Football-playing robots eye their own cup, and beyond

Jun 12, 2014 by Rob Lever

When robots play football, it looks like a game played by five-year-olds: they swarm around the ball, kick haphazardly and fall down a lot.

But teams have made strides in recent years, and some researchers believe the humanoids could challenge the world's best players in a decade or two.

"Maybe in 20 years we could develop a team of robots to play against the best World Cup teams," said Daniel Lee, who heads the University of Pennsylvania robotics lab, which is seeking a fourth consecutive RoboCup in Brazil next month, the premiere event for robotic football.

Robotic football, says Lee, is more than fun and games. It involves and complex algorithms that help provide a better understanding of human vision, cognition and mobility.

Similar technology can be used for robots that perform household tasks or search and rescue, and for self-driving cars, said Lee, who led a demonstration of his robot football team Wednesday at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Lee said robots have improved their game from a decade ago, having moved from four-legged doglike machines to two-legged humanoid forms.

But he said there is still a lot to be learned before robotic football can be competitive with humans. The robots in Wednesday's demo still moved awkwardly, sometimes failed to locate the ball, and often ended up in collisions or fell over on their own.

"We have machines that can beat us in chess," he said. "But we (humans) can still kick their butts in soccer."

Because the robots are autonomous, they need to be able to handle all kinds of tasks humans take for granted: finding the ball, responding to different light conditions and terrain, and determining the best strategy.

"Our robots are calculating everything terms of probability," he said, which means a human can outsmart a machine.

"In creativity, humans have an advantage."

The Penn student team took home the RoboCup in the Netherlands in 2013 for the third year running, after victories in Mexico City in 2012 and Istanbul in 2011.

Lee said the research draws from a variety of disciplines, from engineering to anatomy to knowledge of sports.

The biggest challenge is to develop the type of awareness and that athletes have.

"What is difficult is to understand the intent of the other team, that is what prevents us from being more sophisticated," Lee said.

And in addition to developing technology for individual robots, the researchers need to find better ways for the machines to communicate with each other to coordinate strategy.

Lee said all this requires "a deep understanding of intelligence," and added that "we are still many years away."

Explore further: Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

Apr 16, 2014

A way of making hundreds—or even thousands—of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Computers teach each other Pac-Man (w/ Video)

Apr 01, 2014

Researchers in Washington State University's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science have developed a method to allow a computer to give advice and teach skills to another computer in a way ...

Recommended for you

Q&A: Drones might help explain how tornadoes form

16 hours ago

Researchers say they have collected promising weather data by flying instrument-laden drones into big Western and Midwestern storms. Now, they want to expand the project in hopes of learning more about how ...

First steps for Hector the robot stick insect

Dec 16, 2014

A research team at Bielefeld University has succeeded in teaching the only robot of its kind in the world how to walk. Its first steps have been recorded in a video. The robot is called Hector, and its construction ...

Getting bot responders into shape

Dec 16, 2014

Sandia National Laboratories is tackling one of the biggest barriers to the use of robots in emergency response: energy efficiency.

Robot 'shadow hand'

Dec 12, 2014

Picking up an apple is one of those jobs requiring the delicate touch of the human hand – or its robotic counterpart.

Two robots, one challenge, endless possibility

Dec 11, 2014

To the theme song of "2001: A Space Odyssey," a robot with a twisty spine rolled toward Thomas Rosenbaum, the new president of the California Institute of Technology, on Oct. 24, as he stood on a stage at ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.