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Will Robots Impact The Future Of Snooker?

The utilisation of artificial intelligence is becoming more and more widespread across the world. Vlad Belko, a snooker enthusiast from Poland, leads a team that brought the Robot Snooker project to life in order to revolutionise the training methods of the sport. Snooker writer Máté Varga interviewed him to find out more.

How would you briefly define Robot Snooker?

Robot Snooker is a working title and the name of our startup as well. Our primary objective is to use robots as assistants in all forms of billiard games. It is important to point out that we did not create them to provide some kind of alternative reality for the spectators and substitute humans. Rather, they should help amateur and professional players improve their skills.

What is the basic idea behind the project? How could robots help players?

We genuinely think that robots will be able to make the whole training process easier, faster and more fluid in terms of coaching and learning. I have been working with players for about three decades and observed that a lot of time is wasted because of dealing with things that are completely unnecessary. By creating robots and a whole new methodology, we would be able to grind out the well-needed results in months, instead of years. With the proper use of artificial intelligence and statistics, unique training methods could be created for amateur and professional players. Moreover, we are open to using robots for simple gaming, when the chosen prototypes are remote-controlled by real life people from all over the world, competing with each other.

I would like to emphasise that from our perspective, using human knowledge is vital because all information implemented into our robots originates from our experience. The movements of our robots are AI-driven, therefore the margin of error is small, but still, we preserve the human factor. Soon, the ability of robots to convey some forms of emotion can become reality.

Can you tell us more about how the project started? How many people are working on Robot Snooker?

The idea was born approximately 15 years ago. We were not the only ones playing with the thought of creating snooker robots, but we had a vast amount of experience that luckily put us in pole position when starting the development process. The beginning proved to be a bit shaky because we were not able to acquire the funds that were needed in order to go forward with our project. Though we were left with no one to assist us, we started our mission. We had to be careful, moving step by step. A relatively small number of people are currently working on the Robot Snooker project, but we get aid from EnCata Product Development, a product development company full of world-class engineers, developers, technicians and marketers.

What is the biggest challenge you face nowadays?

I find our robots truly impressive. Still, this is not enough because we came across a daunting challenge attracting investors. Provided that we receive some extra funds today, the first complete prototype of a playing robot would arrive in the next two years. Our long-term vision revolves around making the helper robot a must-have item in every billiard or snooker club, but before that, we need to convince investors to put their money into it. And if we look at the bigger picture, we have to make billiard games more popular because a potential agreement between our group and the investors must be mutually beneficial.

Robots now seem to be able to execute many shots impeccably. Which phases of development are done and what are your prognoses for the future?

The hardest part was creating a robot that can execute a proper snooker shot without pushing or “kicking” the cue ball. The “matchplay knowledge” of our prototypes are about 75% of a real player’s, but once programming and technical development reach their final form, our robots will be able to beat all the champions of the modern game. Once again, the purpose is not to replace people in snooker. We estimate that there are at least 14 more phases remaining in the development process, as we continue to receive valuable feedback from billiard players.

Overall, robotics is at a premature stage, but predictions suggest that very soon, the field will gain more attention from the participants of the global economy. By 2030, many companies will invest in robots despite the presence of a general fear regarding the rapid growth of this specific industry. All in all, talking about robots behaving like top snooker players might sound like science fiction today, but 25 years ago, the arrival of mobile phones turned the world upside down. Advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision are now about to revolutionise the field of billiards. Who knows what the future holds?