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NEWS Thursday, July 26, 2001

Robots on campus


 A group of U of A computer science students has created robots that could one day colonize Mars - but first they are taking them to a Seattle competition to play soccer.

The Robocup competition, sponsored by international computer researchers, will be attended by competitors from Japan, England, the United States, Germany, Iran and Australia. This is the first time Canada is taking part in the computerized soccer event.

The five University of Alberta soccer-playing robots - one goalie and a pair of defence and forward players - have their own brains and operate autonomously.

A camera aimed at the soccer field, the size of a ping-pong table, is hooked up to a computer program which sends messages to the round black robots, letting them know where the ball is and what other players are doing.

"It's like they all have little cellphones and they talk to each other," said Sean Verret, one of the students heading to the Seattle competition.

Figuring out new ways to have computers work together towards a common goal is the competition's objective, said Hong Zhang, a computing science professor at the U of A.

The computers could be used for mine-sweeping exercises, he added.

"You could send 10,000 of them to Mars on a mission. If half of them died during the mission, the last 5,000 could still work to its completion," he said. "Working in co-ordination makes computers more efficient."

The competition runs from Aug. 1 to 10.

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