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Soccer Robots Duel at Smithsonian

December 11, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The auditorium howled as the attacker charged the goal, made the winning shot and knocked over the goalie in the process. A typical soccer game _ except the attacker and goalie were both robots, about one-foot tall and speeding on wheels.

It was robot-mania at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum Saturday as hundreds of elementary school children and their parents crammed to see a team of the life-like machines compete.

The duel, dubbed ``RoboCup,″ matched robots designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Cornell universities. The robots, which are designed according to strict guidelines on shape and size, are small boxes fashioned with two motors to control speed and direction. The competition has traveled the world with competitions in Nagoya, Japan, Paris and Stockholm since 1997.

Artificial Intelligence researcher Manuela Veloso said her students programmed the robots to make decisions such as whether to shoot or pass the ball on their own and to operate without the control of their creators.

The day’s events also included a presentation of the ``Black Falcon,″ a tele-operated device that makes surgery less invasive, and an example of how robotics could take over some tasks in medicine someday in the future.

Museum officials scrambled to accommodate the crowds who flooded the event and added an extra presentation to the schedule. It was accompanied by a presentation by museum curator Steven Lubar on the history of robots in American culture. With him was one of the original costumes of the ``Star Wars″ character C-3PO as he spoke about other endearing robots of the past such as ``Electro,″ a 1939 Westinghouse creation designed to help sell washing machines.

The robot researchers seemed stumped as they fielded questions from the elementary school students about the size and type of the processors used in the machines.

``How fast is the processor,″ one youngster asked. Veloso, not knowing the answer, consulted her team for a few awkward moments before announcing, ``100 megahertz.″

But 5-year-old Chuck Conran of Fairfax, Va., was more interested in talking to the robots than to the researchers. Addressing one designed to look like a dog, he commanded: ``Roll over.″

The robot, unable to hear voices, sat there.

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