World Cup Robots No Steroids

roboticsThe Telegraph reports that creators of more than a thousand robots designed to play football (soccer in the US) came from forty counties to a tournament in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.   The goal of the tournament is to create robots that can win the World Cup by 2050. But the robots will not be using steroids.

Robots were classed according to size, from small, medium (a la R2D2) and large.  There were also humanoid and virtual robots.

Humanoids had trouble keeping their balance, but robots on wheels were formidable.  They have joints that can pivot 360 degrees, and a wide array of sensors. They can communicate with each other through wireless internet connections.

They played without interference by humans, except when they broke down (i.e., suffered injuries) or were expelled for committing fouls.

The ones created from a standard platform, in other words, produced en masse, cost about $5,000.  Handmade human-sized ones go for about $35,000 or more.  The humanoids are about four feet taller.

But robots have found their way into sports at least since 1997, when Japan hosted the first RoboCup, a football tournament open only to machines. In 2007, a Vietnamese robotics firm introduced “Topio,” a six-foot robot that played humans in table tennis.

Robots can and will be tinkered with to improve performance, but at least they won’t be operating on steroids

Steroid use has been a perennial issue for athletes, from Mark Lance Armstrong.  At times the World Olympics resembles a contest between competitors that take steroids that evade discovery, and the Olympics Committee, which is constantly devising tests that will detect their presence in the system.

ESPN reports that anabolic steroids are more accurately entitled “anabolic-androgenic steroids.”  They are synthetic derivatives of the male anabolic hormone testosterone, which the body produces on its own.   Testosterone helps the body retain dietary protein, which aids in the development of muscles, and increases muscle mass and strength.

“Anabolic” is derived from the Greek words ana “upward” and ballein “to throw.”  It started being used in 1886 to pertain to the process of “building up.”  “Androgenic” comes from the Greek words andros, “man” and genein, “to produce.”  Medically, it refers to the development of male characteristics, such as body hair and the genital organs, as well as muscle mass.

 Anabolic steroids can be taken orally or injected. Those that are injected can last for a long time or a shorter period of time.

They are used therapeutically to stimulate bone growth and appetite, induce male puberty, and even treat cancer and AIDS. Anabolic steroids were developed by German scientists in 1935 to treat hypogonadism, or testosterone deficiency. During World War II, the Nazis tested anabolic steroids on prisoners. Hitler’s mania, paranoia, violent behavior and depression at the end of his life have been attributed to steroid use. This is, of course, subject to dispute by historians.

Steroids were also used after the war to aid in reversing the wasting effects of internment in concentration camps.

Testosterone injections were used by power lifters from the U.S.S.R. as early as 1954.  In response, the US developed a synthetic version of testosterone in 1958, which avoided some of the side effects of testosterone, such as prostate enlargement.  Its chemical name was methandrostenolone, and it was an anabolic steroid.

In 1975 The International Olympic Committee added anabolic steroids to its list of banned substances. Testing for steroids started in 1976 at the Montreal Olympics.  Competitors were being disqualified for steroid use at the Pan Am Games of 1983.

In football, the NFL began to test players for steroid use during the 1987 season, and started to issue suspensions to players during the 1989 season.  Major league baseball players were not penalized for steroid use until 2004. They weren’t even tested until 2002.

The public loves the idea of robots in sports, just like it loves robots. In “Robot Jox” (2010), when warfare becomes prohibited after the nuclear holocaust of WWIII, America and Russia start playing against each other in competitions using giant mechanical robots piloted by humans, called “jockies” or “jox.”  The 2011 film, “Real Steel,” starring Hugh Jackman, depicted a world in which human boxers have been replaced by robots. In a 1963 episode of “The Twilight Zone,” entitled “Steel,” boxing has similarly been outlawed, but in the “future” of 1968, and is performed by mechanical pugilists.  The robots look just like their agents.  Lee Marvin stars as a boxing promoter who surreptitiously replaces his robot client in the ring after his machine is broken.  The fight lasts three minutes, and the promoter is nearly killed.

But when humans start competing against robots, they may complain that the machines are getting the advantage of improved technology, even as they are denounced for using steroids to improve their performance.


By:  Tom Ukinski

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