Fast Company

Winning Soccer Robots Play More Like Humans

robot football

Forget the anguished cries of pain after gentle collisions or even fumble-fingered goalie foul-ups that typify human football. Robot soccer usually dispenses with sloppy play and drama, favoring precision instead. But thanks to Carnegie Mellon, these new little 'bots even play like humans do, too.

But Carnegie Mellon University hopes their 'bots, infused with human qualities, will have an advantage at the RoboCup 2010, beginning in Singapore on June 19th. Usually, computer-controlled 'bots are steered around the pitch to try to keep up with where the ball is. Carnegie Mellon's innovation is to program the system with knowledge of the physics of ball movements--and this lets the controlling computer predict where the ball's going to be, letting it position the robots better and thus gain a tiny but significant advantage. It's analogous to how human football players have an unconscious feel for where the ball's going to roll to when they nudge it. Think about how a player dodges a tackle by pushing the ball aside around the opposing player, and then placing their body in the right place to keep up with the rolling ball and play it down the field.

You can see the physics modeling in action in the video clip above--the physics-savvy machine is the one with the central blue dot ... though it's easy to spot as it's the one scoring all the goals.

Impressive stuff, and it shows how the smarter 'bot runs rings around its physics-illiterate competition. But we'll only be truly impressed when Honda's Asimo has been revved up a generation or two and can dribble and score like Pele. That's gotta be some robot World Cup action we almost can't wait to see.

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