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Goal! In 2006 RoboCup, Soccer Robots Test Their Metal In World Competition

Germany defeated Poland in one-to-nothing nailbiter in the World Cup in Dortmund yesterday, while Spain crushed the Ukraine four-to-nothing in Leipzig. Meanwhile, in Bremen, R2D2 took the field against C3PO in a hotly contested match.

The 2006 RoboCup, a huge international soccer tournament bringing together 440 teams from 36 countries, began yesterday in the German city known for Beck's lager and its town musicians. But while the players on the field of the official World Cup of Soccer are flesh-and-blood humans, the contestants in the RoboCup are, well, robots.

Far from being a curious sideshow riding the coattails of the main event being played in the great stadiums of Germany's largest cities, the RoboCup is about pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence and robotics. According to RoboCup Federation vice president Hans-Dieter Burkhard, cybernetic soccer is really all about serious research. "After 50 years of research within artificial intelligence, it has been determined that these things can be better researched using soccer than the game of chess," he said in a statement.

And the comparison to chess is hardly an accident. Anyone whose skin crawled when IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer defeated chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov a decade ago will feel a deep chill at the RoboCup federation's ultimate goal: to beat humans at their own beautiful game. The ultimate goal of the tournament is to stimulate robotics and AI research to the point that researchers will be able to field a fully autonomous team of humanoid robots against a human squad by 2050.

"For the coming decade, RoboCup 2006 is the first step towards a communal vision," RoboCup Federation president Minoru Asada said in a statement. "This vision includes the development of a humanoid robot team of eleven players, which can win against a human soccer world champion team."

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