Humanoids may vie for football glory by '50

Humanoids may vie for football glory by '50

Messi vs The Machine. The face-off may sound straight out of an ambitious sci-fi but, if the growing interest for robot soccer events across the world is any indication, the prospect is not outrageously ambitious either.

At least, not by the year 2050 when robotics experts hope to pitch a team of humanoids against humans in a football match. The Argentine superstar may not be on the pitch but this could be a blockbuster match in the making.

In June this year, the RoboCup event at Eindhoven in The Netherlands had triggered much talk of a possible match in 2050 between the FIFA world champions and a team of humanoids. The challenge is in having the technology match up at staggering pace, according to Dr Prahlad Vadakkeppat, general secretary of the Federation of International Robosoccer Association (FIRA). FIRA and RoboCup are among groups that are at the forefront of organising robotic competitions in different parts of the world.

“A lot of our kids will be able to witness this. Many of us are skeptical of this deadline as the technology is yet to reach the needed threshold. However, deadlines help us push ourselves,” Vadakkeppat, Associate Professor (Electrical and Computer Engineering) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), told Deccan Herald in an interview.

Vadakkeppat, who hails from Palakkad in Kerala, said interest in robotics lacked the focus on research in India.

To take the interest beyond short-term student initiatives, FIRA had brought the 10th Robot World Cup and Congress to Bangalore in 2010.

The tournament has had editions in many countries, including France, Brazil, Korea, Germany, USA and China. There’s independent research going on in the IITs and NITs but it takes more to hit the big league, the FIRA general secretary said. The association has plans to bring the Robot World Cup and Congress to Palakkad in 2015 or 2016.

The group at NUS develops both wheeled and legged robots capable of playing football. Various sensors are used to make the humanoid sense its own position in the match environment, avoid obstacles, manipulate objects and seek targets.

The information from these sensors is fused to make the humanoid understand the world around and act accordingly in that world.

“A three-year-old can gracefully move on top of rocks. However, it’s an extremely difficult task for two-legged (bipedal) robots. Bipedal stable walking and embodied cognition are the two major bottlenecks to tackle,” Vadakkeppat said.

Vadakkeppat, along with Goswami Ambarish of Honda, USA, and Prof Kim Jong-Hwan from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is bringing out a major reference book that’s tipped to expedite research on humanoids. Apart from the USA and several European nations, Japan, Korea, Singapore and China have shown great interest in robot soccer.

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