Notre Dame came back from an early deficit and took the lead over Ohio Northern University on a pass. Its defense stiffened in the second half, and it stymied ONU, 26-7.
But these weren't student athletes on the gridiron in a spring scrimmage in late April. Eight robots about the size of big printers slugged it out for each side in the world's first intercollegiate football game with robots on Notre Dame's campus in South Bend, Ind.
Organizers are comparing the historical significance of the so-called Mechatronic Football Game with the first collegiate football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. "A lot of robots were injured," says Bill Hederman, who helped organize the competition. "This was a serious bang-up game."
The student-designed robots performed well on the basketball court-size field, and organizers hope to create an intercollegiate mechatronic football league that accelerates innovation in robotics in the same way that the DARPA Grand Challenge accelerated self-driving vehicles for the military, or the X-Prize has for private space activity, Hederman says. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame's real football coach, attended robot practices.
Robots, it seems, are everywhere — ranging from microbots, which are tiny black dots to the naked eye, to bots that resemble bees and bats, to gigantic models.
Titan, a 9-foot rental robot, is being carted out at marketing events, even a Rihanna concert, to mingle with the masses. New York University graduate student Marko Manriquez recently built a robot that makes burritos. And scientists at University of Tokyo's Ishikawa Oku Labs designed a robot that specializes in, and wins, rock-paper-scissors games.
Experts predict that within 10 years, general-purpose robots — at $25,000 to $30,000 per unit — will perform house chores while consumers are at work; or serve as butlers at cocktail parties. "We are putting robots into people's lives," says Sarjoun Skaff, co-founder and chief technology officer of Bossa Nova Robotics, which is developing a robot maid modeled after The Jetsons' Rosie for less than $5,000.
The mechanical march is gaining steam. To date, robots have mostly been used by automakers and semiconductor firms to produce goods in high volume. They're also in vogue at some warehouses. Amazon.com in March plunked down $775 million to acquire Kiva Systems, a maker of squat, cube-shape robots that move products around shipping centers.
But that was just the start. Cheap, powerful cameras, advanced sensors and other electronics now form the basis of robotics projects. In the 1990s, technology was pricey and limited to industrial settings where large companies could afford to make the necessary investments.
"It sounds like Star Wars, but it's coming," says Bill Vass, a former Sun Microsystems executive who is CEO of Liquid Robotics, maker of a surfboard-like device for underwater research.
"A perfect storm of technology is occurring" for robotics, he says, ticking off the convergence of technologies such as GPS, advances in cell and wireless communications, nanotechnology, Wi-Fi, satellite technology, open-source software and new ARM processors on smartphones.
Industrial and home use