Fiat Chrysler company builds three-point shooting robot

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Industrial automation company Comau SpA has produced a three-point-shooting robot to demonstrate if it is nimble enough to sink a basketball, then it is capable of working alongside people in a factory or lab.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV company recently featured one of its small-payload robots, called Racer, in a YouTube video with San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Marco Belinelli.

In the video, the robot shows off its hoops skills by spinning a basketball on its "fingertip," passing to Belinelli and even beating the Italy-born NBA champion in a three-point contest.

"The traditional way of showcasing robots is quite boring," said Comau Robotics COO Mathias Wiklund during a phone interview Thursday from Italy. "This was just one fun way of showing what a robot can do."

The video, Wiklund said, is meant to demonstrate how the company's smaller-scale Racer robots can work safely with humans to complete almost any task they're programmed to complete.

The Racer robot, which Comau is now shipping to customers after being in development for two years, is designed for arc welding, assembly, machine tending and a handful of other applications. It is controlled by a human using a "state-of-the-art" remote control with a new software system. The robot is manufactured in Italy.

The company, Wiklund said, doesn't have any exact plans for the video other than YouTube, but he said there could be something else down the line with Belinelli.

"Racer is something fabulous," Belinelli said in a statement. "When I saw it for the first time I was amazed by the ease with which it performs the movements and gestures that helped score so many baskets."

Belinelli was specifically picked by the company for the challenge because of his Italian heritage and global reach as a NBA player.

"We're very pleased having done this video with Marco," he said. "I think it was a very fun experience, and the outcome, I think, was better than we expected."

Comau is a global manufacturer and supplier of advanced industrial automation that offers systems, welding and assembly lines for body welding, machining and engine assembly systems, and a wide range of industrial robots for all applications. It has 23 operating centers, 15 manufacturing plants and four research and development facilities in 13 countries that employ more than 13,000.

In Michigan, Comau has four facilities in Southfield, Royal Oak and Novi.

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