Soccer is serious business, not just for humans, but also for robots. Every year, the robot version of the World Cup holds matches and the winner of those matches gets to bring home the RoboCup soccer trophy.
This year saw the RoboCup matches held in China, with the winner, a robot named Thor, taking home the 2015 prize.
More than 400 robotics teams from over 40 countries entered the competition, but as is the case with such contests, there is only one winner. This year saw a team of UCLA and University of Pennsylvania students take home the trophy. Their 5-foot-tall robot, Thor, short for Thorwin (a tribute to another robot the team created) won in the RoboCup finals with a 5-4 win, beating out Tehran's Baset Robot Laboratory in the adult-size humanoid robot category.
Robots competing in the RoboCup aren't just for sport, though: these robots must understand commands that have them kicking a ball with either foot, navigating around a soccer field and having the ability to sense opposing players' locations. These high-level commands demonstrate an advanced version of AI, as well as speed and dexterity.
The team also took home another prize from the competition: the Louis Vuitton Cup Best Humanoid Award. This award goes to the team with the robot that displays the most advances in AI and robotics technologies.
Thor gets to keep the trophy won at RoboCup for a year, until the next RoboCup competition. However, the competition is really more about the spirit of cooperation than competition.
"RoboCup is action-packed," says Thor's team leader Dennis Hong, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA. "Thousands of people from all around the world with cutting-edge robots and technology are all in one place. While it is great to win, the event is more about friendship than competition."
Thor's team reported that conditions for this year's RoboCup were tricky. There were problems with electricity, especially after everyone turned on their robots. Also, the arena where RoboCup held its matches had a white background that challenged the robot's "vision."
"However, as it is the same for all teams and as four-time defending champs, we are figuring out our ways through these obstacles successfully," wrote Min Sung Ahn, one of Thor's handlers.
Thor also competed in last month's DARPA robotic challenge, which places robots in simulations of disaster rescue settings, where it placed 13 out of 25 teams. That competition gives a total of $3.5 million to the winning teams.
The RoboCup hopes to make its competition more challenging by hosting one of the first humans vs. robots soccer match by the year 2050.
Photo credit: UCLA