Robots playing basketball, with former US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with will.i.am and Segway inventor Dean Kamen in the audience, sounds like the setup to a bizarre South Park joke, but it's actually the kick-off of Rebound Rumble. A brand new game designed to encourage robotic development, Rebound Rumble sets two alliances - each consisting of three independently controlled 'bots - against each other to score points through a cluster of basketball hoops.
It's the first tournament in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), sponsored by NASA among others, a program intended to get young people interested in science and technology. The Rebound Rumble game - which you can see played out render form in the video below - takes a pre-defined set of components from which the robots can be built, and then puts them on a basketball court together.
Initially, the robots must work autonomously - though one of the three can be directed using a Kinect sensor bar - before drivers can take full control and work together. Winning is thus a matter of teamwork as well as scoring through the different hoops - higher hoops garner more points, as does scoring during the initial autonomous "hybrid" period - while players can gain bonus points by balancing their 'bots on teeter-totter bridges.
A match lasts 135 seconds, though so far no teams have actually played: they currently have six weeks - and a video of will.i.am explaining the rules, below - to get their robots built, programmed and tested before the first games take place. As the great Black Eyed Peas philosopher says "let the games begin and keep on rockin'."