South Korea wins big at robot World Cup

The South Korean soccer team may have a slim chance of winning the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup, which gets underway in Seoul on Friday, but a team of miniature robots representing the country swept to victory in half of the sections of the FIRA robot World Cup which concluded Wednesday.

The country won in four of eight league tournaments that took place under the auspices of FIRA, the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association in which 35 nations take part. The robots that competed for the championship are not as cute and cuddly as Aibo, Sony Corp.'s entertainment robot, but they are packed with state-of-the-art robotics technology.

For the scientists and developers, the tournament is all about research. Demands are placed on the robots in several major research areas such as mechanics, sensors and intelligence and the competitive environment adds an element of pressure that pushes the designers to make sure their robots can work as quickly and cohesively as possible.

The championship is divided into several leagues, each of which pits different numbers or types of robots against each other.

The HuroSot league pits teams of three humanoid robots against each other and was won by the HanSaRam-II team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Second place went to a team from South Korea's Myongji University and Singapore Polytechnic's Robo Erectus II came in third place. A technical merit award for autonomous operation was given to Tao-Pie-Pie from the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

South Korea also scored victories in the MiroSot micro robot soccer championship, with SungKyunKwan University edging out the University of Dortmund, Germany, and Northeastern University, China, for first place in the middle league. The small league was dominated by Korean teams with YeungNam University scoring first and second place with two teams of different robots and SungKyunKwan University coming in third.

The MiroSot robots are limited by regulations to no larger than 7.5 centimeters wide, tall or deep and most feature wheels to allow them to speed around the pitch. The rules also limit human help to just three people -- a manager, coach and trainer -- while one host computer can be used during the games for some control and vision processing.

University teams from around the world walked off with prizes in other leagues, with other first place winners including Wuhan Institute of Chemical Technology from China, National Taiwan University, Southern Denmark University and Harbin Institute of Technology from China. Other universities with positions in the top three included the University of Buenos Aires from Argentina.

The FIRA 2002 tournament is the latest in a string of robot soccer tournaments that began in November 1996 with the Micro-Robot World Cup Soccer Tournament (MiroSot) at KAIST. A total of 23 teams from 10 countries entered the first event, which was won by the Newton team from Newton Laboratories in the U.S. The Soty team of hosts KAIST came in second.

Follow-up championships were organized at KAIST in June 1997, in Paris to coincide with the last FIFA World Cup in 1998, in Brazil in August 1999 and in Australia in August 2000 to coincide with the Sydney Olympic Games.

It is not the only robot soccer tournament that is being held alongside the FIFA World Cup. RoboCup 2002 will run for a week from June 19 in the west Japanese city of Fukuoka. The competition will include five leagues including the simulation league, small-size robot league, mid-size robot league, Sony four-legged robot league and humanoid league.

The event is being supported by the Robotics Society of Japan, the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, the Society of Instrument and Control Engineers and the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. More information on Robocup is available online at http://www.robocup.org .

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