No guts, all glory at Robot Soccer World Cup

​Forget FIFA -- the real World Cup has just finished in Brazil and a team of robots from Australia has taken out the top prize.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
Expertise Space, Futurism, Science and Sci-Tech, Robotics, Tech Culture Credentials
  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
3 min read


Spectacular falls, miraculous goals, and footwork that would put the Premier League to shame -- RoboCup 2014 has seen it all. But unlike that other Brazilian soccer tournament that's been in the headlines, these games have been played entirely by robots.

Billed as the biggest robotics event in the world, RoboCup was originally launched with the goal of developing a team of robots to beat humans in the 2050 FIFA World Cup. Now in its eighth year, RoboCup 2014 has brought together the brightest engineers and computer scientists from around the globe for a week of robot action in João Pessoa, Brazil.

While there are competitions for robot dancing and urban search and rescue, this year an Australian team has taken out top honours in the flagship soccer event, beating Germany's HTWK Leipzig University in a tense (and, let's not lie, occasionally ridiculous) grand final match.

Team rUNSWift from the University of New South Wales in Sydney took out the prize, leading a team of totally autonomous robots (without remote controls) in a game that essentially follows the same rules of soccer -- two halves, goalkeepers and fouls for players. The team, made up of students and staff from UNSW's Computer Science and Engineering School, have been working on the robots for years, slowly honing their team into an elite squad of humanoid champions.

Team rUNSWift. UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering

After receiving news of the win via SMS at 4 a.m. in Australia, the head of the CSE school Maurice Pagnucco said it was a "really well deserved victory" for both the team and the school.

"This is the culmination of a lot of hard work," he said. "I can't tell you how excited I am!

"A lot of people are fascinated by the robots, but the typical reaction is 'cute little robots playing soccer'. And then they realise it's a little bit more serious. For one thing, the robots are autonomous, but there's also a lot of maths and computer science that goes on in the background that you don't get to see."

Those technical aspects include 125,000 lines of programming code, and two cameras in the chin and forehead that the robots use to analyse their location based only on the white field markings and the goals. The robots can also communicate with each other using Wi-Fi to share location details.

While the matches themselves look like a lot of fun, Pagnucco said it was serious work for the teams involved.

"During that competition you're in there at 8 o'clock in the morning and you're there until midnight, until they kick you out. They'll be there trying to adjust the robots, adjust the high level strategy that's used, so it's a lot of hard work."

But the hard work is worth it, not just for the free trip to Brazil. Students get exposed to technical skills by getting the robot to walk and detect objects, as well as experience working on a large software project.

And why soccer? Aside from being a world game that teams from all over the world can engage with and enjoy, Pagnucco said the game teaches robotics students all about speed.

"One thing about soccer that's really good is that time is critical. In a lot of other robotic applications, you might have plenty of time to decide what to do. But in soccer, the faster you can decide what to do, the better off you'll be."

While the robots in the below grand final video might look a little slow, it won't be long until we start seeing the Hand of God from the machine.