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Reflections on “Adult Size” RoboCup Soccer

October 1, 2012

Here’s a great video (below) from the 2012 RoboCup soccer, “Adult Size” category.  There are some really great robots here; a few years ago, there were very few (nearly) full-sized humanoids on the planet, Asimo being the most famous.  Now there are more, built with substantially smaller budgets, and doing a fairly complex task in fully autonomous mode, using vision to find and control the ball.

If I might be permitted to don my curmudgeon hat for a moment, though, here are some advances I’d like to see in the coming years:

  1. Get off the field!  Notice those guys hovering behind each of these bots?  They’re there mainly to catch the bots when they start to fall over.  I know these robots represent a substantial investment of time and money, but still… being able to fall, and get back up, entirely on its own is a hallmark of any humanoid robot worth its servos.  This is something Robo-One has taught us: if your robot has fallen, and it can’t get up, then you need to change your design or programming so that it does better next time.  So quit following your bot around; let it stand or fall on its own.
  2. Notice how, in order to make it bearable, most of this video is sped up?  Watching this in real time would be a bit mind-numbing even for robot fanatics like you and me.  These things are slow.  In large part that’s due to the scaling problems inherent in going to bots of this size.  But if we’re going to really capture people’s interest — not to mention be of much use in the real world — we’re going to have to make them substantially faster.
  3. On the defensive side, I expect to see big improvements in actually trying to block a goal.  Enough said about that.

Despite all that, it really is amazing how far these bots have come in the last few years.  Building a 5-foot humanoid robot is hard, because in general, every time you double the length of something, you increase its volume and mass by a factor of eight.  These things are about four times taller than a typical (small) humanoid kit, so their servos need to be roughly 64 times stronger, while needing almost the same speed.  (Almost, but not quite — big critters move more slowly than small ones, due to the physics of pendulums.  So it’s fair to trade some speed for torque in a larger bot, which is probably what was done here.)

So, congratulations to all the teams, and especially to USA for taking the cup.  Watching these “Adult Size” RoboCup competitors, it’s hard not to see how close we’re getting to having C-3PO (at least physically; the chatty AI is another matter).

But I still say the humans should get off the field!

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