UC’s soccer robots only NZ team to qualify in international RoboCup
The University of Canterbury (UC) team, ‘Electric Sheep’, was the only New Zealand team to compete and qualify at the international RoboCup 2019 competition, in Sydney, Australia, recently.
The UC team qualified for the Humanoid League category of the event, which challenges participants to design and build autonomous robot teams capable of playing soccer against each other.
The cross-disciplinary team of UC students, graduates and PhD candidates faced many challenges in creating soccer-playing robots, with robotic skills such as dynamic walking, running, kicking the ball, self-localisation and visual perception of the ball, other players and the field posing many technical challenges.
Sponsored by UC’s College of Engineering, HIT Lab NZ and School of Product Design, the UC team succeeded in creating a new humanoid robot platform with a significantly low budget. Each unit cost approximately US$3,000 – compared to an average of US$20,000 for other teams.
Electric Sheep made it to round two in their inaugural appearance at the RoboCup event, while team member UC Human Interface Technology PhD student Merel Keijsers was chosen to referee the England vs Indonesia match in the final knockout rounds.
“We managed to make quite an impression, with the organisers coming up to us to confirm that we should try to get selected for the 2020 cup,” Keijsers says.
The UC team saw some of their competitors with “three or four times our budget, a couple years of RoboCup experience, and twice the number of people” fail to get their robots up and running.
“It made us very aware and very proud of how much we managed to achieve. Eventually we just ran out of time, but we got very close to being serious competition for the other teams,” Keijsers says.
Electric Sheep teammate UC Computer Science PhD student Dan Barry agrees.
“We set out to push the boundaries on multiple fronts and have shown that we’re a new team to watch out for on the international level,” he says.
The team plans to open-source the platform to allow future teams to more easily enter the competition and to encourage more people to get involved in robotics.
“The thing with these events is that you can see the boundaries of what’s possible shifting and being pushed right in front of you. Most teams are keen to share their knowledge, so what’s exceptional this year will be incorporated into what other teams do the next, with exponential development as a consequence,” Keijsers says.
“The open-sourcing that we are doing is part of the overall culture of the league. Of course everyone tries to get an edge over the others, but at the same time it’s a bunch of very enthusiastic science nerds and everyone is willing to share the innovations they’ve come up with.”
The UC team was founded mid-2017 with members from different specialisations:
Dan Barry (UC Computer Science PhD student working on cooperative UAV search behaviours)
Merel Keijsers (UC HITlab PhD student researching robot bullying)
Humayun Khan UC (PhD student focused on locating first responders in large scale building environments)
Munir Shah (working in industry as a data scientist)
Banon Hopman (UC second year Product Design student)
The team also triumphed in communicating their experience through the Facebook page Electric Sheep (@Electri92240522). They will return to Christchurch keen to start work on robots for the 2020 competition.