Robot scientists have matched machine against machine in popular sporting matches, such as the 2003 Robocup American Open, which drew 6,000 robot-soccer fans to Pittsburgh. Now Manuela Veloso at Carnegie Mellon University wants to arrange a game in which robots compete alongside human players—a step toward an intellectual partnership between man and machine.
Veloso is building 11 soccer-playing machines from modified Segway scooters equipped with cameras and laptop computers that can make strategic decisions and identify voice commands like “I’m open!” The robo-athletes can recognize an orange ball and colored landmarks that delineate the field and goalposts and can shoot and pass. “They can see the world around them, make decisions, and move,” Veloso says. Human teammates also ride Segways so that all participants are on an equal footing. To score a goal, a team has to pass the ball to at least one human and one robot, assuring constant collaboration between mechanicals and biologicals.
The Segway’s electronic gyroscopes allow Veloso to focus on game-playing software without having to worry about keeping the robots upright. The lessons learned, she hopes, will hasten the day when robots can collaborate with people in space exploration, deep-sea research, and search-and-rescue efforts.