When MIT first introduced their Mini Cheetah robots, they showed off by doing backflips and kicking around a soccer ball. Now scientists are taking those skills to the next level by teaching the four-legged robot to play a soccer goalie. With the ability to jump, dive, and sidestep to block the ball, the robots save 87.5% of shots on goal. As seen in the highlight reel below, that means it performs better than the average goalie in the English Premier League. No word on whether the team plans to teach the robots other important soccer skills, like flopping or understanding when the ball is offside.
The video above includes many versions of the experiment. Researchers throw or kick the ball towards the goal. They also have another robot shoot the ball. At one point, they call in children to take penalty kicks to try and stump the robot soccer goalie. The robot holds up well against the various onslaughts.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and the Georgia Institute of Technology put together the project. They posted the research to the pre-publication website arXiv (pronounced archive). We first learned about it from IEEE Spectrum. The team created a reinforcement learning framework that uses a motion capture camera to determine where the ball will go. It send signals to the Mini Cheetah robot so it knows the right maneuver to save the goal.
Once the robot was trained how to respond, most of the failures came when the ball was kicked too high or too fast for it to reach. For now, the experiments were done with a small net but the researchers have loftier goals, including robot versus human soccer games in the near future.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.