It’s not hard to envision the pain and passion that’s to be played out in Lisbon’s Estádio da Luz on July 4, the day of the European Championships final. The frenzy of the crowd will be centered on the deadly earnest activities of 22 totally focused men all playing for their lives. You may not have imagined, however, that just the day before, on the other side of town, were the finals of another entirely unrelated soccer tournament, equally as competitive, but where the players, while fully switched on, didn’t even understand the score.
Yes, a week before the end of the European Championships, on 27 June, the 8th World RoboCup kicks off. RoboCup is a soccer tournament parallel to the human version but whose flesh-and-blood-free players, as you’ll by now no doubt have guessed, are all robots!
The first Robot World Cup Soccer Games and Conferences were held in August 1997 in Nagoya, Japan at the 15th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI). According to IJCAI:
RoboCup is an international research and education initiative, attempting to foster artificial intelligence and robotics research by providing a standard problem where a wide range of technologies can be integrated and examined, as well as being used for integrated project-oriented education.
In other words: what better way to get robots up to speed than a game of footie?
Portugal was chosen as the venue for the 8th RoboCup not simply because it also happened to be hosting the European Championships, but because the most pervasive presence at RoboCup tournaments up until now has been that of Portuguese researchers and developers. This is in keeping with concerted efforts by the Portuguese education authorities over the past few years to attract the county’s best minds to scientific and technological research fields.
In keeping with this drive, the third national robotics conference, Robotica 2003, was held in Lisbon in May attracting over 90 teams of robotics students from all over the Portugal. One of the highlights of Robotica 2003 was, not surprisingly, a robotic football match.
The RoboCup 2004 matches will take place in one of the huge pavilions in the Parque das Nações, Lisbon where the 1998 World Exposition (EXPO'98) was held, and will end with the finals, accessible to the public, on 3 July: the day before the European Championship finals. It will be immediately followed by the 5th IFAC Symposium on Intelligent Autonomous Vehicles (IAV'2004).
No discussion of RoboCup would be complete without examining the RoboCup Federation’s ultimate stated goal for the RoboCup, which is as follows:
By 2050, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win a soccer game, complying with the official FIFA rules, against the winner of the most recent World Cup of Human Soccer.
So will machines eventually send us panting, sweating, cursing examples of animal life off the field? Well, don’t hold your breath! The robots sure aren’t.
The RoboCup Federation's Official Site is the best starting point for information on all things RoboCup.
RoboCup is the largest and most important robot competition in the world.
RoboCup 2003 Padua
RoboCup 2002 Fukuoka/ Busan
RoboCup 2001 Seattle
RoboCup 2000 Melbourne
RoboCup 99 Stockholm
RoboCup 98 Paris
RoboCup 97 Nagoya
RoboCup 2005 will take place
RoboCup 2006 will be in Germany, coinciding with the 2006 World Cup.
Japan is the acknowledged world center of Robotic research and development with a staggering ratio of approximately 1 robot for every 310 people.
Sony's QRIO robot is the world's first running humanoid robot.
This isn't just about soccer, said RoboCup's Japanese founder Hiroaki Kitano. The greater goal is to "apply technologies created by the project for significant social and industrial issues."
The idea of robots playing football was first mentioned by Prof. Alan Mackworth (University of British Columbia, Canada) in the 1993 book: Computer Vision: System, Theory, and Applications