Robots gear up for European football championship

More than 50,000 visitors are expected at next month's RoboCup, to be held in Italy

More than 200 organisations are preparing to bring their teams of robots to RoboCup 2003 next month in Padua, Italy, an event where researchers test out the latest artificial intelligence techniques in games of football or rescue simulations.

Event organisers said last week that 183 teams from around the world, mostly from universities, have registered for rescue simulation competitions and various leagues of football, while another 80 groups are to show off robots aimed at children. The event is expecting more than 50,000 visitors.

While RoboCup has its lighter side, it is one of the most prominent events in the world for both artificial-intelligence researchers and for companies such as Honda and Sony wishing to show off their latest robotics technology. An accompanying symposium will consider papers such as "Feature-based declarative opponent-modelling", "Recognition and prediction of motion situations based on a qualitative motion description" and "Developing comprehensive state estimators for robot soccer".

The event benefits researchers by providing a standard problem that can be solved by a wide variety of technologies.

In recent years, advances in robotics and computer technology have led to renewed interest in robots. Several companies have produced humanoid robots capable of walking on two legs, even up stairs or across uneven surfaces, while Sony has virtually single-handedly created a consumer-robot market with its Aibo dog, released in 1999.

Robot technologies such as vision and mobility systems have also made their way into the broader world of IT, including surveillance. Hewlett-Packard is even testing robots that could attend meetings in place of a human, in order to cut down on business travel.

Ahead of RoboCup, Sony Entertainment Robot Europe said another European university has signed up to integrate its Aibo robots into the research curriculum. The Institut des Sciences et Techniques des Yvelines (ISTY), an engineering institute that is part of the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin en Yvelines, in France, is introducing a mechatronics class with Aibo studies.

The Laboratoire de Robotique de Versailles (LRV), another part of the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin en Yvelines, has been using Aibos for some time. "It enables us to test our research results in practice; for example, the mobility of the robot's legs and its visual ability in terms of distance control," said LRV professor Pierre Blazevic in a statement. Several other universities across Europe also have Aibo-based research programmes.

RoboCup's "four-legged league" uses Aibo robots, while the "humanoid league" pits two-legged robots such as Honda's Asimo against one another.

The event says its ultimate goal is to develop a team of fully autonomous robots by the year 2050 that can win against the human world soccer champion team.


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