Even Robots Struggle to Throw a Consistent Knuckleball

Hannah Keyser

Toronto Blue Jays starter and former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey has made a career off his unusual command of the notorious knuckleball. The pitch gets its characteristic unpredictability from the lack of spin put on it, making it seemingly flutter about after it leaves the pitcher's hand. This random movement is an asset for pitchers looking to deceive the batter, but it also makes the pitch a dangerous go-to in clutch situations.

In an effort to better understand the mechanics of what makes a knuckleball move, students at the University of Toronto built a machine that attempts to mimic the local hurler. "We wanted to replace R.A. Dickey, that’s what we wanted to do," says one of the students involved in the project. The team had two main goals for their pitching robot: throw a knuckleball, and throw a repeatable knuckleball.

They accomplished the first goal, but the latter proved elusive. Even a specially-designed robot couldn't throw a knuckleball consistent enough in its location to rival Dickey. When the robots come for our jobs, at least knuckleballers will be safe.

[h/t For The Win]