Nanobots compete in ‘nanoleague’ soccer


They’re neither David Beckham nor Pelé, and they are not playing Major League Soccer. Instead, they’re nanobots, or nanoscale robots, that played soccer at the recent 2007 RoboCup in Atlanta, Ga., on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and RoboCup, the annual event is designed to foster innovations and advances in artificial intelligence and intelligent robotics by using the game of soccer as a testing ground, the goal being that the competition between the smallest robots in RoboCup history would show the feasibility and accessibility of technologies for fabricating MEMS.

The 2007 RoboCup featured six leagues such as Four-Legged and Humanoid. This year’s nanosoccer competition was a demonstration event with plans for it to become the Nanogram League in 2008.

The nanosoccer playing field is a 3cm x 3cm glass microchip that is divided into 16 square grids with 2.5mm on each side.
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The soccer nanobots operate under an optical microscope, are controlled by remote electronics using visual feedback, and are viewed on a monitor. A nanobot’s abilities are tested in three events: a 2mm dash, in which each nanobot seeks the best time for a goal-to-goal sprint across the playing field; a slalom drill, in which the path between goals is blocked by “defenders” (polymer posts); and a ball-handling drill that requires robots to “dribble” as many “nanoballs” (microdisks with the diameter of a human hair) as possible into the goal within a 3-minute period.

In nanosoccer, the action takes place atop a 3cm x 3cm glass microchip that is divided into 16 square grids that are 2.5mm on each side. Each grid contains a nanosoccer field, 1.5mm across, with a goal on either side that is 900 micrometers long x 500 micrometers wide.

The overall champion of this year’s event was ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), whose 300µm-long nanobot was constructed from nickel and gold.

- Marcy Koff