Robot Umpires – The Face of the Future

A mere four months ago it was announced that robot umpires or robot umps, were being developed for future usage. Now in early July, the first robot umpire made it to the leagues. A robot ump made its entrance into the world of baseball during an Atlantic League game, to test it for further tweaking towards perfection.

The Debut

Under the watchful guidance of Brain deBrauwere, this robot ump made its debut, although it was most probably not even noticed by the crowd. The robot ump was nothing more than an Apple Airpod which he had in his ear and an iPhone in the pocket. But the power of this new kind of umpire isn’t in its appearance. The device is in constant communication with the Trackman technology of the stadium. Trackman technology follows the pitch every split second from the moment which it was launched, by using radar. The robot ump and the Trackman technology then determines whether a ball was either in or out of the strike zone. The call is relayed to deBrauwere through the Airpod, and he conveys that to the players. As with any newbie, the robot ump did experience some hiccups, which were expected. These will now be tweaked to achieve perfection for future usage. Atlantic League is feeling positive about the robot ump’s trial run and is planning on extending the use of it, to all eight ballparks in its league within the near future.

A Pleasing Performance

For the entire duration of the game, umpire deBrauwere could follow the calls of the robot ump in his ear or decide to disagree and overrule the robot’s decision. For the game, the robot ump delivered significantly. Only once it went silent for about half of the fourth inning before it came back on and continued its duties.

Robo ump also made only one call which could be considered as controversial, yet deBrauwere decided to follow the request of the robot ump and could explain afterwards precisely why he chose not to overrule the system’s decision. This was during Joe Terdoslavich’s second inning, and even though it would generally have been called as a ball, deBrauwere called it a strike due to robot ump. Stating that the top part of the ball touched the bottom part of the strike zone and that even though it might have been a controversial call, it was indeed a correct call.

More differences which players noticed between a human umpire and the robot ump included calling strikes at lower and higher positions in the zone than what human referees normally would. Another difference is squeezing the corners of the plate. This is due to the system’s ability to better discern pitches than humanly possible. Regardless, the hope remains for achieving a better consistency from the system than with human umpires, and that seems to be promising. For the remainder of the season, Atlantic League will continue to test and improve the system before it is introduced to MLB.