“Battle of the bots: US blocks Iran and putters ball to glory in RoboCup finals” in The Guardian

July 23rd, 2015

Battle of the bots: US blocks Iran and putters ball to glory in RoboCup finals

By: Alan Yuhas | Posted 22 July 2015

The American robot, named THORwin and designed by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, won the “adult-size humanoid” category of the annual event, held this year in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei.

In the “adult” category, rival robots face off one on one and take turns as striker and keeper. The automatons must stand at least four feet tall, and have to dribble past objects on the field before they cock a metal leg and take a shot at goal.

Despite the advanced technology that makes the robots, American soccer fans will not soon stand in awe of their grace or clamor for electronic athletes on national teams – at least not on the women’s team. The robots shuffle about in search of a ball to kick with the finesse of a microwave on stilts, and fire off shots with the force of an overcharged toaster.

The skeletal Iranian robot, designed by Baset Pazhuh Tehran, stands (relatively) tall on flat feet and spindly legs. A stick that might be its head juts out from a boxy torso.

The American robot, 108lbs of motorized menace, has flat-paneled legs, a broad and open torso and a vaguely rhomboid head fronted by a visor.

But the robots putter the ball to glory all on their own, showcasing their sophisticated AI software. They play uncontrolled by the engineers who designed them.

A University of Pennsylvania team also won the category’s top prize in the 2014 RoboCup in Brazil. Iran has become a perennial contender in the competition, placing first in last year’s “teen-size” category and third in the “kid-size” league.

In the latter, two-foot-tall robots battle on the pitch, each mechanical player designed to have its particular emphasis on speed, power and balance. There are four robots per team.

Matches tend to play out not unlike soccer played by children who have not quite grasped the rules or bodily coordination. The robots swarm around a tiny ball, knock each other over, dive wildly at inopportune moments and, occasionally, summon all their feeble powers to get the ball in the goal.

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