Welcome to the RoboCup, where more than a thousand soccer-playing robots from forty countries have descended on the Dutch technology Mecca of Eindhoven this week with one goal in mind: beat the humans. The tournament’s mission is to defeat the human World Cup winners by 2050 — creating technology along the way that will have applications far beyond the realm of sport.To achieve the goal, organizers have created multiple competition classes — including small robots, large robots, humanoid robots and even virtual robots — with plans to merge their techniques into a single squad of all-star androids capable of one day winning a man vs. machine matchup.While the humanoid robots have a long way to go, it’s a different story when robots are allowed to be robots — that is, with wheels, joints that can pivot 360 degrees and a wide array of sensors.The smallest robots, each about the size and shape of a birthday cake, swarm across their field, weaving around like piranhas. These bots play with a golf ball they tick into the goal so powerfully it’s difficult to see it happen.As in all the divisions, once a game starts, there’s no human interference — except for substitutions, when humans are allowed to remove a bot that has broken down, and when referees eject a player for fouling an opponent. The mid-size robot competition — which some fans refer to as “the R2-D2 league” — most resembles real soccer, played on a 60 foot (18 meter) long court.Majid Gholipour, leader of teams from Iran’s Qazvin Open University, says his mid-size bots, which are shaped like buoys, have a top speed of around 14 mph (22 kph).The bots use different kicks for passing and shooting, and they communicate their position to each other via wireless Internet connections.The University of Eindhoven’s “Tech United” is favored to repeat as mid-size winner. But the Iranians were runners-up in 2012, and Gholipour says his robots’ strategy is becoming more complex.“If they are losing, they go on the attack,” he says. “If they are winning, everybody goes to defense. Like Italians.” Both the Dutch team and the Iranian team confide that they’ve got a secret weapon this year: “path planning,” where the ball is passed toward open space as a robot scoots to intercept it.But arguably the most enjoyable matches to watch are in the “standard platform” division, where all contestants use the same small humanoid robot, manufactured by Aldebaran Robotics. These are built with a stylish white design that includes glowing eyes that can change color to signal ‘emotion.’In this league, the challenge is purely in the software: the best computer code wins.