Soccer is surely worlds apart from chess, Go and Poker, whose grandmasters have already suffered humiliating defeats to machines. It is hard to imagine Ronaldo-the-Robot slipping past Germany’s Mats Hummels. But science has been warming up for this challenge for quite some time now and is doing its all to score this tantalizing goal. At CeBIT 2017, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) is showing how far autonomous robotic soccer players have come toward mastering clichés such as "Bend it like Beckham", "Play with your heart, not just your feet" and "You can’t score a goal if you don’t take a shot" with its B-Human team of NAO robots.
The reigning world champion robot soccer player is showing off his skills at regular intervals at the DFKI stand at CeBIT. Two NAO players – an attacking midfielder and a goalkeeper – are playing head-to-head on a three-by-four-meter pitch, including a penalty shoot-out. While they battle it out, the scientists behind the B-Human team will be fielding any questions on the touchline. The joint project between the DFKI’s Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) Research Department led by Prof. Rolf Drechsler and the Mathematics and Information Technology Department at the University of Bremen has a squad of ten NAO robots and 19 students from the University. They are "coached" by two mentors, Dr. Thomas Röfer from the DFKI and Dr. Tim Laue from the University of Bremen, who are helping the students develop the software. The RoboCup German Open and the RoboCup World Championship are annual highlights for the team and provide the scientists with regular feedback on how well they have "trained" all those hours on the computer. The effort sure seems to have paid off with five world cups and eight European championships now under their belts!