One team of robots will be crowned champions later this month at the football RoboCup World Championships in China.
The event has been running since 1997 and each year sees ever more sophisticated robots taking part. The Championships have grown from 38 teams from 11 countries to over 500 teams from more than 45 countries taking part.
Autonomous robots with a human-like body play football against each other. Even though the initial purpose of the RoboCup was to advance the development of AI, the ultimate aim now is for a team of robots to take on and beat their human World Cup-winning counterparts in 2050, in what is called their Humanoid League.
“Dynamic walking, running and kicking the ball while maintaining balance, visual perception of the ball, other players and the field, self-localisation and team play are among the many research issues investigated in the Humanoid League,” the organisers said.
The knee-high footballers, based at the University of Hertfordshire, are getting ready for the battle, even though they are not very good at possession, the BBC reported. They have been programmed to spot colour rather than shape, so they identify anything red as the ball.
“The kicking is most likely unintentional,” said their manager, Professor Daniel Polani. “We don't yet have robots that understand that kicking will hurt other robots. He thinks that he has seen the ball,” he said.
The robots are pre-programmed – about 50,000 lines of code go into preparing for a match – but there is also an element of learning. They ‘speak’ to their trainers as they play, explaining what they are seeing, and when they are configured for the next match all that information can be used to raise their game.