Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The days of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nihat Kahveci and David Villa may be numbered. Machines will soon beat human footballers and its only a question of when, not if, scientists said Monday from the sidelines of the European robot football tournament.

Teams from across the continent - as well as some from further afield - are competing in Zurich for a berth in the tournament in Linz, Austria, later this week.

"The aim is for a robot team to beat the (human) world champions in 2050," said Rolf Pfeifer, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Zurich.

Others are more ambitious.

"I think that by 2015 or 2017 a robot team will beat the Austrian national squad," Peter Kopacek of Vienna's Technical University said. "It'll be 2025 before they beat the Brazilians."

In any case, machines have a long way to go before they master the tricks of professionals. In the two-legged category, the fastest robots take 35 seconds to complete a 2.4-meter (8-foot) sprint. Others take five minutes, fall over or get hopelessly lost on the field.

In the wheel-driven category, meanwhile, passing is unheard of and the game largely consists of pushing an orange golf ball into the opposing goal. Still, the sport has come a long way since the mid-1990s, Kopacek said.

"Spectators used to cheer if a robot crept across the field and chanced upon the ball," he said, adding that now there are shots on goal, counterattacks and even saves by the robot goalkeeper.

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What's with people and robots these days? It would be nice to see it though.

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