for saves, slow motion shots of an obscenely dusty scoreboard, and clips of the robot arm pointing its paddle at Boll in a way that surely seemed hilarious to the team of engineers involved. When one turns on a basketball game, the camera is zoomed out wide to show the action of the sport, the ball movement, team defense, and all the work that goes into the slow motion slam dunks they reserve for the transitions to commercials. This video from KUKA is to a match of ping pong as a bunch of close ups of Steph Curry’s exasperated face and wide angles of basketballs flying into the net is to a basketball game.
KUKA could’ve have advertised the video for what it was. A piece about a man facing a robot in ping pong. A depiction of the struggles and emotions associated with taking on a soulless machine in a game usually determined by whatever player is most aggressive. click-bait article titles such as “Is Nancy Pelosi Twerking with the Ghost of Michael Jackson?” are all the rage these days. However, this new example of a misleading trailer for what turned out to be a glorified commercial brings new meaning to the term “colossal disappointment.”