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Wednesday, June 17, 1998 Published at 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK


Programming for the beautiful game

Researchers get their teams ready for last year's World Cup in Japan

Footballers who never tire, never ask for money and are never tempted by beer, blondes and nightclubs might sound like a manager's dream.

But next month just such a team from the University of Cambridge will be representing England, as competitors gather in Paris for this year's Robot World Cup.

This fixture brings together robotics researchers from around the world, with teams of five, six-inch robots being set against one another in a game of table football.

The university's Laboratory for Communications Engineering has prepared its robot footballers to pass, shoot and defend, using a video camera suspended above the field of play which allows the machines to track the movement of the ball.

[ image: Robot football has its own governing body based in Bern, Switzerland]
Robot football has its own governing body based in Bern, Switzerland
The Cambridge team taking part in "RoboCup 98 Paris" will be up against 80 competitors from universities from countries including Japan, France, Germany, the United States, South Korea and Australia.

The increasingly-complex rules of the competition and the expansion of robot football among academic institutions has led to the creation of a governing body for the sport, the RoboCup Federation.

'Robots will beat humans at football in 50 years'

Last year's Robot World Cup was hosted by Japan, attracting 7,000 spectators to matches. Among the category winners were United States teams from the University of Southern California and Carnegie-Mellon University and Humboldt University in Germany.

The head of the Cambridge laboratory's team and coach to the robot squad, Dr Antony Rowstron, said "Humans make football look easy, but to give robots some basic ability is a major challenge."

The serious intention behind the competition, the organisers say, is to foster research into artificial intelligence through the setting of "a standard problem where a wide range of technologies can be integrated and examined".

The ultimate goal of the project is to develop "a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players" by the middle of the next century which can beat the winning team of the real World Cup, playing to the official FIFA rules.

The robots intend to celebrate the win with a free bar in Stringfellows nightclub.

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