Empire Robotics Takes On Jimmy Fallon in Beer Pong

It’s not exactly the pinnacle of robotic achievement, but it is progress. And one heck of a fun demo. If you watched “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon on Friday, you might have seen it: Fallon playing beer pong against a robot.

The machine is made by Boston-based startup Empire Robotics. It uses a flexible, ball-shaped gripper filled with a sand-like material to pick up things. Thanks to the physics of phase transitions, pumping air into the ball makes it soften and conform to the shape of an object it wants to pick up; then pulling air out of the ball makes it harden and grip the object (in this case, a ping-pong ball).

It’s probably been 20 years since I’d even admit to knowing what “beer pong” is. Basically, two sides take turns trying to throw ping-pong balls into plastic beer cups on either side of the table. On the show, Fallon and the Empire robot were tied 1-1 when Fallon knocked his opponent’s next shot away. (Since the robot comes from New England, there is sure to be an investigation into whether its gripper and balls were inflated properly.)

You can catch the Empire robot and co-founder Bill Culley at Robo Madness Boston on March 11. In the clip below, the robot is introduced by tech journalist Joshua Topolsky.

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