The original goal of the annual RoboCup contest was that by 2050 a team of soccer robots should be able to beat the human world champions. Each year we have a chance to gage progress and this year we saw evidence that robots are getting better
Like the FIFA World cup, this year's RoboCup took place in Brazil and hundreds of students from 45 countries took part.
Although the event is no longer just about robot soccer, it is still its headline act and rightly so as it challenges roboticists to engineer machines that can see accurately, respond appropriately and move quickly in a rapidly changing environment.
The milestone event from RoboCup 2014 came in the final game of the tournament when the winning mid-size robot teams takes on a team of humans and Tech United Eindhoven's team of robot scored a goal that the human defender couldn't stop.
As you can see in this brief video clip this was a tactical play. Having been passed the ball, the striker robot sees that the human goal keeper is blocking his shot so it takes a swift decision to pass the ball to the robot on the wing who shoots it into the side of the goal despite the best efforts to stop it on the part of the human defender.
OK so this feat was achieved by wheeled robots and not by their humanoid counterparts and if you compare the final of the Mid-size league with the final of the Standard league, in which teams of Naos line up against each other, you'll see a marked difference in the game play.
Note the speed and excitement in this game in which TechUnited Eindhoven of the Netherlands took on Team Water from China and won with a score of 3-2.
The Mid Size robots are swift and stable in contrast to the Naos which seem to spend a lot of time falling over. While their ability to pick themselves up is impressive, the pace of the proceedings is slow:
In this final rUNSWift from Australia was lined up against German Nao-Team HTWK from the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences.
rUNSWift won this match 5-1 but the team, from the University of New South Wales noted that its best match in the contest was the semi final against B-Human, which does indeed have rather more tension about it - but is still characterized by robots falling down in a spectacular way:
B-Human, a project from University of Bremen and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, won the RoboCup Standard Platform Leauge four times in the past five years, including last year when it beat this year's runner ups HWTK in an all-German final.
This year's Standard League performance is acknowledged to have demonstrated progress in the Nao's soccer playing ability. But it will be a long time before a team of Nao's can take on even kid-sized humans.
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