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Germany may be out of the Euros, but at least it won the World Cup of robot soccer

By Mike Murphy

In a disappointing defeat against France, the human German soccer team was knocked out of the European Championship July 7. But at least the nation can take heart that its robots proved victorious in the annual RoboCup robot soccer tournament that took place this past weekend in Leipzig, Germany.

The winning team, from the University of Bremen, called “B-Human,” beat out the University of Texas, Austin’s team—the wonderfully named “Austin Villa”—on penalties after a goalless draw in the final of the tournament, according to The Telegraph.

Robot teams play two 10-minute halves on a 9-by-6-meter pitch, autonomously roving about the field trying to pass the ball to teammates and score goals. But unlike the cool efficiency that the German human soccer team is known for, the robots are a bit more ramshackle in their approach to the sport. The bots struggle to play with the fluidity and ease often associated with “the beautiful game,” but according to the tournament’s organizers, the robots are improving each year, and the competition provides impetus for robotics researchers around the globe to improve techniques for teaching robots how to fall more safely, and how to run more efficiently.

The RoboCup has been running in some capacity since 1997, when a group of AI researchers meeting at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence first pitted robots against each other in soccer as a test of the feasibility of creating truly human-like robots. By the year 2050, the organizers believe that the winners of the RoboCup will be able to take on the human winners of that year’s World Cup. But thankfully, that’s still decades away, because if this weekend’s efforts are anything to go by, even Tonga—the lowest-ranked human national team in the world—would have no trouble with these bots. Having said that, England would still probably find a way to lose to them on penalties.