Could a team of robots beat a team of humans in a game of soccer? One robotics competition is actively working to make that happen, hopefully in our lifetime.
That organization is RoboCup, which puts on an annual event showcasing some of the best and craziest advances in the robotics industry.
The 19th annual RoboCup event runs from July 17 through July 23 in Hefei, China. One of the main events is the RoboCup Soccer League, which features teams of fully autonomous robots of various sizes competing against each other in a series of soccer tournaments.
Of these contests, arguably the most interesting takes place in the Humanoid League. In this league, the robots are required to have a human-like body and only use sensors that allow them to move and perceive the world around them like a human would. That means they have to do things like see the ball, calculate its trajectory and perceive the surrounding environment without the aid of some of the advanced sensors commonly found in modern robots.
As you might expect, this can lead to some pretty hilarious moments, with robots falling over when attempting to do even the most simple task like kicking the ball forward. As you can see in the below video from New China TV, it's kind of like watching toddlers try to play the game.
There are three divisions in the humanoid league -- one for adult-size robots, one for teen-size robots and one for kid-size robots. The three-day tournament has drawn to a close, with the US THORwIn team, the Iranian Parand team and the Japanese CIT Brains crew winning the adult, teen and kid-size competitions, respectively.
These competitions are meant to highlight recent advances in robotics, and help move RoboCup closer to its pretty lofty goal. RoboCup thinks the technology for adult-size humanoids is advancing so quickly that a team of these things will be able to hold their own with, and perhaps even defeat a team of, World Cup-winning human soccer players by the year 2050.
If some of the videos of these robots in action today are any indication, RoboCup participants have a lot of work to do before they can create an all-star caliber team of super-athletes. Although, technology is advancing at an incredibly rapid pace, so maybe we will see a bunch of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo robots dazzling the soccer world in the next few decades.