Robocup 2002 - Fukuoka Japan

In the spring of my first year in graduate school, I worked on Carnegie Mellon's Robocup team. (Specifically the Sony legged league team) Since most people have never heard of Robocup, I should probably explain what that means. The short, conversation-in-an-elevator version is that I make robotic puppies play soccer for a living. I'm not making this up. Honest.

Robocup is then annual conference/competition where teams from around the world come together to see how their teams stack up. There are four other leagues in addition to the legged league, but since I don't know a lot about them it's probably best that I stick to what I know.

This is the view along a foot bridge that leads to the Fukuoka dome. The dome itself normally serves as a baseball stadium, but they covered over the field and converted it for our use. Yes, I thought it was very cool that we needed something as large as a stadium for our conference.

These are the stairs leading up to the dome. [duh] I thought the lines of Robocup banners up either side were a nice touch. I saw these banners and Robocup posters all over the city. There was a lot more publicity than last year in Seattle (my only other experience with Robocup).

Here's what the inside of the dome looked like. The fields that are visible are for the mid size league - think midget trash cans on wheels.

The opening ceremony in the Sea Hawk Hotel featured traditional drummers doing traditional drum things. There was also a great deal of tasty free food. When you're a graduate student, you need to focus on the important things in life; free food is at the top of this list.

After about twelve hours of setup we were finally able to field a full team of robots and have them do almost the right thing. This is an informal scrimmage against the German team. The debris in the middle of the field is actually a tail - the puppies tend to lose tails and ears during games. Don't worry though, they go right back on afterwards. After the game, we called it a night and went back to our hotel for some well deserved sleep.

This is another photo from the scrimmage our first night.

Mint is all set to kick butt and take names as goalie. We named all eight of our dogs after spices; it was the only theme we could agree on. Personally, I was holding out for Powerpuff Girl names, but that one got shot down in a hurry.

I'm waiting for the team to boot before our match against Sweden. Notice the trendy, all black outfit that I'm wearing. Not only does it save me the trouble of coordinating my clothes, but it also ensures that I don't interfere with the robots' vision [guess which one of these is the real reason I'm wearing a warm up suit under 5 billion degree lights]. The dogs rely almost entirely on vision for information about the world. They use the colored markers at the corners and at midfield to tell where they are in the world. They use the colored uniforms to detect teammates and opponents; they find the ball by looking for a bright, orange object.

Ashley, Sonia, and Maayan show off the fact that they can field strip puppies in less than 30 seconds. Actually, it takes a lot longer than 30 seconds to change uniforms at half time; we normally use almost the entire ten minutes (and that's with four people working as fast as they can). But the 30 second figure sounds so much more impressive.

I had someone ask me why we bother since it's such an enormous pain to change uniforms. Good question. It's to be fair; it really does matter for the vision what color uniform you're wearing and what color goal you are shooting on. There are times when the red goalie standing in the yellow goal appears orange (like the ball) to vision if it's not calibrated correctly. And there were a couple of cases that I saw where robots kept trying to push the red goalie into its goal because they perceived it as the ball. So we switch colors during half time to even things out.

I'm giving the robots fresh batteries and inserting memory sticks at the end of half time. Batteries normally last for about 30 minutes, but we like to change them during half time just to be sure. The program that controls each robot lives on a 16 MB memory stick. I think our current version uses about half of that space. We use the rest to save logs and gather data [when we're around the lab - we don't waste time logging during games]. We log things like localization information (where the dogs think they are), frames from vision, motion commands, and more mundane things like the output of print statements. Debugging an embedded system can be very, very frustrating.

Tokyo's goalie goes head to head with Paprika [in blue] as our team tries to score. The other Tokyo robot remains outside of its own defense zone to avoid a penalty; only the goalie of each team and the offense of the other team is allowed behind the white line that marks the defense zone.

No, we are not at all tense. There is no tension here. None at all. Now do you want to get that damn camera out of our faces before we take it away and do something unpleasant with it?!?! If Maayan were looking at me like that, I'd so be running the other way. But Sonia, the photographer in this case, apparently is braver than me But as you can see, we tended to be a little on edge during the games.

Someday, I might be a father. And when I am, I too will dress my children in silly hats. The kids who came through the dome wore the cutest little uniforms. And they were also really into the robots. Since I work with the robots quite a bit, I tend to take them for granted. I thought it was great that the audience would get worked up and shout or gasp during games.

Sage is pushing the ball past Tokyo's goalie. This almost makes up for all of the times Sage fumbled the ball in other games. The robots are all the same model, but we do notice little differences in how well they handle the ball; either we're imagining things or tiny variations in how they were manufactured or how worn they are matter more than one would think.

Our goalie pumps his arms up and down doing a little dance after we score a point on Rome. Go Parsley! Shake that robot booty!

The Jumbo-Tron is quite possibly the coolest thing of all time. Not just the coolest thing from Robocup, I'm talking coolest of all time. I mean, it's a 50 foot wide television; how cool is that? (For the record, I don't actually watch much TV these days, but despite that I was still awed by its immense, pixelated goodness)

This photo right here is the pinnacle. It doesn't get any better than this; I'm the one all in black who is standing in the back on the red half of the field. Yes, I am on the Jumbo-Tron. (Also take note of the score to the left; that also has a bit to do with my warm, fuzzy feelings toward this photo. Since Georgia Tech was a new team they used the code from last year's champion, UNSW, as their starting point. We were very nervous about how this game was going to turn out)

I just thought it was really odd to see a $1,200 robot spend several hours sitting unclaimed in a box labeled "lost and found". But he looks very comfortable in his little house, so maybe the break was good for him; it's hard work running up and down those fields, especially when all of those hot lights are on.

Maayan shows some of the children one of the robots. For some reason children always want to pet the robots. We gave a demo at a museum in Pittsburgh and the same thing happened. Then again, I've been known to pet them from time to time myself. When I'm not utterly frustrated with them, at least.

Here's another shot of Maayan and the school children.

At this point, Maayan has realized that she's made a tactical error and that a swarm of children is about to descend upon her. What do you do? It's not fair to let some of them see the robot but not others. But you don't want to stand there for an hour letting them pet your robot...

In addition to regular soccer games, Sony also organizes three challenges designed to foster research and innovation and what not. This year they were a collaboration challenge, where two robots cooperated to rotate a foam bar; a pattern analysis challenge where a single robot identified three shapes regardless of their size and orientation; and a ball collection challenge where two robots cooperated to clear 10 balls off the field. We won second place in the challenges. From left to right the people are: Doug Vail [me], Sonia Chernova, Scott Lenser, Maayan Roth [in back], Ashley Stroupe, and Manuela Veloso.

This is right after we won the championship. Notice that I'm still in the ultra-hot, black uniform. For the last time, thankfully. Can you tell that we're a little excited? From left to right the people are: James Bruce, Scott Lenser, Sonia Chernova, Ashley Stroupe, Maayan Roth, Doug Vail, and Manuela Veloso. You can see our backs on the jumbo-tron at the very top of the photo. The 2-1 score there is for the sudden death penalty kick competition; the actual game ended in a 3-3 tie between us and UNSW.

These little guys are also Aibos; they're a different model than the ones we use for Robocup. Personally, I think these guys are cuter than the ones we have, but I don't know how they stack up in terms of hardware. Our current batch has 200 MHZ MIPS processors and I think 32 MB of memory (I'm guessing on this last bit though).

The first time I saw Asimo dance, I thought it was really cool. About the tenth or twentieth time I heard his theme music blasting away, I wondered if he would break if I knocked him over. What's the name of the game? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that it just might be limbo. (The theme repeated the lines: "What's the name of the game? LIMBO!!!" over and over and over again. Not that I'm bitter or anything. There is no bitterness that I listened to the same [really annoying] song every half hour for a week straight. Nope. Not at all bitter. *mutter* stupid robot)

Okay, for the record I really did like Asimo. If anyone at Honda wants to give us one it would go a long way toward making me feel better about that theme song. No? You're sure about this? *sigh*

TMSUK: Filling all of your robotic dinosaur needs. I'm definitely going to pay the folks at TMSUK a visit the next time I try to take over the world with an army of evil robots. I do love the practical solutions bit in their slogan. Then again, maybe I should be frightened of what problems they're solving if it takes dinosaurs to do it.

This was a sports bar at the base of the stairs that lead to the stadium. Or at least I thought it was a sports bar. A bunch of people from the different teams went there together one night. There was plenty of beer, but we were disappointed by the lack of music. I mean, how can you beer without music?

This is an enormous pepper. Okay, I should give more detail. This is an enormous pepper in front of the Fukuoka Museuem of Art.

Sonia stands next to a Robocup poster in a random subway station. It amazed me that there were Robocup posters up in the subways; AI and robotics tend to be fairly specialized fields. It was unusual to see conferences advertised to the general public.

We did make it out of the city for a day to Beppu, a hot spring town in southern Kyushu. It was a few hours away by bullet train, but we didn't mind since riding on the train was neat. As you can see, the hot springs

Maayan tries not to wrinkle her nose at the sulfur smell in the steam.

Sonia checks out some real puppies in the window of a pet store in Beppu. Now if we had these guys on our team, we'd be unbeatable. Of course we'd also have to walk them which would take time away from hacking on the robots. I guess you can't have everything.