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UK fields footballing RoboBeckhams

Aim to compete in Premiership by 2050

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It will be a game of two five-minute halves and the lads will certainly give it 110 per cent when Plymouth travel to Warwick for the first match in a new UK robot football championship.

Teams from the respective universities will go head-to-head, hoping to win a place in June's European Robot Soccer Championships in Munich.

We all know how that will end - everyone in tears after succumbing to the Germans in a semi-final penalty shoot-out - but until that horrible inevitability, expectations are high: "The home side is confident as we have spent the last six months developing our champion robots - super-intelligent boxes on wheels that can recognise colour and pack a good kick," said Caroline Browne of the University of Warwick's "Evolution" squad.

The match will last ten minutes and the ref will have his cards at the ready to enforce the rule of law and punish intervention by the human coaching staff.

The participating RoboRonaldos - all 75mm of them - must be self-powered and fully autonomous, although ultimate control is exerted by a central computer which monitors the match via video camera.

The long-term goal of the challenge is, inevitably, the development of a CyberCantona capable of taking on the real thing. Dr Ken Young of the University of Warwick's engineering department explained: "Researchers in Artificial Intelligence and robotics set the challenge of developing a team of football-playing robots capable of beating humans by 2050."

Presumably, by 2050, they'll have flying cars to wrap round trees after a night's clubbing, rather than the obligatory Porsche. Indeed, giving their creations the ability to guide expensive vehicles at speed into stationary objects is just the first challenge facing boffins as they strive to create a truly authentic cybernetic footballer.

However, if they manage to pull that off, plus programming in a propensity for Swedish, drinking, fighting, gambling, extra-marital sex, "dogging", "roasting", failing to attend drugs tests, taking bungs, and generally misbehaving, then they will really will have a machine fit for the Premiership. ®

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