Great news for soccer fans: The World Cup won’t be the only event taking Brazil — and the global stage — by storm this month. Kicking off in little over a week, robots from 45 countries will gather in João Pessoa to compete in the international soccer tournament known as RoboCup.
Founded in 1997, RoboCup is an annual international robotics competition aspiring to promote robotics and AI research by offering a publicly appealing, yet formidable challenge. The ultimate goal? To beat the human World Cup champions within the next 35 years.
When robots initially began playing soccer, it was a feat in itself just to have them see the ball, let alone stay upright and kick. Nowadays, these ‘bots are running up and down the field, scoring goals and “sometimes they’re so fast, you can’t even understand what’s going on,” says tournament co-chair Esther Luna Colombini.
The “players,” which range from life-size humanoids to soccer ball-sized wheeled gadgets, compete in size-based divisions on miniature indoor pitches.
According to Forbes writer Jeff Bercovici, the tournament (a perfect blend of athletics and Maker Movement) has matured throughout the years. The inaugural event hosted 38 teams from 11 countries; this year’s tournament will feature 550 teams from more than 45, competing in various divisions.
“You don’t program humans to play soccer,” said Sean Luke, a computer science professor. “We want (robots) to learn how to play soccer the same way humans learn how to play soccer.”
While certainly fun to watch, organizers say the annual competition isn’t just about creating kickin’ machines — it’s about teaching the fully-autonomous robots to make quick, smart decisions while working together in a changing environment.
“Those algorithms can translate off the field into technology like self-driving cars or delivery drones, said University of Pennsylvania engineering professor Dan Lee. RoboCup includes separate contests for service robots and search-and-rescue droids.”
Whether you’re predicting the German or Argentine squad to win this Sunday’s World Cup final, one thing is for certain: The team will be made of flesh and bones, and not powered by microcontrollers. By 2050, that may all change.
After Tim Howard’s incredible, record-breaking performance earlier this month, it makes you wonder if robots have already arrived!
Learn more about the upcoming event, which is scheduled to run from July 19 to 25, by visiting the event’s official website. In case you missed it, RoboCup was also recently featured in our Maker-themed infographic.