Friday, July 15, 2005

RoboCup Osaka 2005

“Conveniently located a short subway ride from downtown Osaka,” or so one soccer site read. I got off in the blazing heat at Cosmossquare, the final Chuo Line stop—and where you are to transfer to the New Tram line for the final two stops to Intex convention center. I figured however I could walk it. Built on a man-made island in Osaka Bay, Intex shimmered in the distance, or“just 10 minutes on foot” according to the ticket taker at the station. Two minutes into this journey, I was drenched. Like a proverbial mirage, Intex loomed large in the distance—but as much as I pushed on never seemed to get any closer. After a twenty-minute slog past construction sites, an industrial port, vast empty fields of weeds and landfill, I arrived.

Still dazed, I went up to the first reception counter and got my press pass and wandered in. No sign of robots or soccer, but a lot of men in rep ties standing in front of booths with widgets. Core-Tech 2005 Japan: Wrong conference.

Back out and a few halls down and, voila: robots and lots of badly-shaven guys in t-shirts with laptops.


Now with two press passes around my neck, one of the first things I saw was the wondrous Ms. Ando (aka, the android). Eerily human, the robot female was conducting an interview with a vaguely human television“talent” from a local tv station. If anything her spoken Japanese was too perfect—and certainly not Osaka dialect.

The first match held was a Middle Size League game between Aros (Sweden) and Satrap (Iran). After a decidedly slow start, things stopped altogether: technical difficulties. The crowd wandered over to an adjoining pitch, where Keio University’s EIGEN was thrashing Team DTU of Denmark. With little or no passing and a lot of human intervention, the Middle Size game got old fast. On to the real action: Small Size League.

Germany’s FU-Fighters put on a masterful display of off the ball movement, passing, and powerful shooting that would have made Gerd Mueller proud. If only the flesh-and-blood German team were as entertaining. Two of the goals were stunning, one a bullet hit from outside the penalty area that flew into the net past a motionless keeper. The orange blur that was the golf ball had the 100 or so spectators on their feet. The Japanese woman doing play-by-play—along with a lot of timely explanation of rules—squealed over the loud speaker with delight at this goal.


From there it was time for some Humanoid action. Or lack thereof. The humanoids totter towards goal with a ball at their feet. The only obstacles between them and glory are a humanoid goalie, the time clock, and gravity. Often enough time would elapse without a shot being fired. Or the shooter would simply fall over if his minders failed to catch him in time.

The last event for me was the AIBO crowd, or the Four Legged League. The dogs are quick, aggressive, and move in packs. Matches were low-scoring but fast and hard.

The New Tram ride back was blessedly cool and uneventful.

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