Bitty Bots Compete In Nano-Soccer

The game features mechanical players, six times smaller than an amoeba, and a "ball" that isn't wider than a human hair.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

July 6, 2007

2 Min Read

The world's first nanoscale soccer games are scheduled for this weekend at RoboCup in Atlanta.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology announced Friday that it is hosting the event, which will feature mechanical players, six times smaller than an amoeba, and a "ball" that isn't wider than a human hair. The competition will play out on a field the size of a grain of rice, NIST said.

The competition, touted for taking place among the tiniest robots in RoboCup history, will demonstrate technologies for fabricating MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS), micrometer-sized devices that are built onto semiconductor chips. NIST hopes to broaden the nano-soccer competition for a Nanogram League in 2008.

This year, five teams will compete in the Nanogram Demonstration Competition. Carnegie Mellon University has assembled two teams, while the U.S. Naval Academy, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology from Zurich, and Simon Fraser University from Burnaby, British Columbia, will each produce one team.

The bitty bots are made of aluminum, nickel, gold, silicon, and chromium and measure up tens to hundreds of micrometers in length, but they are considered nanoscale because their masses range from a few nanograms to a few hundred nanograms, NIST explained. The competition will test the nanoscale robots' abilities to manipulate objects and move with agility and speed across the field. The robots will compete for the best time for a goal-to-goal sprint and navigate a slalom course that includes polymer post "defenders." They will also compete in a drill that requires them to "dribble" as many microdisk nanoballs as possible, getting them into the goal within three minutes.

NIST said the robots operate under an optical microscope, are controlled by remote electronics using visual feedback, and are viewed on a monitor. Three of the robots move in response to electrical signals transmitted across the microchip playing field, while changing magnetic fields maneuver two others, the NIST said.

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