They’re taking over sports, too? New AI robot can shoot better than professional basketball players
09/07/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

Toyota employees loved a basketball manga character so much, they built a basketball-shooting robot from scratch. While it can't move, it hits nothing but net from the free throw line, reported a NewsWeek article.

Japanese newspaper Asahi Shumbun identified the humanoid robot as CUE. Its artificial intelligence allowed it to pick up and polish certain basic basketball skills better than Tim Duncan ever did.

CUE made its “debut” in the B League 1, wearing the jersey and shorts of local basketball team Arvalq Tokyo. Photos and videos show that it can hold the ball, squat, and fire off a shot much like a human player does.

The robot proceeded to embarrass Japanese pro basketball players by making all of his free throw shots count while its two competitors could only manage eight out of their 10 combined shots.

To give non-afficionados of the sport an idea of how accurate this thing is, Georgia native Isaac Butts leads the Japanese league with a 65.7 shooting percentage. His NBA equivalent, Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets, nails around 65.5 percent of his shots.

Without defenders or distractions hampering their shots, CUE's human opponents managed 80 percent. The robot scored 100 percent.

“I cannot help it,” one of the players remarked about CUE's hideously accurate shooting. (Related: Security robot that can spot suspicious individuals now being used at Dubai airport.)

The ultimate basketball shooting machine

CUE is the latest in a growing number of AI-driven robots intruding into sports. Other robots rolled out in recent years were able to ski, kick soccer balls, or even box.


Standing six feet and two inches, the robot towers over its Japanese creators. But it is a bit short for Western leagues, given the typical NBA player stands around six feet, seven inches.

Further, its machine learning database trained itself by taking 200,000 individual shots until it acquired its current capabilities. Its servomotors give it the ability to sink shots from up to 12 feet away. Since it's a robot, it will never tire firing off the same effortlessly accurate shot time and time again.

CUE does have a ton of disadvantages that will never fly in an actual game. For one, it is completely immobile, being mounted on a wheeled platform with cables that connect it to an external power source.

The Toyota robot is also only programmed to take the ball and shoot. So far, it cannot pull off fancier moves like blocking shots, or snatching the ball.

Toyota employees built CUE in their free time using AI code from Internet sources

Funnily enough, CUE did not start as an official Toyota project. It's the brainchild of the Toyota Engineering Society (TES), a group of 17 company employees who voluntarily gave up their free time to try their hand at making a robot Michael Jordan.

“It was started from scratch,” said one of the TES members.

When they started work, not a single one of the volunteers possessed any practical experience in building or programming robots. They had to look online for guides on how to write AI programs.

For their project, the all-volunteer team drew inspiration from popular Japanese sports manga Slam Dunk. They deliberately modeled CUE on the protagonist, who decided to give basketball a shot in the hopes of impressing his latest crush.

Toyota eventually sponsored their hobby project, to the point of paying for the jersey and shorts that CUE wore during its debut.

Find out how robots are taking over more and more aspects of our lives at

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