TOKYO As sports fans sit glued to the televised World Cup games from Japan and South Korea, soccer matches of another sort will kick off in Fukuoka, Japan next week. The sixth annual RoboCup, an international research project in robotics and artificial intelligence, will host soccer-playing humanoid robots for the first time.
Twelve teams from six countries will bring in robots that range in size from 16 to 72 inches tall. Honda's commercial humanoid robot, Asimo, will also give demonstrations.
"It is really difficult and challenging for humanoid robots to play soccer," said Minoru Asada, professor of Osaka University's Graduate School of Engineering and chairman of the RoboCup Japanese National Committee. For a robot to qualify, he said, it must pass a screening test, "which is to stand on one leg for one minute. Since this year's league is the first time [for RoboCup soccer], to fight 11 humanoid robots vs. 11 is not yet possible."
Thus the meets that begin on Wednesday (June 19) will be more like "a kind of exhibition," not a real game, Asada said. The robotic players will compete on such events as walking speed, goal points earned by kicking and "free style."
The concept of robot soccer was first proposed in 1993, well before the first RoboCup event was staged in 1997. The organizers of that initial RoboCup put soccer on their wish list, with the goal of developing, by 2050, "a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world champion team in soccer."
Hiroaki Kitano, president of the RoboCup Federation, said that the goal is "to urge the development of safe, high-performance robots that can play with humans without any danger. Games like soccer have body contact. Robots should not injure human players in such body contact. That means that robots should have reached a fairly high level of safety" by the time they take to the field with humans. Hence the lengthy lead time, to 2050, for the dream match.
In addition to the soccer competition, two more categories of competition at this year's event include RoboCup Rescue and RoboCup Junior. Rescue was organized to promote research and development of large-scale disaster-simulation and disaster-relief robots. The Junior competition is a program to stimulate children's interest in robot technologies.
Also new this year is the Robotrex exhibition, designed to foster the next generation of robots. More than 50 companies, universities and research institutes will show robot-related technologies and products. "Because of the location and relatively large share of Japanese companies in this field, this year's exhibitors are mostly Japanese," said Asada. "If this year's exhibition is successful, next year we'll see a lot of exhibitors from outside of Japan."
A total of 193 teams from 30 countries or regions of the world will take part in RoboCup 2002, along with more than 1,000 researchers. Details of the event will be available at the RoboCup Web site.