Machines and robots are used and found in almost all aspects of life and the sporting world is no different, but what can we expect for the future when it comes to robots in sport?
The 2011 film Real Steel is set nine years in the future, where all boxers, including its hapless leading man, the future great showman Hugh Jackman are replaced by robots. Although they’re still remote controlled, these boxing robots possess human motor skills, and fight with the balance and fluid movement of expert pugilists.
We’re now one year away from Real Steel’s imagined future, and there’s still no sign of brawling bots being quite so advanced. However, since the film’s release, a handful of daring droids have undoubtedly become more athletically adept in other ways.
The annual RoboCup competition features football-playing bots powered by artificial intelligence. While the technology is fairly primitive at this stage, organisers aim to field a robot team capable of beating the human World Cup winners by 2050. It remains to be seen whether a team of androids can overcome the tiki-taka tactics of Spain or the flair and finesse of Brazil, but in basketball, robotics are a little more advanced. Forget LeBron James, CUE the ‘basketbot’ can shoot hoops at 100% accuracy. The current NBA average is just 77% (source Betway).
Meanwhile, machines like the BotBoxer are helping athletes to train more effectively. Whilst not a fully fledged robot boxer a la Real Steel, the BotBoxer is still an ideal sparring partner. Using motion recognition systems to analyse the movements of a boxer’s feet and their body position to determine their stance, it can predict where they’re about to punch, before giving advice on how to improve their technique. Unlike human trainers, the BotBox never suffers from fatigue and is available 24/7, enabling boxers to get all the practice they need before a fight. Similar developments have also been made in golf, whilst machine learning is increasingly influencing sports coaching and scouting as algorithms can scour through data much quicker than humans.
Machines are unlikely to ever replace human athletes entirely, however. As noted in a piece on MakeUseOf, part of the allure of professional athleticism is the uncertainty associated with it, something that programmed robots can’t really offer. Like athletes, human coaches probably won’t be completely replaced either, with doubts around whether machines will ever properly understand factors like human psychology. That said, robots are predicted to replace human referee assistants in football by 2030, in order to eliminate human errors from officiating.
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