World Cup or World's Fair? Technology Takes Center Field at the Games in Brazil

Smart watches, brain-computer interfaces, robotic exoskeletons, and a TON of data traffic

2 min read
World Cup or World's Fair? Technology Takes Center Field at the Games in Brazil
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Every four years, 32 countries from around the world send their fiercest, most battle-ready soccer players to compete in the sport's most celebrated international event: the World Cup. This year, the world has sent its finest innovations as well. The shoddy arenas in Brazil may themselves be a source of shame (during the first period of yesterday's opening match between Brazil and Croatia, about half the lights in the São Paulo stadium flickered and fizzled) but the fields and stands are brimming with technology.  

Some of it is on full display. The opening kick, which is not traditionally known for being a high tech moment, took on great significance yesterday afternoon when Juliano Pinto—a Brazilian whose athletic career ended after he was paralyzed from the waist down in a 2006 car crash—stood up from his wheelchair and knocked the ball forward while wearing a robotic exoskeleton. The contraption took its commands from a set of electrodes pasted to Pinto's scalp which detected and deciphered faint electrical signals from his brain. The demonstration showcases the pioneering work of Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist and brain-computer interface researcher.

The other technologies being unveiled at the World Cup are certainly more subtle, but they actually have the potential to influence the outcome of games. During the 11th minute of yesterday's inaugural game, fans in São Paulo cringed and winced as they watched the ball deflect off the left toe of Brazilian defender Marcelo Vieira and land in the back of his own team's net, marking the first time in World Cup history that Brazil has made a goal against itself. Even before the spectators could absorb what was happening, a new automated detection system, called GoalControl, was alerting the referees on the field that a successful goal had been made. Officials in the 2014 games are wearing smart watches that vibrate whenever a ball fully crosses the goal line. The system, which uses 14 high-speed cameras (seven pointed at each goal) to capture the ball's movement in 3-D, was shown to be effective in a trial at the 2013 Confederations Cup. GoalControl successfully detected all 68 goals made at that tournament. 

And then there is all the technology that fans bring with them to the stadiums. During the 2006 World Cup, the texting, posting, and tweeting of feverish fans generated 30 gigabytes of data traffic. And that was before Instagram existed. This year, analysts are expecting a cumulative total of 12.6 terabytes.

The IEEE Standards Association has broken down all of these World Cup technologies in this comprehensive infographic:

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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