Posted on 05.09.2004 - 03:25 EDT in SCIENCE & TECH NEWS by ginamc
Fans of table football, or foosball, will no longer have to hang around at the pub waiting for a friend to turn up before they can play. A robotic foosball table will be able to give them just as good a game.
Foosball is a table-based game in which players twist, push and pull rotating metal rods attached to figures representing soccer players. The idea is to use the model players to kick a ball into the opponent's goal.
To turn it into a single-player game, roboticists led by Bernhard Nebel at the University of Freiburg in Germany have connected the rods on one side of a foosball table to high-torque motors and an electronic control system. They are claiming some pretty good results against casual players. "It beat 85% of a random sample," Nebel says.
To allow the control system to track the ball, the base of the table is made of translucent glass, tinted green. A camera underneath photographs the ball 50 times per second, and sends this data to a built-in computer that maps the ball's position.
Hoofing is best
Intelligent software then works out the effect of one of the figures kicking the ball. The software is pre-programmed with information about the dynamics of the ball, and can work out whether it may be blocked in some directions by other figures. Its strategy is always to try to get the ball as close to the opponent's goal as possible.
Surprisingly, the software performs best when it simply wallops the ball, a strategy often used by inexperienced players. In football, they would call it hoofing. In this so-called "reactive" mode, the robot table scored on average every 36 seconds.
Using a supposedly more strategic approach that involved looking ahead, it scored every 50 seconds. And it cannot cheat. "Spinning is not allowed: it can't turn the rod more than 360 degrees," Nebel says.
Nebel expects that improvements to the strategic software will eventually help the table surpass the performance of reactive mode. His team is now working on being able to stop the ball and pass it – a capability that will be essential if the robot is ever going to beat good players.
"An expert player from the German foosball league had no problem beating the robot 10 games to 1," Nebel says. "But in three to five years' time the robot should be able to beat the world champion."
The university has just licensed the robot technology to a gaming company that is developing a robotic foosball table robust enough for use by drinkers in bars and clubs. It should be available next year for a cool €20,000.
Source: New Scientist