RoboCup Kicks Off in Singapore This Week

Humans aren't the only ones playing soccer right now. In just two days, robots from world-renowned universities will compete in Singapore for RoboCup 2010. This is the other World Cup, where players range from 15-centimeter tall Wall-E-like bots to adult-sized advanced humanoids.

The RoboCup, now in its 14th edition, is the world’s largest robotics and artificial intelligence competition with more than 400 teams from dozens of countries. The idea is to use the soccer bots to advance research in machine vision, multi-agent collaboration, real-time reasoning, sensor-fusion, and other areas of robotics and AI.

But its participants also aim to develop autonomous soccer playing robots that will one day be able to play against humans. The RoboCup's mission statement:

By 2050, a team of fully autonomous  humanoid  robot soccer  players shall win the game, complying with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.

It may seem far-fetched that robots will ever be able to compete with the likes of Messi or Kaká but 40 years is a long time in terms of technology. And what's wrong about dreaming big? Just think of the days when people would say a computer would never beat humans in chess -- until IBM's Deep Blue did just that in 1997. For now researchers explore fundamental questions in robot development: How well can robots move and think on their feet? And how well can they score goals? But maybe soon they'll be building PeléBot.

So check out some of this year's top players below, and let the games begin!

1) Led by Professor Manuela Veloso, the Carnegie Mellon University team (known to some as the Brazil of robot soccer) has developed a physics based motion planning AI for his dribbling bots. Using a dual-camera overhead vision system, the roboticists have programmed their robots to take into account the physics of ball movements, so the control algorithms can better predict where the ball is going to be and then position the robots accordingly.

2) RoboErectus was developed at the Robotics Center of Singapore Polytechnic. This 12-degrees-of-freedom robot has three processors for vision, control, and AI, as well as three sensors: an USB camera to capture images, a tilt sensor to detect falls, and a compass to track direction. The vision processor performs recognition and tracking of objects like the ball, goal, field lines, goal post, teammates, and opponents. And he's got some pretty sweet moves.

3) Dutch Robotics, an initiative from TU Delft, TU Eindhoven and University of Twente, presents TUlip, a humanoid soccer robot to compete in the adult size league. TUlip, 1.2 meter tall and with 14 degrees of freedom, looks a bit unsteady but this video shows it has skills. And the music is very inspirational.

4) Led by Professor Dennis Hong, Virginia Tech's Team DARwIn is always a strong contender. DARwIn, if you're wondering, stands for Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence. Their robot, DARwIn IV, stands 56 cm tall and has 20 degrees of freedom. It's powered by a CompuLab fit-PC2 and multiple Robotis Dynamixel servos.

5) The UPennalizers compete in the standard platform league, in which all teams use the same robot platform, Aldebaran's Nao humanoid, so the challenge becomes programming the best players and team strategies. Teammate Aylin Caliskan says that robots beating humans by 2050 "should be 100 percent possible."

Without all the swearing, pushing, and penalties, RoboCup might not be as exciting as the World Cup in South Africa, but it's hard not to be inspired by this bunch of ball-kicking bots.

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Automaton

IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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