Robots play football
FAU students take part in the Robot Football World Cup in Brazil
One World Cup ends and another begins: shortly after this year’s World Champions have been crowned, a special group of players will take to the pitch in Brazil. At the RoboCup 2014, which is taking place from 19 to 25 July, the players competing against one another will be robots. These robots are built, programmed and trained by students from all over the world. The team Robotics Erlangen e.V. represents Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in the battle for the title of World Champion.
The robots are about the size of a football and everything else is also somewhat smaller than in a proper football match. A match lasts 20 minutes (10 minutes per half), each team has six players and the game is played with a golf ball.
The RoboCup is an annual event and students from FAU have been taking part since the 2009 World Cup in Graz. They have already been quite successful, taking fifth place in 2011. The team from Erlangen has also enjoyed success in international competitions, coming fourth in the Iran Open in 2011 and 2014, and second in the North American Open in 2012. Their most feared opponent this year is China, the defending World Champion.
Robotics Erlangen has around 30 active members. They are students from a wide range of technical disciplines, mainly mechatronics, mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and computer science. They design, build and programme the robots themselves, from the hardware to the software. The robots’ hardware has to be developed, improved, manufactured and assembled or serviced. The artificial intelligence – the automatically planned moves which the robots make – also needs to be programmed and trained. ‘To do this, we test our systems in matches before the RoboCup or against our own older robots. Of course, just like in real football, every opponent is different and our strategies are sometimes more and sometimes less likely to succeed,’ explains Adrian Hauck, a member of Robotics Erlangen, who studies mechanical engineering at FAU. The Pattern Recognition Lab at FAU has a special laboratory with a workshop and a pitch which is used for the test matches.
The FAU students’ football robots are very talented. Thanks to a sophisticated drive system, they are able to move and turn flexibly in any direction; they can shoot, lob and even dribble the ball by putting a backspin on it so that it stays on the robot. And they get better for each World Cup. ‘This year, we’ve produced a completely new generation of robots. They’re twice as fast and can shoot better than their predecessors,’ Hauck explains about the players. The team’s best goal scorers are midfielder ‘Erhard’ and striker ‘manu dextra’. Overall, the robots from Erlangen are in top shape – there have not been any breakdowns, crashes or uncontrolled manoeuvres as of yet. The team have also been lucky so far in terms of injuries as, apart from a few broken wheels, not much has happened to the robots.
The idea behind the RoboCup is to use a friendly international competition to promote research into robotics and development in the field of artificial intelligence. By 2050, it is hoped that the robots will be good enough to defeat the defending human World Champions. This is certainly an ambitious target, but Adrian Hauck is optimistic: ‘When you see how much the systems have improved in recent years, this isn’t completely unrealistic. Time will tell.’
From 19 July, you can follow the Robotics Erlangen’s matches and results at www.robotics-erlangen.de.
Phone: +49 9131 8527852