RoboCup: The World Cup for Robots

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Soccer fans have been left with a void to fill following the conclusion of this year's World Cup, but for those who simply can’t wait four years to enjoy it all over again, an upcoming nerdier and slightly less human version of the tournament could provide some temporary gratification.

It’s fun watching humans running up and down a field kicking a ball. What could be better than that? How about replacing those humans with robots? That is precisely what the RoboCup Federation is attempting to do.

As the organization’s website explains, “RoboCup is an international scientific initiative with the goal to advance the state of the art of intelligent robots.” It was formed in 1997 in a mission to develop a team of soccer-playing robots capable of defeating human World Cup champions by 2050. Although this is still the main objective, RoboCup has expanded its direction to include the following activities:

  • RoboCupSoccer: Creating teams of fully autonomous, cooperative robots that exhibit advanced competitive behaviors and strategies
  • RoboCupRescue: Assisting emergency responders to save people and perform hazardous tasks with highly mobile, dexterous and semi-autonomous robots capable of mapping and negotiating complex environments
  • RoboCup@Home: Helping people in their daily lives at home and in public with autonomous and naturally interactive assistant robots
  • RoboCupJunior: Motivating young people to learn skills and knowledge necessary in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as to foster their soft skills through participating in the creative process of building and programming autonomous robots

Five leagues with robot teams from all over the world will battle it out on the field for the official RoboCup tournament. A team from Plymouth University in the UK will be among the competitors at this year’s event. Dr. Phil Culverhouse from the university’s Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems describes, The RoboCup as “the pinnacle of robotics competitions and a great opportunity for us to demonstrate Plymouth’s expertise in the field to a global audience.” Culverhouse is proud of his team’s cutting-edge technology that will be displayed at RoboCup.

Considering the general state of modern day robotics, an autonomous machine matching the dynamism of a human soccer player sounds like a ludicrous goal, and while there’s still a ways to go, there’s some very impressive technology already on display. The Daily Mail explains that on England’s RoboCup team, for example, “the robots have all-player tracking, a new inertial motion unit with which to navigate the pitch, as well as new gait design to help them manoeuvre and kick the ball with ease.

Unlike the World Cup, RoboCup is an annual event. However, the host country this year for both events is Brazil. RoboCup 2014 takes place in the city of João Pessoa in Paraíba, Brazil. It is sponsored by the Paraíba State Government, Brazilian Sport Ministry, Brazilian Computing Society, and several Brazilian and worldwide universities. International companies like Oracle and LEGO are also sponsors.

If soccer-playing robots are enough to fill your post-World Cup withdrawals, then RoboCup has the droids you’re looking for. The 2014 RoboCup tournament kicks off on July 19.

Image: RoboCup

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