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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Robot world cup kicks off
Omni Japan robot football team RoboCup
The Japanese Omni team limbers up before a match
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Soon you could be cheering on football teams with names like Blackburn Robots, Manchester Androids, or even Hamilton Mechanicals.

The biggest robot soccer competition ever kicks off on 4 August in Seattle, US, with over 100 entrants competing in four different leagues for the title of top team.

Billed as the largest and most important robot competition in the world, the tournament is in its fifth year and has attracted teams from over 23 countries.

The contest was established with the ultimate aim of creating a squad of mechanical players that can take on, and beat, the best human teams.

League tables

For the moment, however, most of the robots making up the 111 teams in the competition still get around on wheels and use a scoop, rather than an intelligent left or right foot, to control the ball.

The competition has been divided into a series of leagues to reflect the different sizes and capabilities of the machines taking part.

FU Fighters robot soccer player FU Fighters
One of the key members of the FU Fighters team
The small-sized robot league is for teams of five machines that are 15 centimetres in diameter or less, and is played on a pitch the size of a table-tennis table. In total, 21 teams, with names like Cornell Big Red, 5dpo and the RoboRoos, have entered the contest. Many of them have met before in regional competitions that preceded the world cup.

The next class is for quartets of robots up to 50 cm in diameter and is played on a pitch nine metres by six. In all, 18 teams from countries as far apart as Iran, Singapore and Germany are playing in this contest.

There is also a competition for teams of four-legged robots - each team is allowed three players. This year, 16 teams are contesting this cup.

The final main competition is the simulation league, which sees the beautiful game being played by teams of 11 autonomous, smart agents or programs on a virtual pitch.

Team players

In every league, all the robots taking part have to act independently of their human creators and decide where to position themselves on the field and which way to kick the ball. Remote control of the machines is ruled out.

Carnegie Mellon player in action Carnegie Mellon University
One of the strongly fancied mid-sized Carnegie Mellon team
The humans creating the robot players are typically from universities and often involve collaborations between engineering and computer science departments.

Many researchers take part because building robots to play football means they must tackle real-world problems, refine sensors, and find better ways for groups of robots to work towards a common goal.

The competition was started by Sony visionary Hiroaki Kitano and soccer was picked because a meaningful, and sometimes exciting, game can be played even if the ball never leaves the ground. So far robots are content to kick the ball around rather than chip it into the back of the net or attempt to head it past the keeper.

The ultimate aim of the competition is to foster innovation so that by 2050 someone has produced a team of humanoid robots capable of tackling the best human players.

See also:

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Fight the good fight
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