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October 25, 2016

America beats Australia in RoboCup soccer tournament

Soccer players have gained a reputation for falling down at the slightest bit of contact from an opposing player in an attempt to draw a penalty, and it appears that tactic has been wholeheartedly embraced by robots.

In the final match of the RoboCup Challenge soccer tournament held in Beijing on Monday, a team of American robots defeated a team from Australia 7-3; however, the game was marred by constant diving to the ground by the robot footballers.

Jeremy Collette, an engineer behind the Australian team, voiced his frustrations to The Guardian regarding the glitches that plagued his team of robots.

“We’ve been using that robot for three or four days straight, and just before the finals it stops,” said Collette, an engineer from the University of New South Wales in Australia. “Then we had another problem with another robot, which is kind of like a perfect storm for us.”

Advancements in Robotic Sports

Robot soccer games have been performed since the mid-1990s and this tournament used Nao robots - human-shaped machines nearly 2 feet tall produced by French company Aldebaran Robotics.

The robots were programmed by college students to exchange data wirelessly and “talk" about which of their teammates would get to the ball first.

While the robots may have looked human, and even walked and kicked the ball similar to actual soccer players, the game was not nearly as smooth as a soccer match involving humans. The foremost issue was the robots’ capability to remain vertical.

“The robots are telling each other where they believe the ball is, where they believe that they are on the field, if they’ve fallen down or not, and then they’re also to decide who goes for the ball,” said Josiah Hanna, an engineer behind the Americans’ Austin Villa team, from the University of Texas at Austin.

While the game didn’t feature the mind-boggling athleticism of an English Premier League soccer match, not everyone in the crowd that watched the game said they were disappointed.

“I think these robots are able to move quite flexibly and this is a pleasant surprise,” said Sun Qiong, who brought her son to the game.

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Image credit: RoboCup