Can robo-Rooneys win the 2050 World Cup?

A team of football playing robots will be able to play and beat a human team by the 2050 World Cup, according to German researchers.

CeBIT’s halls have thrown up some oddities this year, but watching robots tackling each other in a two-a-side football match ranks among the oddest.

However, it’s a sight that will become increasingly common if the team from the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence has its way. They’ve entered a competition, dubbed Robocup 2050, in which teams from all across the world enter their robotic creations in annual four-a-side football matches.

There’s a lot of AI challenges in sport. We need them to sync their AI and work with each other, they need to be able to understand their surroundings and react to them

The aim is to encourage development of robots and artificial intelligence so that by 2050 a robotic team can beat a human team in the World Cup. While the robots on display probably had enough talent to put a scare in the current England back four, their chances of beating Spain look slim.

The robots are programmed to kick an orange ball – leading to an interesting moment when the team had to ask a spectator with an orange bag to cover it up – recognise when they’re in the proximity of an opposition player and tackle them, and pick themselves off the floor when they fall.

While the task may seem a bit of harmless fun, the team claims it’s focusing attention on a number of significant problems in robotics. “There’s a lot of AI challenges in sport,” said Veit Briten, a researcher with the center.

“We need them to sync their AI and work with each other, they need to be able to understand their surroundings and react to them, and set their own goals and work out how to achieve them. If their battery runs low they need to head back to the charging bench.”

According to Briten, great strides have already been made thanks to the thirteen-year-old tournament. “When I started three years ago the robots were four legged and much slower. Now they’ve got better hardware, they’re more agile. They’re developing quickly.”

Unlike that England back four. Even better, the robots are considerably cheaper. A football robot costs 12,000 euros, and they’re never caught anywhere they shouldn’t be.

Bad tackle

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