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US Students Prepare for Robotic Football Championship

  • Zlatica Hoke

Football fever will continue in Brazil next month when robotic teams from around the world will gather there seeking to win their own championship. In preparation, U.S. technology students at the University of Pennsylvania are "coaching" a team of robots with a goal of winning a fourth consecutive victory at the international event known as the RoboCup.

Watching robots play football is similar to watching small kids play the game. The kicks are awkward, there's a lot of falling down, and grown-ups are there to coach and cheer. Jian Qiao Li, a robotics student at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the team creators.

"Our goal is in two parts. Part one is to detect the goal and the ball and localize itself in the field. The second part is just the locomotive part, like control the walking and the gait and the kick," says Jian.

And every year they get better, says another robotics student there, Qin He.

"We'll teach it what's the green color, what's the red color and it will learn by itself and during a game it will detect by itself, no one will give any command, it will decide where to go and where the ball is. If there are three players on the field at the same time, they will communicate to each other and they will decide who is the attacker, who is the supporter -- they will have different roles to coordinate with each other," says Qin.

The U.S. team has won the past three championships, held in the Netherlands, Mexico and Turkey. Fellow robotics student Christopher Akatsuka hopes for another victory next month.

"They have very good team play right now. As long as their detection is good, I think they'll be very competitive; we just hope to compete against real good German teams, because the Germans always do very well," says Akatsuka.

Akatsuka says Robocup really is a competition in technology.

"Each team develops their own software; basically it's a competition of who has the best software, who has the best decision-making at a given point... it's really exciting," says Akatsuka.

The goal is to develop a team of robots that can play against humans by the year 2050.

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