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Booting Up: Better Technolgy Through Soccer (UVa RoboCup)

From Virginia Alumni News
December 1, 2001

An international soccer competition in August attracted teams from all over the world, including one from U.Va. But this team didn't have to worry about injuries, travel uniforms or a long ride home on the bus, in fact, the players at RoboCup 2001 weren't even human. And the coaches for the U.Va, team don't hang out in the athletics department, but instead in the computer science labs.

The fifth annual RoboCup - a soccer tournament for robots-attracted teams from more than 20 countries to the weeklong event in Seattle. Although some games consisted of actual robots kicking tiny soccer balls the size of golf balls, the U.Va. team competed in the simulation league. Its members - two professors and four students - spent the summer writing a program that would enable their 11 digital players to respond to ever-changing conditions on a simulated field.

Although they may know how their own players might respond to a given situation, they have no idea what tricks the opposing team might have in its program.

"It's a lot like watching a real game," explains Keen Browne, a third-year computer science major. "We are not allowed to intervene during the game, so we have to design our program to anticipate problems.

The exercise has broader implications 1 than simple entertainment, of course. Developing artificial intelligence systems that can respond to unknown environments could be useful in finding land mines or exploring a distant planet, says David Evans, an assistant professor of computer science and member of the team.

While most teams had significantly more time to work on their programs, the U.Va. team had just three months to prepare. "We even pulled a couple of allnighters," noted Browne. Unfortunately, after all that work, the U.Va. team did not make it out of the first round against such competition as Carnegie Mellon and AT&T.

Still, the team is already planning for next year.

"It was definitely the most fun summer I've had," says Browne.

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