Man vs machine: Mehrtens in kick-off with rugby robots

The carbon-based life-form known as Andrew Mehrtens

The humans aren't dead.

Legendary All Black Andrew Mehrtens has easily won a kick-off with three robot opponents, held at Auckland's Victoria Park this morning.

The goal-kicking robots were created by teams from the University of Canterbury, and Massey University's Palmerston North and Albany, Auckland campuses, in conjunction with pneumatics company SMC.

Team leaders were mum on budgets, but one of the engineers told NBR about $10,000 had been spent on each robot (meaning around 200 could be fielded each year for the same cost as high-earning humans Dan Carter and Richie McCaw).

The short story, Mehrts, after a few seconds stretching, struck the ball sweet and true the posts every time (from about 25m out).

Officially, the competition was a draw, but including their many practice and line-up kicks, each robot could also kick the ball through the posts, but only from about one in every five attempts. Every change in wind direction, or position, necessitated much stuffing around and recalibration (in the classic tradition of the technology demo, one team told NBR it worked every time earlier).

It's not all fun and games. Massey University/Palmerston North team member Claire Flemmer told NBR that potential commercial applications included testing balls - possibly for Gilbert, whose UK head of ball engineering and design, Ian Savage, was present for today's kick-off.

At one point, Ms Flemmer urgently cautioned your correspondent to move from directly in front of her team's robot. Apparently one kick from its robot leg, powered by compressed air, can kill.

So: potential military applications too.

ABOVE: Mehrtens asked - are the robots stuck at Colin Slade-level kicking?

ABOVE: Mehrts makes his first attempt.

ABOVE: CCD cameras for targeting and anemometers for targetting were among the sensors used by the robots, with an operator on a netbook coordinating control. About 20% of the time it resulted in a the ball going over the posts.

ABOVE: Other times - as with this effort from the University of Canterbury's robot - the ball fall short, or was a little off-target.

ABOVE: Massey University (Albany campus) robot "Dan", featuring a metallic, presumably more injury-resistant groin. While NBR was watching at least, it was the most consistent of the machines, landing several angled kicks. Officially it drew with Mehrtens, but if warm up and calibration kicks were included, the former All Black was way ahead. 

The Massey University (Palmerston North campus) robot had the most powerful kick, but also proved the most temperamental (and the scariest, just quietly). The team that created it was led by senior engineering school lecturer Dr Rory Flemmer and his wife Claire Flemmer.

The competition was a warm-up for the inaugural Schools Robotics World Cup, which will be held in The Cloud, October 11-13 on Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf.

The Robotics World Cup will be a three-day competition between teams from Europe, South America, North America, Australia and of course, New Zealand.

Admission is free. 

The robotics events are part of the NZICT's Rutherford Innovation Showcase, a series of technology events timed to coincide with the Rugby World Cup.

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10 Comments & Questions

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Bet the robot kicks his arse in tackling


bet he kicks yours


Crusaders fan alert! Spencer here all the way.


CK's shown more guts than you putting her name anon. She'd probably better at tackling and taking a tackle than you.


The robots have poor long term durability because of torn clutch plate problems.


Umm so Merts what you up to for the next couple of weekends?!


One of those robots has a striking resemblance to Brad Thorne


I cant wait til the RWC is over....


what we need to design are new robot selectors for the squad


Carlos Benseman was on "Lets Get Inventin" earlier this year with a rugby boot kicker, it's a shame they didn't invite him along to be part of this...


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