March 7, 2006 8:06 PM PST

Tiny robots gear up for soccer competition

Japan's Citizen Watch, one of the largest watchmakers in the world, Monday announced a tiny robot it hopes will one day be a soccer champion.

The Eco-Be, which measures less than one square inch, features a motor unit adapted from tiny watch motors. With a lithium battery, small LED and microprocessor on board, the robot can move forward and backward, as well as turn around.

It can be remotely controlled via a built-in infrared module. Each robot unit has a unique address, allowing multiple robots to be controlled independently and play simultaneously.

Credit: Citizen Watch
Citizen's Eco-Be robot may
compete in the robot world's
World Cup of soccer.

Citizen is working with the University of Osaka's engineering department, along with robot development specialists from Robot Laboratory and Viston.

The organizers of RoboCup, an international robotics soccer competition held annually, plan to have a new category this year named the "RoboCup Citizen Eco-Be League," which will feature the tiny robots. Citizen is releasing a developer kit so teams can create their own Eco-Be robots. This year's competition will be held from June 14-20 in Bremen, Germany, and will feature separate competitions for robots in various size categories as well as humanoid and four-legged leagues.

The University of Osaka is a leading institution in artificial intelligence-enhanced robot development. Minoru Asada, a professor of its engineering school, is one of the founders of RoboCup, which he initiated almost 10 years ago with Sony researcher Hiroaki Kitano. Asada currently works as president of the RoboCup international committee.

Hayashi Sakawa of CNET Japan reported from Tokyo. CNET's Jennifer Guevin contributed from San Francisco.

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