Robots in the playground

SOCCER heroes may soon be displaced from their pedestals by a team of robots. In the first week of September, 22 teams of mechanical engineers paraded their star players before a spellbound audience in Osaka, Japan. The event in progress was the Techno-soccer Challenge, held for the second year in succession.

To prove their mettle, the "iron men" had to dribble a red ball down a pitch, around a set of obstacles. Strobe lights, ultrasonic speakers and a black guide line were the only things available to help them navigate the course. After negotiating the obstacles, the robots had to shoot the ball at a goal'I.2 metres wide and then pick up as many other balls as possible within 3 minutes. While they were supported by humans in scooping up the ball and scoring, the robots were left to their own means when it came to finding their way around the pitch.

The hot favourite was Helix, an aluminium -shelled robot created by mechanical engineer Kazuo Yamazaki with assistance from a team of American undergraduates. The event was, however, won by the robot from Japan's Toyohashi University of Technology, who beat his nearest rival 12 goals to 11.