RoboCup in Hefei: Exploring the possibilities of robots through Artificial Intelligence

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The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund has helped me fund my trip to the 19th Robot Soccer World Cup, known as RoboCup, held this year in Hefei, a “small” second tier city in China.

Last January I joined Edinferno, a small group of Undergraduate and PhD students from the School of Informatics who develop code for the RoboCup Standard Platform League (SPL), one of the RoboCup leagues where each team uses NAO humanoid robots. The competing institutions strive to develop and optimise software around NAO’s limited visual and computational resources.

Meet Doyle, one of our three NAOs. NAO is produced by Aldebaran

Meet Doyle, one of our NAOs. NAO is produced by Aldebaran

The experience I got from my trip to Hefei has definitely broadened my view on RoboCup and Artificial Intelligence. I felt extremely lucky to be able to join PhD students Alejandro Bordallo and Svetlin Penkov to represent the University of Edinburgh at RoboCup 2015. This was their first visit to China so I also served as their “guide”, since I was the only one capable of speaking Mandarin.

From the left, me, Alex and Svet. They seem to enjoy Chinese food, here we are having some Taiwanese Noodles

From left: me, Alex and Svet. Enjoying Chinese food

Once arrived in Hefei I was greeted by one of the 600 volunteers for the event. Soon he led me to the five star hotel I would be staying in. Alex and Svet arrived later that night.

When we reached the competition site we joined hundreds of other teams from 47 countries.

Our team's desk

Our team’s desk

While most leagues are football focused, some have more real-world purposes, such as the Robot Rescue League, where custom made robots have to rescue dolls in a labyrinth filled with doors and cars. Each league faces different technical difficulties, but the competitors demonstrate the latest technologies in their area. It is inspiring to see how big an impact robots will soon have in our society.

Half a million local visitors came to see this international competition, including many children who adore the little NAO. The crowds were also amused by the players from the German team B-Human, who shouted with Homer Simpson’s voice during gameplay.

We participated in the SPL drop-in challenge, a very entertaining game. There is little teamwork as each player comes from a different team. The results are NAOs pushing each other onto the floor, while others walk around the pitch trying to spot the ball, eventually leaving the field. Edinferno placed 19th at the challenge.

On the other hand the SPL tournament looks more like a serious football game, especially the final between UNSW Australia and B-Human. Both teams showed how their NAOs can make very intelligent decisions, but the speed and the collaboration of the UNSW players have led them to victory.

UNSW player slipping on the ground at the final

The official goal of RoboCup is: “By 2050, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot football players shall win a football game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup”. I believe that day might be arriving sooner!

Water, winner of the Middle Size League, plays against humans

Water, winner of the Middle Size League, plays against humans

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