The Amazing Ping-Pong Robot was Fake

Well — you guys were right. As it turns out, it was actually a pair of animators who fooled the internet.

Not sure what we’re talking about? Last month, the [Kuka Robot Group] put out a highly polished video showing an industrial robot playing table tennis against the apparent world champion of the sport — it was extremely well done and entertaining to watch, but unfortunately… also fake. Weeks after the first [Kuka] video came out, someone named [Ulf Hoffmann] released another video, a small table tennis playing robot that looked almost feasible.

As some of our readers pointed out:

The movements seemed unnatural for the size of the servos and arm structure. ~ James

CGI. As others have pointed out, the shadow of the arm disappears when the robot is show from the side, even though they were added in the other shots. ~ Brandon

My cgi tip off was the cable under the table. It stretches instead of sliding around. ~ Aj

Notice it’s running Outlook Express and Internet Explorer – no self respecting hacker/maker would run those apps – lol. ~ vonskippy

And a GIF showing a CGI hiccup… how disappointing! Anyway — the truth has come out as reported by [Philip Steffan] of c’t Hacks. As it turns out, not even [Ulf Hoffman] is real. The elaborate fake was concocted by a pair of animators, [Tobias Becker] and [Steffen Tron] — And you know what, we’re pretty impressed.

The pair is planning to start up an agency this year for making viral ad campaigns — [Ulf] was an experiment to see how they could do. To make it as realistic as possible, they created the maker and even started documenting the project last year to add some realism to it. Unfortunately, when the [Kuka] robot video came out they had to hurry up and publish something to ride the coat tails of success.

And for those of you wondering how they actually did it, well, you were all right — completely CGI. [Steffan] was standing behind the table hitting the ball —  they just erased him and animated in a robot. As for the off-putting “servo” noises? They were actually made by turning a Märklin model train engine by hand.

[Thanks Philip!]

44 thoughts on “The Amazing Ping-Pong Robot was Fake

    1. For the animator – congratulations.
      Prioritising the individual axes, and the acceleration profiles are near perfect.
      Now for reality to imitate art. I can’t see it being too far behind.

  1. I wonder if it would be possible to CGI actual events- say a riot in another country then say that countries government censored it… Too much Hollywood for me.

      1. These hobbyists fooled the world. Throw ten million dollars at it and see if it can’t be made even more convincing.

        1. The problem is here you have two guys in their basement, and a camera which captured the action. This is all we have to go on so we can be fooled for a while.

          If you fake a riot, it has to take place somewhere. If it took place somewhere, undoubtedly someone was there to not see it, be it a local, a tourist, etc. who could report back that “Well I was there, it was very quiet something is amiss”.

          You could however take an existing event and hollywood it up a bit. Your protest of 10,000 people could turn into a protest with 20,000 but again if you overdo it too much, it becomes obvious.

    1. Some students in california demonstrated it with the Venezuela riots I hear, they got some buddies to act as cops manhandling demonstrators, then in 30 minutes learned to use video editing software and placed it in Venezuela and put it on youtube, then later exposed themselves.
      It worked fine to fool people. And it showed how tricky and easy it is.

      Of course the BBC did it too several times, but they were not that good at it and it took active participation to be fooled, which many people are willing to engage in though.

      1. I dont think it has anything to do with the gullibility of the average internet user, it has more to do with the fact that the average internet user doesnt understand electronics.

      2. I worked in post-production and effects for many years, and gullibility has nothing to do with it.
        It’s managing expectations, and reallising the viewer sees (in this case) the action in 2D, so what happens out of view is irrelevant, as long as the presented imagery is convincing to the point that is required.

        1. From Dictionary.com:
          gul·li·ble
          [guhl-uh-buhl]
          adjective
          easily deceived or cheated.

          Gullibility has everything to do with it. Gullibility is why you have a job.

          1. Expectations
            noun
            1.
            2. the act or state of looking forward or anticipating.
            3.
            4. something expected; a thing looked forward to.
            5.

    1. A while back on Facebook I saw some footage of unorthodox carrier take off, followed by a bunch of people arguing about how much trouble the pilot got into with the brass for that little stunt, despite the fact that health and ammo bars were clearly visible on the screen.

      I think you’d be really disappointed to learn how many people were fooled by this.

  2. Why would they waste so much time faking it when they could have done the real thing in about the same amount of time? NOT COOL…. trying to fool us as a part of your resume for being a liar…

  3. IMHO Kuka video is different class compared to this crappy garage CGI fake.

    Scripted doesn’t mean it is fake. Its like car crashes in movies. Some are unrealistic crappy CGI, some are performed with real cars. You can see some safety cages in the cars or the car is a replica, but it doesn’t make the crash fake.

    When you have world class player you don’t need to really fake anything. And they even said in the comments how Boll was able to repeatedly place the ball very precisely time after time. They just wrote a script, programmed the set of moves and recorded the whole thing.

    1. You are missing the point of the whole endeavour – this is a post production firm getting ‘free’ advertising.

  4. I was looking for the sensors to see. I mean I felt the same way w/ that air-hockey robot, that was incredible (but not 3D so a lot of calculus goodness); it had a single plane.

  5. Sorry Kuka, you have really embarrassed yourselves. Given that technology isn’t far from playing table tennis already (robots can already catch and throw, and play air hockey), trying to show you are high-tech by creating a fake video is just embarrassing. Time to fire your marketing department.

    If you want inspiration, look at the work done by hobbyists, universities, and your competitors like Festo.

    1. I’m a bit unclear from the summary (editors needed!) – is the Kuka video a fake in addition to the basement video, or is only the basement video fake? The linked article makes no mention of the kuka being a fake. But the hackaday summary says

      Last month, the [Kuka Robot Group] put out a highly polished video showing an industrial robot playing table tennis against the apparent world champion of the sport — it was extremely well done and entertaining to watch, but unfortunately… also fake.

      Ok so the kuka video is also fake? How? Everything is only saying that the basement video is fake, which I agree it is.

      I’m not saying the kuka one isn’t fake – they would have had a much higher CGI budget. The lack of spectators is also a red flag, but nothing linked says that it’s fake or why it’s been outed as a fake

      1. I was really disappointing by the Kuka video. Why ? I first though it was a real human vs robot match that would be recorded. No… Just a f****** ad. Make it fake or not, I don’t care, advertising is a lie.

        By the way, i’m perhaps the only one who got the courage to say it : I’ve been fooled by the basement video. (which I see only once not on fullscreen, in 360p)

      2. The Kuka one wasn’t CGI — but it wasn’t actually playing table tennis. If you look into it, the robot was trained many moves, but they were all planned and executed and filmed. Probably a lot of takes too.

  6. It is more complex than what is being expressed here. There is a lot of wanting to believe in human nature, if someone tells you something then generally you want it to be true because it saves a lot of effort and we prefer it that way. I watched it, was seriously impressed with the tracking system and servos, never even considered that it wasn’t real, why would I.

    In typical you tube fashion I then went off being even more impressed by the Chinese world championship table tennis players and never got round to reading any comments on it.

  7. Well, that little episode was very instructive, for me at least. I found the garage video convincing because I couldn’t see the defects mentioned by commentators (lack of real experience in cgi and servos, and a low def pc screen), on the other hand a lot of the commentators obviously knew the the technology and their comments were convincing.
    Congrats to the fraudsters, I’d hire them if I needed some cgi. And congrats to the Kuka people – their advert was entertaining, gave their robot some good publicity, and (I think) it was an honest advert – it didn’t fool me anyway.

  8. The only people who bought it are those who never really played with servos. This thing was responding just way too fast and was rock solid. Also detecting the ball using CV would require a a high fps camera and some substantial processing.

  9. I’m not so sure I agree about the original speed of servo argument, I’ve seen real stuff with very fast response that is easily just as fast as this simulated stuff. Although I don’t know what what used to move the thing in those cases. Nor do I know what is available if you have the budget in the servo market.

  10. Oh come on, all these people are just a bunch of compulsive LIARS!!!…

    I’m a bit tired for all this shit, from the guy that came with the mechanical wings… and everything resulted to be another CG project… passing to this “Ulf” crap.

    Is ok, they are amazing in what they do, but they need to fool all the people around???. They don’t just create a nice animation, they build an history around it, they simply lie, creating a fantasy that is not needed. They could simply send his real to a production house or upload it to Internet …but create an entire blog keep it for months just to show a video CG demo is SICK!!!…

    And at the end they fail because none of their productions are free of errors like some user pointed on the comments.

    Let’s stop clap to these kind of people. They just contaminate blogs like hack a day with fake content and make lose our time.

    PS: All of this coming from a person that likes and knows how to work with CG.

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