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Will Robots Triumph Over World Cup Winners by 2050?

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Middle-size robots competing in Eindhoven, Netherlands in 2013.

The RoboCup competition originally featured leagues of small-size and middle-size wheeled robots and simulations, and has expanded to include humanoid robot soccer leagues, as well as leagues of robots with more immediate practicality.

Credit: Joyce Van Belkom/AFP/Getty Images

From 2019 to 2022, I had the privilege of serving as president of the RoboCup Federation. RoboCup is an annual international competitive event that merges visionary thinking about how AI and robotics will change the world with practical robot design. Participants spend months solving diverse technical problems to enable their robots to autonomously play soccer, do household chores, or search for disaster victims. And their efforts are in turn enabling fundamental advances in a range of fields, including machine learning, multiagent systems, and human-robot interaction.

RoboCup's original goal, as defined by founding president Hiroaki Kitano, was to enable a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots to beat the best human soccer team in the world on a real, outdoor field by the year 2050. Since the first RoboCup competition in 1997 which featured three leagues—small-size wheeled robots, middle-size wheeled robots, and simulation—the event has expanded to include humanoid robot soccer leagues, as well as other leagues devoted to robots with more immediate practicality. The next RoboCup event takes place in July in Bordeaux, France, where 2,500 humans (and 2,000 robots) from 45 countries are expected to compete.

From IEEE Spectrum
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