July 3, 2007 RoboCup 2007 kicks-off today in Atlanta where nearly 300 teams from 37 countries are gathered to compete in the annual showcase of artificial intelligence at the Georgia Institute of Technology. RoboCup presents an ideal platform for the demonstration of robotic traits such as multi-agent collaboration, strategy acquisition and real-time reasoning and not only that – it’s an engaging spectator sport. In addition to competitions for small, medium, humanoid and four-legged robots, this year’s tournament sees the debut of the Nanogram League, a competition involving soccer-related agility drills for microscopic robots.

Essentially the equivalent of the FIFA world cup, but for robots, the first official RoboCup games and conference was held in 1997. The ultimate goal of the RoboCup project is develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world champion team in soccer by the year 2050. Though it seems like an ambitious objective, the chances of this being achieved are not too remote in the context of the huge advances in robotics over the past decade.

The competition is being held on a university campus for the first time since 2001 and over 1,700 participants have registered for the event which coincides with the the 11th annual RoboCup International Symposium where the major players in the world of robotics meet and discuss the implications of their research. The conference provides an opportunity for researchers to explore the links between their respective disciplines.

In addition to the robot soccer matches, robot assisted rescue operations – considered one of the major applications of RoboCup technologies - again feature in this year’s program. Initiated to promote research in socially significant issues, this aspect of the competition highlights the potential for robots to assist humans in a variety of roles. It is clear that within the next decade, robots will be increasingly relevant to the typical householder as their use becomes more commonplace.

Last year’s competition held in Bremen, Germany, involved approximately 2,500 scientists, engineers, and information technologists from across the globe - though nutritionists and sports psychologists usually seen at a major sporting event were conspicuous in their absence. Home teams proved very successful with eleven of the 33 gold cups awarded to German entries with China second (nine gold medals), Japan third (six medals), and Iran in fourth place Iran (five medals). First and second places in the popular Four Legged League both went to Australia.

Main Photo Credit: Messe Bremen (RoboCup Bremen 2006)

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