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When Robots Go Bad

The ceremonial opening pitch of a Major League Baseball game is frequently the scene of disaster. Celebrities such as singer Mariah Carey and track legend Carl Lewis have become famous for flubbing that game-starting throw to home plate.

These poor performances from untrained pitchers aren’t surprising, but it does raise a few eyebrows when a robot designed for the task comes up short.

PhillieBot—a contraption with three wheels, a computer brain, and a carbon-fiber-scoop arm propelled by a pressurized cylinder—pitched a ball into the dirt about 5 feet in front of home plate to start an April 20 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers (shown in the video). The robot was created by engineering students from the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception Laboratory to celebrate Science Day at the Phillies’ ballpark.

In a postgame report by KYW Newsradio, the engineering team defended their mechanical buddy, which took two months to build. All of their practice runs went smoothly, the engineers said, but they turned PhillieBot’s pressure down because they were warned not to hurt the Phillie Phanatic, the team’s beloved mascot, who awaited the pitch behind home plate. (Too bad the Philadelphia fans then booed the robot, furthering their reputation as classy, reasonable people who love sportsmanship.)

Despite its rocky start, the game ended well for the Phillies, with a 4-3 victory.

And for comparison, here’s the video of Mariah Carey’s famous opening pitch, which took place at a game in Japan.  Decide for yourself, dear Newscripts readers, which one was worse.

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