Robots Compete In RoboCup Soccer 2013
July 1, 2013

Android Soccer Stars Gather For Annual RoboCup Tournament

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Soccer players from 40 different countries gathered this weekend in the Netherlands for a global tournament, but don't expect to see any emotional celebrations on the highlight reels out of these athletes. After all, they're robots.

These androids were participating in RoboCup 2013, a unique event that featured more than 2,500 competitors and was held in the city of Eindhoven, according to BBC News.

The competition's organizers said they hope to use the event to promote robotics and artificial intelligence research — and ultimately they hope to do so by having their players take the pitch against human competition. In fact, they're throwing down the gauntlet and challenging the best soccer players in the world.

"The tournament's mission is to defeat the human World Cup winners by 2050, creating technology along the way that will have applications far beyond the realm of sport," the Associated Press (AP) said.

"To achieve the goal, organizers have created multiple competition classes - including small robots, large robots, humanoid robots and even virtual robots - with plans to merge their techniques into a single squad of all-star androids capable of one day winning a man v machine matchup," the news agency added.

For now, however, World Cup stars have nothing to worry about, the AP said. The humanoid robots currently struggle to maintain their balance, and when at human height, they aren't exactly limber and fleet of foot. In fact, Marcell Missura, whose NimbRO team won the teen humanoid class in last year's Mexico City tournament, said he believed a team of human toddlers would be able to defeat any of the humanoid squads.

"While the humanoid robots have a long way to go, it's a different story when robots are allowed to be robots - that is, with wheels, joints that can pivot 360 degrees and a wide array of sensors," the wire service said. "The smallest robots, each about the size and shape of a birthday cake, swarm across their field, weaving around like piranhas. These bots play with a golf ball they tick into the goal so powerfully it's difficult to see it happen."

Once the game gets underway, the competition rules state there can be no human interference in the action unless a substitution is required. In those instances, the operators are permitted to remove a damaged or broken down robot, and they are also allowed to replace a player who is ejected by officials for fouling an opponent.

Ultimately, the organizers hope to create one all-star android team they believe could defeat the top soccer players in the world in a match-up, PCMag's Damon Poeter said. If that seems unlikely, Poeter said, RoboCup fans should take heed that "robotic soccer playing has vastly improved since the 1993 launch of the Robot J-League competition in Japan and subsequent initiation of an international RoboCup competition in 1997."

"Many teams play looking like they're drunk," the AP said. "When programmers push the limits on speed, the bots tend to fall down even more often than human professionals do. But watching the bots stand back up, rotating their knees forward and pushing up off of one hand, it's possible to envision them running and jumping someday.

"Unlike with human players, there are no prima donnas among the robots," they added. "Each plays every position equally wall, and they shift roles seamlessly. Goalkeepers have been known to come out and act as strikers. And when a bot gets a shot on goal, it rarely misses."