I know what I want for Christmas. A soccer playing robot. Here's a video from the robot soccer World Cup:
Watching robots is a good way to think about all the basic fundamentals of movement that humans take for granted but need to master in order to move around with any kind of dexterity or usefulness. First, we need to direct our eyes to the relevant visual data and make some sense of it. Where is the ball, where is the defender, where are my teammates, where am I on the field, where is the goal? I will admit that I am frequently unable to answer these basicquestions as fast as I would like on the soccer field. Did you notice how the little robot would look down to the ball, then over to the goal and back and forth before he shot? I assume these robot designers spent a lot of time programming the vision capabilities, just like evolution did with humans.
Another key element to robot and human performance is maintaining balancing over two feet while walking. Not an easy thing to do, as you can see by the fact that the robots were wiping out constantly with the smallest provocation. Looked like a team of Italian soccer players.
One of the basic skills of walking is to shift weight onto one foot in order to free the other for movement. And when one limb moves out over the base of support, as in a kick, another limb needs to move in the opposite direction to counterbalance. These fundamental skills are a primary focus in many Feldenkrais Method movement lessons. Did you notice the robots moving their arms when they kicked? Awesome!
What an amazing time to be alive. Neuroscientists are starting to figure out how the brain works, and roboticists are building their own little brains. On the one hand it's a little creepy, but on the other its pretty inspiring and fascinating. And I for one, will welcome our new computer overlords when they arrive.
Until then, these robots are pretty dang cute. The humanness of their movements can almost fool you into caring about them a little. It probably won't be too long before people develop robots that will really challenge our notions of what it means to be human.
But for now, the robots still suck at soccer, and they have no idea how to celebrate after a goal.
In a day or two I'll get to part two of the Wolpert talk.