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Rise Of The Foosball Robots

When most people think of playing foosball, they imagine walking into a bar, pub, or a college student's house for a friendly game. But, sometimes, a casual game develops a technical underbelly. Whenever something with an element of competitive spirit becomes popular, scientists somewhere in the world will work tirelessly to develop a means to test a person's ability to compete and by extension, their spirit in the face of loss. But, these scientists' true intent lies deeper.

Roboticists have worked for years to design and perfect foosball robots that could reasonably compete with humans. Though designed primarily for foosball, the ultimate goal for the most famous of foosball robots (discussed below) was to research various aspects of artificial intelligence. Chess players were presented with Big Blue. Foosball enthusiasts have KiRo.

Who is KiRo?

KiRo is the name given to a foosball robot designed by roboticists in Germany (largely regarded as the official "birthplace" of foosball). It is arguably the highest-profile of existing foosball robots, having attracted significant media attention when news of its creation was released years ago. Hailing from the University Of Freiburg, the scientists who created KiRo were intent on studying how KiRo was able to dissect each movement of the ball during play. Over time, the expectation was for KiRo to collect data from thousands of foosball games, developing strategies over time to reflect the best possible movement for each rod it controlled. Ultimately, the scientists have claimed that KiRo should be able to easily win the foosball world title by the end of 2010.

How Do Foosball Robots Work?

KiRo is constructed of several motors attached to the foosball table rods. The motors' movements (and thus, the rods') are managed by an electronic control system. The foosball table surface is transparent. This is to allow KiRo's camera to continuously scan the table and the ball's position. KiRo's camera collects data by scanning the ball's position 50 times per second and sending that data to its computer system. The computer follows the dynamics of the ball and derives the best possible reaction based upon the speed, trajectory and position of other foosmen in the ball's path. Given these data, KiRo can make decisions that yield the best potential outcomes for each shot.

The Future Of Foosball Robots

While the scientists quickly claim that KiRo has won 85% of the foosball matches played against humans, that claim requires qualification. In truth, KiRo has had such a success rate against casual foosball players. Though the German roboticists are constantly finding ways to hone KiRo's processes to make it a more effective competitor, the robot cannot currently beat skilled foosball players with any significant consistency.

Since its creation years ago, the technology behind the KiRo processing system has been licensed to a manufacturing company. While the company who owns the license currently produces foosball robots largely as arcade entertainment (called the StarKick), there is hope that licensing the technology for KiRo will ultimately yield additional research and greater computing effectiveness. As the main goal for designing KiRo was to study the creation and adaptation of artificial intelligence, foosball robots will probably one day win the world title as predicted by the scientists at the University Of Freiburg.