World Cup 2050: humans v. robots

Jun 27, 2002, vol. 24, no. 5
By Terry Lavender

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While most soccer fans are watching the dramatic developments at the World Cup in Korea and Japan, SFU Surrey professor Vadim Kyrylov (left) and his students have their eyes on a different soccer world cup - one that's played on computer screens rather than soccer fields.

Kyrylov and his two undergraduate research assistants, David Brokenshire (right) and Dennis Johnston, hope to compete as SFU's team in next year's RoboCup in Padova, Italy.

The RoboCup, which began in 1997, is an annual soccer simulation competition and conference with the ultimate goal to develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world soccer champion team by the year 2050.

Kyrylov says researchers have a long way to go before robots will take the field against human opponents, with many technological hurdles to overcome, especially in the field of electro-mechanics. He and his students are concentrating on one aspect of the problem - the artificial intelligence that may ultimately provide the mental power to guide those robots.

Kyrylov has been working in artificial intelligence since the late 1970s, when he was a professor at the Air Defence Radio Engineering Graduate College in the Soviet Union. The expertise he developed there in radar technology is serving him well as he tackles one of the major problems associated with soccer simulation, namely how the players navigate in their simulated environment.

“We need to make the players better aware of their surroundings, the other players, and the ball. Each simulated player will perceive information with higher precision than its opponents.”

Team interaction is another issue: “We need to work on the team skills. How do you get the players to act together and intellectually outplay the opponents?”

Kyrylov and his competitors don't have to worry about the graphics or animation during the tournament. The virtual field and the players are provided, leaving the competitors free to concentrate on the artificial intelligence that controls the players.

It's not all fun and games (though Kyrylov points out that the computer gaming industry is a $2-billion business in the Lower Mainland alone.) He sees possible applications for education, applied research and decision support for industrial strategy.

“Strategy games are very useful for business education. They can simulate competitive markets, or show what happens if different decisions are made.”

Further information can be found at RoboCup

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