No one thinks that their job is the one that’s going to be taken over by robots, but it’s safe to imagine that ball boys probably feel especially secure. Engineers wouldn’t take the time to invent a robot that seeks out and shoots the soccer balls back to the players, right? Wrong.
Four mechanical engineering majors at Georgia Tech University — Siu Lun Chan, Ming Him Ko, Zhifeng Su, and Timothy Woo — have invented a robot they call RoboGoalie to automatically collect and return soccer balls.
“It’s really important to players who don’t want to waste a lot of time picking up the ball,” Woo says, “or maybe kicking against the wall isn’t satisfactory because it either rebounds into the road or maybe it doesn’t bounce back in the desired speed or angle. So with RoboGoalie, you can practice receiving the ball in different speeds and angles, different trajectories, and you can practice very efficiently.”
RoboGoalie looks something like a cross between an industrial toaster and a Roomba. It comes in three levels, with RoboGoalie 500 as the most basic (weighs 45 pounds and shoots balls up to 35 feet), and RoboGoalie Pro as the most advanced (weighs 80 pounds and shoots balls up to 80 feet).
The team claims the RoboGoalie “automatically” picks up the ball. Specifically, RoboGoalie uses “optical tracking to run after the ball, not a remote or Roomba A.I.,” Woo told Inverse. Optical tracking works similar to 3D technology — two sensors identify and judge the distance of the object (in this case a soccer ball). Then the RoboGoalie uses that location information to drive itself over and pick the ball up.
It’s the nation’s largest undergraduate invention competition, and the first-place winners receive $20,000 from the university; second place takes home $10,000; and both first and second receive free U.S. patent filings through the school — and a spot in Georgia Tech’s startup accelerator Flashpoint.
Watch Woo describe their invention in detail in the video below.
And if they can get the the RoboGoalie to hold onto the ball for a few extra seconds as the home team tries to eat up the clock, we may see it make an appearance on the sidelines of the world’s top leagues.