Robots are slowly encroaching into the sporting industry. You’ve most likely come across some familiar or otherwise strange robot sporting events. Can robots really play games, and if so, should they be classified as real sports?

Well, technically, a robot can play any game if equipped with the right skill set and body. Here is a look at three popular robot sports…

RoboCup

RoboCup is by far the most successful robot sporting event. It’s a robot football league held in various cities around the world with over 500 participating teams. The game has a massive following and support and has come a long way since its debut in 1997.

All teams competing in the challenge must have fully autonomous robots and adhere to a strict set of rules and guidelines. The project is an international scientific initiative with a bold ambition of not only competing but winning against a human football team by 2050.

Fighting sports

Although robot fighting sports have not yet evolved into organised international events, they are still a big thing in the robot sporting arena.

A good example is the U.S. BattleBots event series, where small robots controlled by humans battle it out in a UFC-style arena. The Japanese also have what they call robot-sumo or Pepe-sumo. The contenders are small, fully autonomous robots called sumobots. Each sumobot attempts to push its opponent out of a miniature sumo ring by using any means possible.

Table tennis

FORPHEUS is another famous robot in sports. Developed by a Japanese electronics company, the robot is capable of playing human opponents in a game of table tennis. The goal of the project is to harmonise the human-machine relationship through learning and collaboration. Eventually, this will lead to new ways of using machines to extend and support human capabilities.

There are similar projects around the world using sporting activities as a way to research various aspects of the relationship between man and artificial intelligence.

It’s more than just the game

As much as it’s entertaining to watch robots play sports, a lot more is going on beyond the game. Some of these robot sports have the potential to grow into world-class spectator events in the future. But, the minds behind such projects often have their eyes on a different price altogether.

Many companies use sporting outlets to showcase their prowess in automation in an attempt to market their products and attract investors.

Sporting activities, even ones with made-up rules, involves a tonne of cognitive abilities, and most importantly, spatial awareness and timely response. For this reason, AI researchers and developers use sporting arenas to test and enhance their learning and adaptation algorithms. In time, robot sports could effectively advance AI and machine learning technologies even further.

Photo: RoboCup 2013 by jiuguangw licensed under Creative Commons 4.0