It hasn’t attracted quite the same attention as the other football tournament going on in Germany, so it’s time to redress the balance and say a few words about RoboCup 2006, the robot football world championship held in Bremen last week.
RoboCup draws together robotics expertise from around the world to pit teams of artificial footballers against each other in the name of science and national glory.
The stated aim of the wider RoboCup initiative is that by 2050 a team of robots should be able to take on and beat the human world champions of the day.
This is a beguiling prospect indeed. Not since there was still some novelty in showdowns between chess Grand Masters and specially-trained supercomputers will the pride of humanity be so firmly on the line. If the robots triumph, and especially if they do so in an entertaining fashion, there will be little point in the human version continuing.
In the light of this, a few thoughts occur. Injury crises will be a thing of the past – a team of engineers could have had robot Owen back on the field within minutes last night.
By 2050, armed with the latest in location and guidance technology, the robots will take clinical finishing to a new level. No more wild shots over the bar or wide of the post. With defenders armed with sensors that allow the creation and maintenance of a perfect line, the offside trap will never be sprung. This may or may not benefit the game as a spectacle.
Enough of the flippancy, however, because RoboCup is intended to serve a serious purpose. Football embodies most of the key challenges facing the worlds of robotics and artificial intelligence. These include mobility, dexterity, connectivity and interaction with other robots, adapting to fast-changing situations and autonomous decision-making.
Get these right in the context of football and their potential applications in other contexts are hugely significant.
Added to this is the fact that RoboCup sounds like quite a lot of serious fun. In an age when engineering and technology has a tendency to either bore or scare people, its application to something as accessible as the beautiful game serves as a welcome educational tool.
You can find out more about RoboCup at www.robocup.org. By the way, the Germans won.
The Engineer & The Engineer Online