A robot should be the perfect football player. They’re hardy, can run long distances without getting tired and when they break a leg, it’s a quick fix-up before they’re back on the pitch. But it turns out they’ve got a long way to go.
ARTEMIS is a robot designed to challenge the world of football. While it stands for Advanced Robotic Technology for Enhanced Mobility and Improved Stability, its creators affectionally refer to it as ‘Robot That Exceeds Messi in Soccer’.
It’s always bold to claim something is better than… well, one of the world’s best, so does ARTEMIS live up to that claim? Unfortunately, no. In a demonstration at the tech conference GITEX 2023, the robot was let loose on a football, kicking it back and forth with its team of creators.
While ARTEMIS landed the occasional kick, sending the ball back with a light roll, the robot more often let it gently roll past it, or even straight over its own foot. The machine did this all while jogging on the spot in what can only be described as a nervous ‘do you know where the restroom is?’ energy.
But, while it wasn’t exactly the performance of a lifetime, we were informed that the robot was operating at a lower level. Normally, ARTEMIS operates autonomously, using a combination of artificial intelligence (AI)and sensors to move around and play football.
“The locomotion part is not artificial intelligence, it is model-based. However, its autonomy is done using AI so when the camera looks around, it needs to know where the ball is and where the players are using digital-based localisation, it needs to plan to play soccer”, Dennis Hong, founding director of the company behind ARTEMIS told BBC Science Focus at GITEX.
“This is a one-of-a-kind robot. It can walk, jump and run. It is also the world’s fastest human-shaped robot and it is fully autonomous.”
Despite its slightly wobbly demonstration, ARTEMIS is poised to revolutionise the football world, or at least that is the plan for it.
“There is a competition called RoboCup. It’s an international autonomous robot soccer competition. The goal is that by the year 2050, we will play the current World Cup-winning team,” Hong explained.
“When that game does finally happen, they want it to be a fair match. So the robots can have two cameras in the front, replicating human vision, but they couldn’t have one in the back.”
The RoboCup group has held yearly matches since 1997 and will once again meet in 2024 to put their robots to the test. While that 2050 goal is still a long way away, there is still a lot of progress to be made.
In the 2023 RoboCup, ARTEMIS was pitched against Sweaty, a robot named after its ability to self-cool its motors via evaporative cooling (how very human). The matchup felt similar to what we imagine two babies playing football would look like – a lot of support, plenty of falls, and a crowd of people cheering on for every attempted kick made.
However, by the time of the 2024 RoboCup, the team behind ARTEMIS will have had a chance to make changes and improvements. While its GITEX demonstration wasn’t the Messi-beating experience we were hoping for, there was proof that the robot could at least kick the ball, and besides, the ARTEMIS team are five-time champions at this point.
It has also been shown to run up to 2.1m/s, a slow but improving speed from its usual awkward walk. Hong also repeatedly demonstrated its ability to stay on its two feet, despite being kicked, tackled and generally knocked about.
In other words, ARTEMIS is probably better than most players on your five-a-side team. But Harry Kane can rest easy for now.