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Iran Robocup champions

By Paul de Bendern STOCKHOLM, Aug 4 (Reuters) - The world may have to wait another 50 years before people compete against human-sized robots on the soccer pitch, but on Wednesday fans got a taste of robots playing against each other.

At the third annual Robot World Cup Soccer tournament held in Stockholm, Iranian robots beat Italian ones 3-1 in a medium-size league which has five robots about the size of a microwave oven on each team.

"Our goal is to have robots competing against humans on a World Cup level by the year 2050," Hiroaki Kitano, president of the RoboCup Federation, told Reuters.

"We're in the early stages, but these are the first steps towards that goal." He said the idea was not as far-fetched as it may sound.

It took only 50 years from the innovation of the digital computer to the creation of IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer, which beat chess champion Garry Kasparov at his own game.

The RoboCup tournament is getting more attention as robots with artificial intelligence become more intelligent and move more quickly.

Ninety teams from 24 countries took part in this year's tournament, sponsored by Japan's Sony Corp.

Teams of human-size automated robots with two legs that walk and kick a ball are expected to be competing against each other in the annual championships in 2002, Kitano said.

The RoboCup started in Nagoya, Japan, in 1997 with 35 teams from 12 countries. RoboCup was held in Paris last year and will be played in Melbourne, Australia next year.

The medium-size robots league is the most sophisticated of four robot leagues, as they move fast, host various cameras and are programmed to send signals to each other on how to play during the game.

The robots, measuring about 50 cm (20 inches) in diameter by 80 cm (31 inches) high, played on a field of nine metres by six metres.

Another league that received a lot of attention was the one between silvery Sony-made robot dogs, AIBO, which look like chihuahua dogs and can walk and kick a ball.

A limited edition of 5,000 AIBOs -- which cost $2,500 each -- were a sold-out success in the United States and Japan earlier this year.

Toshi Doi, president of Sony Digital Creatures Laboratory, predicts every household will have two to three entertainment robots in 10 years' time, as the price tag drops.

The small-size robot league involves robots about 15 cm ( six inches) in diameter, playing on a pitch the size of a table tennis table.

A simulated league is played on computers. Human interference was banned during the games, which lasted some 20 minutes each as hundreds of spectators cheered wildly.

Organisers said the tournaments were not just for fun but would help advance robot technology and artificial intelligence in an industry which scientists say will boom in coming years.

"These soccer games help us learn how to improve robots and will help develop technology for robots that can help in rescue operations, health care, traffic systems and provide home entertainment," RoboCup's Kitano said.


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