Every season has its sporting event, and summer’s is the FIFA World Cup, an international football tournament…or soccer tournament, for those of us in the US, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. Speaking of Australia, a soccer team from the University of Newcastle will soon be representing the country at a championship tournament in Montréal called RoboCup, and will be playing in the Humanoid league. Oh, and by the way, they’re robots.
Established in 1997, RoboCup is an international scientific initiative with an overarching goal of advancing intelligent robots, though its original and continuing mission is to develop a team of autonomous, human-like robots that, by the year 2050, will be able to beat the actual human world soccer champion team. The organization represents a jumping-off point for creating breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that could transform our future…and the game of soccer.According to Associate Professor Stephan Chalup, the head of the Newcastle Robotics Laboratory at the University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computing, the soccer field is actually a great place to test out coding algorithms, with an environment comparable to that of a laboratory.
“Artificial learning is the core focus of the competition and impact stems from the application of the software, the algorithms, and the concepts behind it rather than the robots themselves,” Chalup explained.
“The coding created and shared between teams at the competition can have all kinds of meaningful applications in health and medical imaging, agriculture, facial recognition, transport and defence.”
The robotic members of the NUbots soccer team stand nearly one meter high, and are able to closely emulate human soccer players. They have the ability to kick the ball, wave to their fans, and even throw a penalty.
“We’ve programmed the robots to visually locate a ball on the soccer field, navigate a path to it, judge space and distance, and attempt to score a goal,” said Alex Biddulph, a Newcastle computer engineering student and the NUbots team leader.
“Like professional soccer players, NUbots may also be inclined to drop to the ground and throw a tantrum if they miss a shot.”
Just like other autonomous robots that can perform surgery and pick strawberries, the NUbots are 3D printed. Students have access to a 3D printer on campus, and Biddulph explained that all of the robot parts were 3D printed on-site with onyx and carbon fiber materials.
“Printing with onyx gives our robots a unique black finish and the carbon fibre inlay creates a high strength to weight ratio, so they are light but also very sturdy and durable,” Biddulph said.
The NUbots are the only team from Australia to compete in the humanoid league’s teenage division. Autonomous robots in this league have human-like senses and bodies that resemble humans, and play against each other in a game consisting of two halves, each one lasting ten minutes.
Biddulph said, “Our NUbots were world champions of the RoboCup in 2006 and 2008 so we’re hoping to reclaim the championship title this year in preparation for next year’s RoboCup hosted in Sydney.”
“Australia is making meaningful progress in the area of artificial intellingence and is developing ideas that are influential across the world,” Chalup said.
“Whilst assimilating human behaviours so that robots can interpret emotions still presents a challenge in the automoation industry, events such as the RoboCup encourages global collaboration, bringing us one step closer to our goal of creating meaningful outcomes for society.”
RoboCup 2018 will begin this Saturday, June 16th, in Montréal, Canada, and end on the 22nd.
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