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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bots engage in pitch battle as RoboCup kicks off

Preliminary match in Osaka puts latest technology through its paces, and not just for sport


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Excitement ripples through the onlookers as the players take their positions on the pitch. The whistle blows, and the match begins. But just as one player clears the ball and starts racing toward the goalposts, the referee blows a whistle.

"Illegal move. The computer needs to be reset," he says.

This is one of the first of many preliminary matches at RoboCup 2005, which opened Wednesday at Osaka's Intex center. Over the next five days, teams of soccer-playing robots will advance through the preliminary rounds to the championship games, which will be held July 17.

Nearly 1,800 people from 31 countries have built robots of all shapes and sizes primarily for the purpose of playing soccer. While lacking the fancy footwork of Pele, the aggressiveness of Ronaldo or the changing hairstyles of David Beckham, these machines and their makers are on a mission.

"By 2050, our goal is to have a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players compete against the winners of the most recent World Cup, playing under official FIFA rules," said Hitoshi Matsubara, chairman of the RoboCup Japanese National Committee.

The competition is being held in Japan for the third time, following Nagoya in 1997 and a tournament cohosted by Fukuoka and Pusan, South Korea, in 2002 to coincide with the real World Cup soccer finals.

There are five leagues in the RoboCup tournament. The small robots' (with a base diameter less than 18 cm) league plays with an orange golf ball in teams of five.

The midsize robots have a maximum base diameter of 50 cm tall and play in teams of four to six with an orange ball on a field 12 meters long and 8 meters wide.

Teams of four-legged robots play in what has been dubbed by participants as the AIBO league, as teams of Sony's doglike AIBO robot push an orange ball around a small pitch, wagging their tails but not, as one onlooker remarked, making any loud yapping noises.

There is also a humanoid league, the newest form of robot technology at RoboCup. Here bipedal robots compete in penalty kicks and two-on-two matches.

While RoboCup is about fun and games on the pitch, it is also about highlighting, through entertainment and exhibitions, the more practical and serious applications of robot technology.

One of the competitions is called RoboCup rescue, where robots are put through a series of mazes to reach a goal.

The competition highlights the latest advances in robotic search-and-rescue technologies that may eventually be used by fire and police departments as well as emergency medical technicians.

Other futuristic technologies on display include a humanoid robot that can analyze the fat and vitamin content of certain foods.

When the robot's "hand" is placed on an apple, a piece of pork, a bun or a cup of tea, an analysis of the food, including it's sugar, fat and vitamin content, appears on a computer terminal.

"We're still in the development stage, and have no plans to sell it commercially anytime soon. However, we eventually envision it being used not only by individuals but also by hospitals and supermarkets," said Tsutomu Ashio, a manager at NEC System Technologies Ltd., which developed the robot.



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The Japan Times

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