Skip directly to content

CMU Finishes Second at RoboCup 2013

on Fri, 07/05/2013 - 12:26

Baseball may be “America’s Pastime” and football may rule in Western Pennsylvania, but in actuality the most popular sport around the world is soccer, with 250 million players in over 200 countries. Apparently it is also the most popular sport among robots, as each year thousands of programmed machines gather together to compete against each other in the annual RoboCup. This year’s event was held in Eindhoven, a municipality located in the Netherlands, over the weekend of June 28, 2013, and included teams from over forty countries. The United States was represented by seven institutes of higher learning, including the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. It turned out to be a good tournament for the Keystone State as the UPennalizers emerged victorious in the “Kids League” while the CMDragons finished second in the “Small Size League.”

“Our CMDragons team was remarkably new, with new low-level skills and tactics, dynamic planning, a great goalie and defense, new robots and the best attacker robot ever,” Manuela Veloso, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, explained. “We came in second place, in the closest possible way to first. The team from China even asked us to go up on the stage together with them for the award ceremony.” During the final match, the CMDragons were tied with Zhejiang University at the end of regulation with two goals apiece, and both teams were held scoreless during overtime. The following shoot-out, however, saw Zhejiang finding the net in each of their penalty shots with Carnegie Mellon University missing on one, giving the Chinese team the first place trophy.

There are a total of six leagues in RoboCup, each based on the size and skills of robots that range from coffee cans on wheels to more humanoid looking mechanical devices. Carnegie Mellon University has been competing in RoboCup since its conception in 1997 and has captured two championships through the intervening years. More significantly, RoboCup itself was founded by CMU professor Manuela Veloso, alumnus Hiroke Kirtano and graduate student Peter Stone. In his book Almost Human: Making Robots Think (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), author Lee Gutkind explains that the idea the trio originally envisioned wasn’t so much about soccer but a way to further enhance robotic research.

“I have a ball in front of me,” Veloso told Gutkind in regards to the “thought process” of her soccer-playing robots. “What should I do? Pass the ball? Kick? Dribble? What’s the probability of scoring? What’s the probability that if I shoot directly at the goal, the ball goes through? My robots think in a loop. It is always going through their minds—where is the ball, where are my teammates, where am I? The algorithms we develop permit them to answer these questions.”

The stated goal of RoboCup is to field a team of robots capable of defeating the flesh-and-blood World Cup soccer champions by the year 2050. The actual goal, however, is to push the boundaries of how robots react to their environment and make decisions. By having annual competitions amongst the best and brightest higher education facilities from around the world not only helps push those boundaries but encourages interaction within the field and the sharing of ideas. While it remains uncertain whether robots will ever defeat humans in a game of soccer, the robots of 2050 will no doubt be more intricately crafted and intelligent than they are today—and part of the reason will be because of RoboCup.

Anthony Letizia (July 5, 2013)

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed