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March 10, 2018

Blink and you’ll miss it: This robot solves a Rubik’s Cube in 0.38 seconds

by John_A

Whether it’s beating us at games like the board game Go or stealing our jobs, the killer combination of artificial intelligence and robots are owning us puny humans left and right. The latest example of a high-tech achievement that will make you feel on the verge of extinction? A robot that’s capable of completing a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in just 0.38 seconds flat — which includes image capture and computation time, along with physically moving the cube.

Not only is that significantly faster than the human world record of 4.59 seconds, but it’s also a big improvement on the official robot world record of 0.637 seconds, as set in late 2016. The 0.38-second achievement isn’t yet an official record, but if it manages to achieve the same results under record-testing conditions it certainly will be.

The puzzle-cracking robot was built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology robotics student Ben Katz and software developer Jared Di Carlo. The robot starts out by looking at the Rubik’s Cube using PlayStation 3 Eye webcams, functioning at 187 fps. Using this information, its software then identifies the colors, builds a description of the cube, and passes the information on to an algorithm called “min2phase.” The algorithm creates a “solve string” that is then sent to the robot’s high-end motor controllers, which possess an extremely high torque-to-inertia ratio. In a 10 microsecond quarter-turn move, the motor reaches over 1,000 RPM.

Impressively, during its hundreds of solutions, the robot only ended up going through four different cubes. Most amazing of all? The duo thinks their robot can go even better, although we may not see this for a while.

“The machine can definitely go faster, but the tuning process is really time-consuming since debugging needs to be done with the high-speed camera, and mistakes often break the cube or blow up FETs,” Katz wrote in a blog post about the project. “Looking at the high-speed video, each 990-degree move takes about 10 ms, but the machine is actually only doing a move about every 15 ms. For the time being, Jared and I have both lost interest in playing the tuning game, but we might come back to it eventually and shave off another 100 ms or so.”

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