An unusual celebrity threw out the first pitch at the Phillies game against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday afternoon.
It had the base of a Segway, a robotic arm suitable for surgery, and a custom-made pneumatic wrist. Its name: PhillieBot.
Programmer Jordan Brindza, who helped design the robot with a team at the University of Pennsylvania robotics lab, led the robot to the pitcher’s mound with a video-game controller.
“It’s really exciting,” Brindza said. “I always wanted to throw out the first pitch, but I never thought I would have my robot do it.”
The pitch hit the dirt a few feet in front of the Phillie Phanatic, who was doing the robot dance. In typical Philly sports fan fashion, the crowd booed.
“We’ve been out here to practice before and it’s been able to throw it a lot farther,” Brindza said. “So we’re a little disappointed in that.”
The pneumatic wrist the team designed to provide that all-important flick worked just fine, but team members said they toned down the air pressure too much for fear of hurting the robotic arm–or the Phanatic.
“Everything works, it was just a question of getting the appropriate power,” said Jamie Gewirtz, who also helped design the robot. “It’s never exactly clear until you get here exactly how much power you’re going to need.”
Some fans were more forgiving.
“I thought it was amazing that they could make a robot that could actually throw a real baseball,” said Brett Schwab, 11, of Lower Merion. He thought a little more power would be nice, and maybe a Phillies jersey with the word “robot” printed on the back.
The robot was built at the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) lab at the University of Pennsylvania for the Philadelphia Science Festival.