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Meet Dribblebot, MIT’s New Soccer-Playing Robot ‘Dog’

It remains to be seen whether robots will rise up against humans, but they could end up fielding a better soccer team than us sooner than anyone was expecting.

Researchers at MIT have just unveiled a new robot called DribbleBot that can dribble a soccer ball. The quadruped droid won’t be displacing any national team players anytime soon, but that doesn’t make its prowess with the ball any less impressive.

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DribbleBot is the handiwork of MIT’s Improbable Artificial Intelligence Lab, which is part of the school’s bigger Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. It moves through the world on a set of four articulating legs instead of wheels, just like Boston Dynamics’s name-making robot, Spot. Where it separates itself from its peer is in its ability to use those legs, at least the front set, to dribble a soccer ball. And thanks to a mixture of onboard sensing and algorithmic computing technology, it’s able to do so over a variety of natural terrain, including sand, gravel, mud and snow, all while adjusting how much pressure it puts on the ball. It can even use those sensors, which include a camera atop its head, to intercept a ball that crosses its path, while a recovery controller allows it to pick itself up after a fall and continue dribbling.

DribbleBot is able to do more than just kick a ball around, though. The robotic system and sensor that allow the robot to play soccer, will also allow it to aid humans during a disaster, especially in the search-and-rescue process.

“The whole point of studying legged robots is to go terrains outside the reach of current robotic systems,” Professor Pulkit Agrawal, the director of the Improbably AI Lab, said in a statement. “Our goal in developing algorithms for legged robots is to provide autonomy in challenging and complex terrains that are currently beyond the reach of robotic systems.”

Researchers have actually been working on soccer-playing robots for decades now, according to Business Insider. An annual robotics competition called the RoboCup was established more than a quarter-century ago. People involved with the competition have talked about wanting to build a team of robots that could beat the human World Cup winners by 2050. That’s unlikely to happen that soon, but DribbleBot suggests it’s not completely out of the realm of possibilities either.

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