There’s no doubt that we’ve made significant advances in robotics in recent decades. Perhaps the best known example of this is the Honda ASIMO, a humanoid robot that can walk, crouch, run at up to 9 kph, and even hop on one foot.
The RoboCup initiative has even more ambitious plans in mind for robotic development. The organization’s goal is to:
By mid-21st century, [have] a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players win a soccer game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.
To that end, RoboCup holds annual competitions for roboticists all over the world; this year’s “robot world cup” will be held in Mexico, and the goal will be to see who fields the best robot team. There are four robot soccer leagues: standard platform league, the small size league, the middle size league, and the simulation league.
There are also competitions in other robot domains. There are the RoboCup Rescue leagues, which encourages the development of robots that we can use in emergency situations. There is RoboCup@Home, which is designed to facilitate learning and development in the field of domestic robots — everything from robot cleaners, to personal assistants. And finally, there is a junior league, which includes competition in soccer, rescue, and even robotic dance.
Make no mistake, this is not Junk Yard Wars/Scrap Heap Challenge. The advances that come out of these competitions are important to our future. Progress in rescue robotics, for example, will help us in disaster situations; fully-articulated and shielded humanoid robots could go into a nuclear power plant to help shut it down safely. Companion robots could assist the elderly in their day-to-day lives. We can also build exoskeletons to help injured or disabled people walk, or help the able-bodied increase their effective strength and endurance.
For more information on how to get involved, check out the main RoboCup site and see if there’s a national committee for your country. You can also attend RoboCup 2012 as a spectator; see the 2012 event site for details.