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SYFY WIRE Robotics

Do the robot: Taiwanese baseball team will fill empty stadium with 500 robo-fans

By Jeff Spry

When springtime arrives, sports fans' attention naturally turns to that pastoral pastime of baseball to fill their leisure hours. But with the current state of affairs in the world invoking lockdowns and quarantines due to the coronavirus pandemic, baseball will look very different for a while until this crisis settles down.

Empty stadiums resulting from the necessary restrictions may be the new normal, unless you count on the novel approach that an innovative Taiwanese team in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) is attempting. The organization is testing out an idea to install a silent gathering of robot mannequins programmed to raise signs and symbolically cheer on their favorite players. (Major League Baseball here in America hasn't made an official ruling on their season yet — but hey, here's one direction things can move in!)

Arriving at their tech-friendly solution to dress up 500 mannequins as fans, the Rakuten Monkeys baseball team will launch its official 2020 season on April 11 while regional social-distancing rules remain in place. Though no unaffiliated human attendees are permitted to watch in person, less than 200 people will be allowed into the ballpark, and that includes only players, coaches, assistants, stadium workers, league officials, and the press.

“Since we are not allowed to have any fans in attendance, we might as well have some fun with it, the Monkeys’ general manager Justin Liu told CPBL STATS. “We went with 500 robot mannequins to comply with the current CDC guideline.”

The CPBL has postponed the start of the 2020 season twice already: from March 14 to March 28 to this Saturday, April 11. 

No word on whether the baseball-loving mannequins, many of which move via servo motors and other internal electronics, will require peanuts and Cracker Jacks to fully complete the illusion, but at least there is an element of much-needed levity observed. And that's truly something to cheer about.

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