The Aussie Soccer-Playing Robots Heading To The World Cup

They’re shaping the wider field of industrial robotics and automation.

While the Fifa World Cup is almost finally here, it isn’t the only tournament turning heads.

Come June 16, a team of soccer ball-kicking, penalty-throwing robots will be representing Australia at the RoboCup in Montreal.

They’re called "NUbots", and at almost one metre tall, these autonomous robots are practically professionals.

Meet a 'NUbot'. Source: Supplied

“We’ve programmed the robots to visually locate a ball on the soccer field, navigate a path to it, judge space and distance and attempt to score a goal,” team leader and computer engineering student from the University of Newcastle Alex Biddulph said.

“NUbots may also be inclined to drop to the ground and throw a tantrum if they miss a shot.”

Biddulph said all parts of the machines were printed using carbon fibre and onyx materials -- a branded variety of the oxide mineral chalcedony -- to create light, yet sturdy, players.

This year, they’re the only Australian team competing in the teen division of the so-called humanoid league, where robots with both human-like bodies and senses battle it out in two ten-minute halves.

The team from the University of Newcastle assemble. Source: Supplied

The RoboCup was formed back in 1997, with an aim to develop a team of fully autonomous robots that would fare against a human soccer champion team by 2050.

While it may sound out of reach, the competition is not all about robots playing soccer -- it has been a launch pad for a swathe of breakthroughs in industrial robotics and automation.

Associate Professor Stephan Chalup, head of Newcastle Robotics Laboratory at the university’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computing, compares a soccer field to that of a lab testing coding algorithms.

“The coding created and shared between teams at the competition can have all kinds of meaningful applications in health and medical imaging, agriculture, facial recognition, transport and defence.'

It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and Chalup said Australia was among the countries leading the way with research.

“While assimilating human behaviours so that robots can interpret emotions still presents a challenge in the automation industry, events such as the RoboCup encourage global collaboration, bringing us one step closer to our goal of creating meaningful outcomes for society.”