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Soccer-playing bots bask in world victory

Humanoid, entertainment robots duke it out for top spots at RoboCup 2005 smackdown in Osaka, Japan. Photos: Bots score in soccer

Brazil may be the world soccer champ, but this week, a slew of other countries shared the glory as robotic equivalents in a competition just as fiercely watched.

Winners of RoboCup 2005, the annual world cup of robotics soccer, emerged after a five-day competition in Osaka, Japan, where artificially intelligent, soccer-playing bots fought for goals while computer scientists cheered them on from the sidelines.

RoboCup 2005

Team Osaka, with its human-modeled VisiON robot from Vstone and the Robo Garage at Kyoto University, won several titles in its category, including the "Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup" for best biped humanoid. It also bested Germany's NimbRo, from the University of Freiburg, in a technical challenge and in the 2 vs. 2 kid-size competition for humanoids.

Germany's FU-Fighters, from Freie University in Berlin, turned around and beat Cornell University's Big Red from New York in the small-size league, in which robots are no more than 18 centimeters (about 7 inches) in diameter and play with an orange golf ball on a field the size of a ping pong table.

About 330 teams from 31 countries competed in the soccer events that drew robotic participants from a two-legged humanoid robot league to a four-legged league using teams of Sony's Aibo robots as players. A team of six from Spelman College in Georgia (one of only five U.S. teams) was the only undergraduate institution and the only all-women's institution to qualify for the Osaka competition, but the team did not place.

In the four-legged competition, teams of four entertainment robots played using an orange ball, with all the computation was done on the board computer. In that race, Germany's University of Bremen in Berlin beat out Australia's NuBots from the University of Newcastle.

RoboCup is designed to advance research and education about robotics and artificial intelligence, and is followed by a two-day symposium on the topic. Its lofty goal by 2050 is to assemble an autonomous humanoid soccer team that will compete and win against the World Cup Soccer champions, in compliance with the official FIFA rules.

Computer scientists behind RoboCup chose soccer over say, chess, because it's not only a popular sport worldwide, but it also poses many of the same dynamic challenges in life that are problems for artificially intelligent objects. Those include identifying relevant objects (robots determine this by color), playing in harmony with a team, and working with moving challengers.

The humanoid robots can perform basic skills of soccer players, such as shooting the ball or defending goals. Sometimes, however, humans have to intervene in play because some of the robots are tele-operated.