Luis Figo launches app to unearth the world’s hidden footballing talents

Luis Figo, the former Portuguese international footballer and Ballon d’Or winner, has launched an app that will allow children who dream of becoming professional footballers to upload footage of their skills, be critiqued by professional players and potentially even be scouted by clubs.

The app, named Dream Football, launched today for iOS and Android and is available worldwide for both boys and girls to use.

“Dream football is a global digital platform that promotes equal opportunities for young talents worldwide,” explained Dream Football co-founder João Guerra in a press conference held today at Web Summit in Lisbon. “Any talent, anywhere in the world, can record, edit and upload videos from a mobile phone; show himself; promote himself; get feedback from professionals like Luis Figo and get scouted by clubs.”

“I think we could be very useful for people who work in scouting world,” added Figo. “Our idea is to create the quality of opportunities for all the kids that love football and want to follow the dream of being a professional one day. I think with this app they can show their talent; they can be close to the clubs we have in partnership and give them an opportunity to one day be a professional at this club.”

Luis Figo with Dream Football co-founder João Guerra at Web Summit today

Luis Figo with Dream Football co-founder João Guerra at Web Summit today

It is hoped that the app will allow children in areas without established scouting networks to be discovered for the first time, significantly widening the pool of potential professional footballers.

“It’s taking the opportunities to countries where kids never have the opportunity because nobody is scouting there, and in some countries even though somebody is scouting in the main cities, they’re not in the [rural areas],” explained Guerra.

“I come from the grassroots – that’s how I started my career – and I know how important it is to find the right tools that allow kids to achieve their dreams,” agreed Figo. “The power goes in the hands of the kid, because the kid with a mobile phone immediately can record, edit and start getting feedback and getting promoted with clubs.

“Basically what we want is to create success stories for everybody, everywhere in the world.”

Image and featured image courtesy of Web Summit

Image and featured image courtesy of Web Summit

The app is free to use both by would-be players and clubs, with some teams already signed up, and Guerra has said that the company “will be searching and offering ways for the kids to receive something back from their participation”.

“This project was started five years ago, and the first goal we had was to be useful for the kids because I love football, I have the passion of football, but of course on the other hand this is a business right now that is for free, we don’t have any kind of revenue at this moment,” added Figo.

In the long term, however, the app will be funded through commercial partnerships.

“We do plan to earn money and most of it will come from advertising, sponsorship, all those areas,” explained Guerra. “We’re focused on getting 100 million users very quickly, so growing very quickly, and then all the rest is taken care of.”

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Researchers have found a running style for six-legged robots that significantly improves on the traditional nature-inspired method of movement.

The research, conducted by scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland, found that as long as the robots are not equipped with insect-like adhesive pads, it is faster for them to move with only two legs on the ground at any given time.

Robotics has in the past few years made heavy use of biomimicry – the practice of mimicking natural systems – resulting in six-legged robots being designed to move like insects. In nature, insects use what is known as a tripod gait, where they have three legs on the ground at a time, so it had been assumed that this was the most efficient way for similarly legged robots to move.

However, by undertaking a series of computer simulations, tests on robots and experiments on Drosophila melanogaster – better known as the common fruit fly – the scientists found that the two-legged approach, which they have dubbed the bipod gait, results in faster and more efficient movement.

The core goal of the research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, was to confirm whether the long-held assumption that a tripod gait was best was indeed correct.

“We wanted to determine why insects use a tripod gait and identify whether it is, indeed, the fastest way for six-legged animals and robots to walk,” said Pavan Ramdya, study co-lead and corresponding author.

Initially, this involved the use of a simulated insect model based on the common fruit fly and an algorithm designed to mimic different evolutionary stages. This algorithm simulated different potential gaits to create a shortlist of those that it deemed to be the fastest.

This, however, shed light on why insects have a tripod gait – and why it may not be the best option for robots. The simulations showed that the traditional tripod gait works in combination with the adhesive pad found on the ends of insects’ legs to make climbing over vertical surfaces such as rocks easier and quicker.

Robots, however, are typically designed to walk along flat surfaces, and so the benefits of such a gait are lost.

“Our findings support the idea that insects use a tripod gait to most effectively walk on surfaces in three dimensions, and because their legs have adhesive properties. This confirms a long-standing biological hypothesis,” said Ramdya. “Ground robots should therefore break free from only using the tripod gait”.

Study co-lead authors Robin Thandiackal (left) and Pavan Ramdya with the six-legged robot used in the research. Images courtesy of EPFL/Alain Herzog

To for always corroborate the simulation’s findings, the researchers built a six-legged robot that could move either with a bipod or tripod gait, and which quickly confirmed the research by being faster when moving with just two legs on the ground at once.

However, they went further by confirming that the adhesive pads were in fact playing a role in the insect’s tripod movement.

They did this by equipping the fruit flies with tiny polymer boots that would cover the adhesive pads, and so remove their role in the way the insects moved. The flies’ responses confirms their theory: they began moving with a bipod-like gate rather than their conventional tripod-style movement.

“This result shows that, unlike most robots, animals can adapt to find new ways of walking under new circumstances,” said study co-lead author Robin Thandiackal.

As bizarre as the research sounds, it provides valuable new insights both for roboticists and biologists, and could lead to a new standard in the way that six legged robots are designed to move.

“There is a natural dialogue between robotics and biology: Many robot designers are inspired by nature and biologists can use robots to better understand the behavior of animal species,” added Thandiackal. “We believe that our work represents an important contribution to the study of animal and robotic locomotion.”