The sports industry has always attracted considerable viewership.

Millions of people all around the world tune in or purchase expensive tickets to watch their favourite players or teams performing across various branches of sport. Events like the Superbowl or FIFA World Cup can attract hundreds of millions of viewers.

Like most industries, sports is being heavily disrupted by technology. Due to the industry’s global popularity, the news and advancements associated with it are closely monitored by huge masses and are heavily talked about in media outlets by experts and fans. A topic that keeps generating discussion on social media is robot athletes.

AI robots versus humans

AI and robotics are among the most prominent technologies in the world and, naturally, impact a lot of industries like defence and healthcare. When it comes to the sports industry, discussions have arisen about whether AI-powered robots can compete with or even someday outperform human athletes. 

There are some examples of AI robots competing with human professionals. For instance, in 2023, an AI-powered humanoid robot named CUE6 drew with the NBA shooting coach Chris Matthews, nicknamed ‘’Lethal Shooter’’, in a basketball shooting contest.  

News about robots playing soccer also keeps appearing on social media. For instance, a video of a CGI robot in soccer training received more than four million views, and the robot showed impressive agility and speed that would give even the top players a run for their money. The author of the post claimed that Boston Dynamics will be able to build such capable robots soon. Another video showing soccer star Kylian Mbappé playing football with a humanoid robot also gained traction on social media. In the clip, the robot scored an impressive goal after an assist from Mbappé.

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By GlobalData

Although the robots in both videos are easily recognized as CGI by most viewers, one thing is certain: the topic is on the table.

Can AI robots perform like human athletes?

As of 2023, the answer to this question is ‘’not yet’’ as fully autonomous mobile robots might still be decades away. GlobalData suggests that there are still considerable limitations on the current generation of intelligent robots and further developments are required in several aspects of AI such as computer vision, motion, and decision-making before companies are capable of more advanced industrial automation. As a result, the same is true for creating efficient robot athletes that can perform on the level of a professional athlete.

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that these advancements will be made in the coming years. GlobalData reports that AI start-ups like Figure and Bright Machines—which focus on improving robots to make them more intelligent and independent and function more efficiently in complex environments—are popular among investors. This demonstrates that many people believe this technology will be important in the future and, as a result, many more advancements will follow.

Will there be robot only sports?

According to GlobalData, the sports industry is typically slow to adopt new technologies as sports companies, teams, and leagues generally wait to see successful, profitable adoption of a new technology before investing heavily in it themselves, suggesting that these robots will not be introduced into stadiums before they prove themselves in other sectors. Furthermore, GlobalData argues that the sports industry’s adoption of AI will instead focus on computer vision (CV) and machine learning.

Finally, there are questions regarding whether a robot-versus-robot sporting event would get the same fan interest as an all-human sporting event. These concerns may prevent the widespread use of robotic athletes. Considering these factors, it does not seem likely that machines will replace human athletes anytime soon.