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Games Machines Play

  World Cup for Robots
Photo of Robotic Dogs
  Programmers found the dogs had better speed and ball control when walking on their forearms.

Two years ago, Alan Alda and the FRONTIERS team attended RoboCup 1999, a competition among computer scientists the world over and their teams of soccer-playing robots. At this contest in Stockholm, we discovered small, speedy robots that were not only physically able to dribble and kick. These machines were programmed to make the decisions necessary to play the game, independent of their programmers. For professors Manuela Veloso of Carnegie Mellon and Raffaello D'Andrea of Cornell, RoboCup was the perfect challenge for their talented students. After many exciting matches, Cornell's robots were able to win the day.

Fast forward to RoboCup 2001 and the level of play is decidedly more advanced. Alan joins Raffaello in the stands to watch the Cornell team fight to retain their title. As in the 1999 contest, each team's robots are controlled by a central computer system which uses a camera mounted above the playing surface. The students teach their computer to see the ball and anticipate certain scenarios for the robots to carry out, all in a split second. Each year, the most advanced teams are not just quick and agile, they're able to work together effectively on the field. To Raffaello's disappointment, Cornell finds a team from Singapore a formidable foe in a close semi-final, and the robosoccer champion falls, 1-0.

photo of Alan Cheering
Alan and Raffaello D'Andrea get caught up in a tense match.  

Competing in another category, teams of soccer-playing robotic dogs have also made incredible progress since their debut in 1999. The dogs (who, unlike the wheeled robots, function independently of each other as well as their human programmers) are now faster and better able to pass and shoot with precision. In this category, and in every other, the teams share their software secrets at the end of the competition. So each year, entirely new breakthroughs are achieved, building on the collective innovations of the past.

For more on this topic, see the web features:
The Future of AI

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