Monday, March 26, 2007

Although it didn't attract the worldwide media attention that the World Cup did, the RoboCup 2006 certainly generated plenty of excitement and enthusiasm for those that attended the event. Billed as the most important robotic competition in the world and patterned after the World Cup, RoboCup is a series of soccer matches played by teams of mechanical robots. Not remote controlled robots, but programmed robots that operate autonomously with no outside interference. They must know their location on the field at all times as well as that of the ball. As in real soccer the object is to score goals. Kind of reminds me of an episode of the Jetsons where George and Mr Spacely attend a robotic football game. Truly an example of life imitating art.

With over 2500 participants, the competition was made up of more than 400 teams from 36 countries. American soccer fans can console themselves with the fact that the small robot competition was won by the team from Carnegie Mellon University. Possibly the most intriguing bit of info in this story is the additional service provided by Carnegie Mellon - live play-by-play commentary during the event. Admittedly, it can't be too difficult to call the action with such relatively slow moving robots, but Carnegie Mellons announcers weren't human - they were two four legged robots named Ami and Sango, developed and built by Sony Corporation and programmed by Carnegie Mellon researchers. The announcer-bots can track the ball, know which team has possession and move their heads and bodies to follow the action on the field. Using synthesized speech, they announce when a robot player kicks or passes the ball, how fast the ball is moving and when a goal is scored. When a goal is scored the announcer-bots are programmed to respond accordingly. One might dance around with arms waving while the other shouts out appropriate comments. Each robot calls plays on only half of the playing field because of limited vision range, but they are programmed not to talk simultaneously. If action occurs on one side of the field while the other robot is talking, the first robot can interrupt and the other will stop talking. In the future these mechanical marvels will be able to handle many more announcing duties, all completely autonomously. Not only will they accurately call the action on the field, but they can instantly provide, from sophisticated onboard computers, additional commentary on a variety of topics including in-depth individual statistics and intricate rules of the game.

Howie and Terry might be looking for new jobs soon...

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