Thursday, June 28, 2012

Video: DARwIn finale at RoboCup 2012

The finale match between Team DARwIn from Virginia Tech/University of Pennsylvania and Japan's CiT Brians, from BotSport.

Virginia Tech repeats RoboCup soccer win in Adult- and Kid-sized divisions

Above, CHARLI gets a hug from RoMeLa founder/director Dennis Hong
and master's student Coleman Knobe.
First published at, 28 June 2012.

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 28, 2012 – Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory dominated RoboCup’s international humanoid robot soccer competition for the second year in a row, once again wining the Adult- and Kid-sized humanoid soccer robot competitions.
The robotics laboratory, part of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, took first place finishes in the Adult Size class with the 5-foot humanoid robot CHARLI-2 and the Kid Size class with the miniature-humanoid-robots DARwIn-OP. The latter team was a joint effort of Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate engineering students and their counterparts from the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Engineering in Philadelphia.

“This is two in a row,” said an excited Dennis Hong, founder and director of the Virginia Tech robotics lab, and an associate professor of mechanical engineering, as he and his students cheered, hugged and posed for pictures at Mexico City’s World Trade Center, where the 16th annual RoboCup competition took place. Added Jack Newton of Blacksburg,  a rising senior in mechanical engineering, and a member of Team CHARLI: “It’s amazing. Actually, I’m kind of speechless.”
Team DARwIn, in the final match of the Kid-Sized competitions, beat Japan’s CiT Brians, 8-2, on June 23.  Earlier in the day, Team CHARLI, comprised only of Virginia Tech students, won 3-0 over Tsinghua Hephaestus of China.

A combined Virginia Tech/University of Pennsylvania team also entered, for the first time, the Mid-Sized humanoid robot division, commonly referred to as Teen-Sized, but did not make final rounds. The robots were built from remainder parts of robots at the respective Blacksburg and Philadelphia campuses, said Hong.

An earlier incarnation of CHARLI-2 won the Louis Vuitton Cup at RoboCup 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, bringing it to Blacksburg, Va., and the United States, for the first time. This year, a German team was selected as the winner of the cup. During its stay at Virginia Tech, the cup was housed at Randolph Hall in a display case with the first version of CHARLI in the main lobby.

RoboCup is considered one of the most respected competitions in the robotics research community, and proposes a soccer match between full-size humanoid robots against the human World Cup human champions -- and win -- by the year 2050. In addition to the soccer portions, RoboCup also features competitions in robot rescue efforts, robotic simulation, and a robot dance competition for youth.
CHARLI-2 (that’s for Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence) is the second in a series of adult-sized, autonomous humanoid robots built at Virginia Tech. The first version, known as CHARLI-L (the "L" is for lightweight) debuted in spring 2010, and made national headlines, appearing on the cover of Popular Science and Robot magazines. More recently, CHARLI-2 appeared on the cover of The Washington Post’s Sunday magazine, in November 2011.

It is the second year in a row that the laboratory has used and won with the DARwIn-OP humanoid robots, developed together with Purdue University, University of Pennsylvania, and the robotics company, Robotis Co., with sponsorship from the National Science Foundation. About 400 units are currently being used world-wide for robotics research and education, according to Hong.

DARwIn-OP proved quite popular at this year’s RoboCup. A total of eight teams used the OP ’bots, which are a fully open source design -- both software and hardware. All info on the hardware is to be shared online for free, including detailed plans and drawings, manuals for fabrication and assembly. The Japanese team that played Team DARwIn in the final round built their own robots.

Hong started project DARwIn (that’s Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligent) in 2003 to study human locomotion and humanoid robot design. DARwIn 1 was introduced in 2004 and was a revolutionary humanoid robot prototype at the time, and was followed by several incarnations since.
The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Team DARwIn repeats win at RoboCup in Kid-Size division

The combined Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania teams for
Following CHARLI’s repeat win in the Adult-Size division of RoboCup 2012’s robot soccer competition, the United States’ Team DARwIn also scored a repeat win in the Kid-Size robot leagues. The team won in a final match against Japan’s CiT Brians, 8-2 on Saturday in Mexico City.

Team DARwIn is a joint venture between Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory and the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP laboratory. 

It is the second year in a row that RoMeLa has used and won with theDARwIn-OP soccer-playing humanoid robots developed together with Purdue Univ., Univ. Penn, and ROBOTIS Co. sponsored by NSF. About 400 units are currently being used world-wide for robotics research and education. 

A total of eight teams at this year’s RoboCup competition used the OP ’bots, which are now open-sourced and also available for purchase. It is a fully open source design -- both software and hardware. All info on the hardware is to be shared on-line for free, including detailed plans and drawings, manuals for fabrication and assembly.
Under director and founder Dennis Hong, RoMeLA started project DARwIn (that’s Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligent) in 2003 to study human locomotion and humanoid robot design. DARwIn 1 was introduced in 2004 and was a revolutionary humanoid robot prototype at the time, and was followed by several incarnations since. 

CHARLI wins Adult-Sized soccer competition for second year

Above, CHARLI gets a hug from RoMeLa founder/director Dennis Hong
and master's student Coleman Knobe.

For the second year in a row Virginia Tech’s CHARLI-2 (that’s for Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence) has won the Adult-Sized Humanoid Robot Soccer competition at RoboCup.

CHARLI in 2011 won the same contest, as well as the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup, the competition’s version of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s World Cup, during his debut year at robot soccer. He is the second in a series of adult-sized, autonomous humanoid robots build at Virginia Tech. 

The first version, known as CHARLI-L (the "L" is for lightweight) debuted in spring 2010and made national headlines, appearing on the cover of “Popular Science” and in “Robot” magazine, among several other publications. The “Washington Post” featured CHARLI -2 on the cover of its Sunday magazine in November 2011. 

This year’s Team CHARLI-2 included Michael Hopkins, Coleman Knabe, Derrek Lahr, Jack Newton, and Viktor Orekhov, all undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral students at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.

Friendly competition

Team DARwIn is comprised of Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania
students. Here, they pose with Team 2JUDancer, after winning a
semi-final match on 24 June 2012.
One of the best aspects of RoboCup is the friendly atmosphere among competitors. There's no strife or ill will, fights, or sabotage. Teams help each other out, ask to borrow screwdrivers, duct tape, and camera tripods, and are never turned down if the objects are at hand. 

Moments ago, Team DARwIn -- comprised of Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania students -- won against Team 2JUDancer, 9-0 in a semi-final match. After the game, hands were shook, and the two teams posed for this photo. Now that is sportsmanship.

RoboCup: Day three scores and the morning of finals

Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory continued to dominate in the Adult- and Kid-Sized robotics leagues during its third day of competition, Friday, 22 June 2012, at RoboCup 2012’s soccer leagues. 

As the morning of the fourth day, and the final day, began, the competition hall – once echoing with the noise of dozens of teams prepping for games, was quiet as only a handful of remaining teams prepped for a last battle. Among them Virginia Tech and our partners, the University of Pennsylvania.
A roundup of scores from day three:

Kid-Size: Team DARwIn (consisting of Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania students)

Vs. Hamburg Bit-Bots, 10-0
Vs. AUTMan, 8-1

 Teen-Size: Team DARwIn-XOS (consisting of University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech students) lost its only game of the day, 0-1, but remained in the semi-finals, scheduled for 10 a.m. today.

Adult-Size: CHARLI (consisting solely of Virginia Tech students)

Vs. JoiTech, 1-0

We’ll have updates as the day progresses… Check out for more details.

Friday, June 22, 2012

RoboCup first impressions

Left to right, Jack Newton and Coleman Knabe work on
CHARLI immediately following a match at RoboCup.

Two members of this year’s RoMeLa team are new to the RoboCup competition, and enjoying their first visit to Mexico. Here’s their take on RoboCup...

“It’s pretty cool. The amount of energy you find in this place is astonishing, you’ve got all these teams that have come from across the world and they are working as hard as they possibly can to have the best robots they possibly can. And it’s really cool to see that. And I didn’t expect to see so many spectators. They keep on coming in, and they are cheering and yelling, and really interested in this stuff. It’s cool stuff.”
-Jack Newton, a rising senior in computer engineering, from Blacksburg, Va. 

“It’s exciting, long days. I started out with a lot of pep and energy, and now waking up each morning is increasingly difficult. Every team I have talked to is nice, out-going, and interested in each other’s robots, and I don’t think they are interested in each other’s robots because they want to steal designs or concepts or anything like that, rather, it’s almost like a conference for them. So they can get inspiration, ideas. It’s always good when you have a robot and see other deigns, what other people are doing, it’s almost like benchmarking … It’s a positive interest, and not a “let’s steal their ideas and come back next year.” And from my senior design project, we completely took apart a Darwin-OP and made an assembly manual, and there’s a team here from Hamburg, Germany, using that assembly manual. They say it’s a big help, and that is a big morale boost, a big positive feedback on my work.”
-Coleman Knabe, second-year master’s student in mechanical engineering, from Newport News, Va.


If you’re a fan of boxing, or have seen any of the “Rocky” movies, you’re familiar with the weigh-in, the big tradition of taking the boxers’ height and weight to ensure he (or she) is fit for the intended bout category, be it welter-weight, middle-weight, or heavy-weight. 

Surprisingly, RoboCup’s soccer competition has its own weigh-in of its competitors. In these photos, our Team DARwIn robots are put under the test. Before robots can participate in the Kid-, Middle-, and Adult-Sized league games, they are measured, weighed, and inspected by judges with tape measures and keen eyes. 

P.S. We have yet to see a press conference where the robotic opponents lash out at each other. RoboCup is a overwhelmingly friendly event.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

RoboCup 2012: Second day scores

A back view of CHARLI at play
Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory remained strong in its second day of competition, Thursday, 21 June 2012, at RoboCup 2012’s soccer leagues. TEAM DARwIn continues to dominate the Kid-Size Robot division, while CHARLI remained strong, pushing his win-loss stat to 4-1, respectively.

A roundup of scores:

Kid-Size: Team DARwIn (consisting of Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania students)

Vs. RoBIU, 5-1
Vs. NUbots, 10-0

Teen-Size: Team DARwIn-XOS (consisting of University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech students)

Vs. NimbRo, 0-9

Adult-Size: CHARLI (consisting solely of Virginia Tech students)

Vs. KW-1, 4-0
Vs. JoiTech, 3-1

For Day 3, Team DARwIn takes on Hamburg Bit Bots at 9 a.m. Central. More match-ups to be determined later. Go Hokies!

RoboCup 2012: Year of DARwIN?

Chase Nohm
Walking around the dozens of team tables at RoboCup 2012’s soccer competition, it’s clear: This is the year of the DARwIn. (Forget the Dragon.)

Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) was the only team in 2011 to bring the DARwIn-OP humanoid robot to RoboCup in Istanbul. They won the Kid-Sized soccer league championship with the roughly-18-inch’bot whose face resembles an owl combined with an Anime character.

DARwIn was RoMeLa’s original baby, a long-in-development miniature robot that went through many incarnations at Virginia Tech as DARwIn 1 through 4, starting in 2006. It played many RoboCups in China and Austria, among other countries. Then, in early 2011, a joint venture between RoMeLa the Korea-based robotics company Robotis furthered the design and look of the humanoid ’bot. Hence DARwIn-OP.

“DARwIn” stands for Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence, while the, “OP” stands for Open-Platform. The names were coined, as almost all the robots at RoMeLa, by lab director/founder Dennis Hong.)

As of 20 June 2012, the first day of competition at RoboCup 2012, 8 out of 24 – a full one-third – teams in the Kid-Sized competitive had a DARwIn-OP robot in their corner, compared to only RoMeLa a year ago. Two terams signed on after their arrival at Mexico City. “Going from one to eight is really a huge jump in one year, and that’s not counting that DARwIn was a champion last year, and that had a huge impact in its popularity,” said Chase Nohm, an engineer with Robotis at RoboCup.

The company has a large exhibitor’s booth at the soccer competition, and has treated members well, if they use Robotis tech or not. On the first day of competition, the company paid for 100 pizzas to be delivered to the venue. As hundreds of team members have been busy prepping their robots, with little time to eat out, much less sight-see in Mexico City, the gesture was more than welcome.

Noh chalks up DARwIn-OP’s success not just to its championship status at the 2011 RoboCup, but because it’s a fully-open robotic tool. Teams, or any user, can take the robot and bend it to their will, not conform to its set rules as you would with say, a BluRay player or iPhone.

“You can hack it, morph it, modify its software and hardware,” Noh says. “You can build on it or take away from it. We just provide the core, and the users all write or build on it, the software core and the hardware core.”

Kayla Kim, overseas sales and marketing manager for Robotis, says the DARwIn-OP robot will only grow in popularity. “Many [teams from various] countries from Iran to Israel are using it, some are using it that that had to drop out or could not come,” she said, citing one team from Singapore that could not make the trip to Mexico City.

Earlier today, as seen in the above, Team DARwIn from RoMeLa played two teams with the same DARwIn-Op ’bot.(During such a competiotn, teams will “dress” their robots up in blue or pink cloth for easy identification.

Hong, for his part is thrilled.

“The whole idea was to open up, open source, DARwIn-OP so more people can use and share the technology,” Hong said. “I believe this is the best way, and the quickest way, to push the boundaries of robotics technology.”

Also happy with DARwIn-OP’s success: Jeakweon “J.K.” Han, who graduated with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech this year, and is continuing work at Robotis, where he started in 1999. In past years, Han worked tirelessly at RoboCup competitions and, in 2011, introduced the world champ, and grand prix Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup winner CHARLI to the Robotics world.

This year, at Mexico City, he is enjoying himself as an employee of Robotis, helping various student teams with their robots for competition, whether they use Robotis or not. “It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s really nice to enjoy it. Last year got very stressful.” 

Through CHARLI’s eye

A screen capture from the perspective of CHARLI

"Look into my eye."
The above image is a screen capture of what CHARLI sees as he is on the soccer field, ready to kick the ball. The reddish-dot is the orange soccer ball, the yellow, the goal posts. CHARLI’s sight – along with the DARwIn-OP robots, and all the robots here -- is color-based, and he is programmed to autonomously recognize and base his actions upon selected colors, for seeking, kicking and goal-orientating. He has three main colors to recognize: The green of the playing field, the orange of the soccer ball, and the yellow of the field goal. 

“We tell him what colors are what using color table software, and basically he looks at the number of clusters with the color and the shape of the cluster, and then he decides, “Ok, this is the ball, and there’s the goal,” says Jack Newton, a rising senior in computer engineering from Blacksburg. “And he’ll line up and kick it.” 

Any bright blue, orange, red, or yellow off the field – such as the shirt of a spectator -- can throw a robot’s visual orientation off, depending on the robot. The DARwIn bots are programmed to look for a blue goal post, so if a person, say a photographer, wears blue jeans, he can be mistaken for a goal as both shapes would be blue, roundish and vertical. That’s why nearly all of the RoboCup participants opt for all-black attire. Other colors, such as black, or white, or gray, are received as noise, looking quite similar to static on a television set, or a black cut-out figure of empty space. 

Blue doesn’t matter for all the robots. In CHARLI’s case, he’s always kicking toward a yellow goal post as Adult-Sized League robots play single-goal kick soccer. So blue jeans, or a blue shirt, would show up as the same static. (We have yet to see anyone sport yellow pants.) 

Also forbidden near the soccer fields: Flash photography as the burst of light can confuse a robot’s sense of visual environment. Anyone who has been blinded by a flash during a performance or talk might agree.

Team DARwIn wins against Team RoBIU, 5-1

Video: CHARLI scores at RoboCup

On 21 June 2012 at RoboCup, CHARLI wins his first round of the day against team KW-1. 3-0. Behind CHARLI is Coleman Knabe of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory. Up next for CHARLI: Taking on JoiTech at 3:30 Central. Also up for today: Team DARwIn at 2 p.m., versus Team Robiu, and at 4:30, versus Nubots.

Group portrait: How it was done

Getting together dozens of people, many of whom speak various languages, and their robots is a trick in and of itself. And not everyone made it as some team members, exhausted from their first day of games, slept through the gathering, their heads resting on crooked arms at their work tables. We made a quick video, the camera man standing upon a (creeky, old) chair, his camera held high above his head, as the RoboCup 2012 soccer competition teams assembled on a soccer field for a few moments. Look for Team RoMeLa, in center.

Group portrait: The RoboCup 2012 soccer competitors

Dozens of teams from across the world are here at RoboCup 2012 in Mexico City. Here, all of the soccer teams came together for a group portrait, with their robots – as they should be front – and center. 

RoboCup 2012: First day scores

RoMeLa's Coleman Knabe and CHARLI
Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory started off strong Wednesday, 20 June 2012, during the first day of competitions at RoboCup 2012’s soccer leagues. (RoboCup also consists of several other competitions, from competitive rescue robots to a dance-off with junior-high-student-built robots playing “So You Think You Can Dance,” hence the sound of 1980s rock hits wafting in the background.) 

Here’s a roundup of scores:

Kid-Size: Team DARwIn (consisting of Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania students)
Vs. Plymouth Humanoids, 9-0 (Editor’s note: The judge’s sheet says 10-0, but Teen DARwIn members recall the score being 9-0, therefore we err on the side of conservatism.)
Vs. I-kid, 10-0

Teen-Size: Team DARwIn-XOS (consisting of Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania students)
Vs. CiT Brains, 0-3
Vs. Shayan, 0-0 (draw)

Adult-Size: CHARLI (consisting solely of Virginia Tech)
Vs. Tech United Eindhover, 2-0
Vs. Tsinghua Hephaestus, 0-4
Vs. HuroEvolution AD, 3-0

We’ll have more updates from the second day of competition as the day progresses. Go Hokies!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

RoMeLa’s team includes three brothers

Counterclock-wise, Stephen, Will and Nick McGill
Being part of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory team at RoboCup can form some tight-bonding among the student members. But this year’s team included three brothers, ages 24, 22 and 21, from Broomall, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. The trio, Stephen, William, and Nick McGill are all engineering students at the University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech’s partner in the RoboCup competition for Kid-Size and Teen-Sized robots. (UPenn also teamed with Virginia Tech in 2011, when RoMeLA dominated the contest. Virginia Tech enters CHARLI in the Adult-Size league on its own.) 

How did three brothers all get into the same major at the same university? “Legos,” says Will, not missing a beat. (One gets the sense the brothers have been asked this question ad nauseam. And Will confirms this.) “I don’t know, we just kind of did it. Our parents encouraged us in science and math, and we did that, and we did robotics in high school.” 

Stephen is the veteran RoboCup member of the trio, starting in 2010 in Vienna, Austria. In 2011, Nick joined Stephen in Istanbul, Turkey. Will joined the group this year. Studies wise, Will just finished his master’s, while Nick is pursuing his own master’s degree, and Stephen is in the middle of earning a doctoral degree. 

No plans exist now for the brothers to form a company, but the idea is in the open. Possible proof that Legos are a vital and amazing investment in one’s children’s education. 
Team DARwIn wins second match at RoboCup 2012, against team I-kid. 10-0. That's 2-0 total for this competition. Here's one of DARwIn's winning kicks. Go Hokies!

DARwIN-OP and @romelavt wins against Plymouth Humanoids 9-0. Next match later this afternoon. Follow us on Twitter at @vtengineering or @romelavt for up-to-the-minute posts. #RoboCup 

DARwIn scores, unopposed.

Let the games begin...

A few sights from our three teams as RoboCup 2012 begins today. 
Go Hokies! (And UPenn!)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Sleep well, gentlemen.
It’s easy to look at this sight and make a joke. “That’s the worst game of hide-and-seek I’ve ever seen,” comes to mind. But the teams that compete in the soccer league of RoboCup face enormous challenges: From hours of preparation, practice, coding, and, if warranted, building of the actual robots, travel schedules that can mean a trip halfway around the world, and hours of on-site preparation in a country that may be completely foreign to most, all for a few minutes of play on a miniature soccer field, where autonomous robots are less loose on each other to play football. 

It’s exhausting, even from the stand-point of a witness bystander. The details are bewildering, from computer coding to re-wiring parts of the robot, to checking levels of the robots with strings and a small weight when no laser-guided tools are available, and walking barefoot on the soccer fields to find any and every inch of uneven flooring that might throw a robot’s balance off. The details are immense. The painting style Pointillism comes to mind watching the teams cover every imaginable and unimaginable detail, each do  requiring the same absolute attention required to make a work of art, such as “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” by Georges Seurat. 

RoboCup 2012 is taking place in Mexico City, certainly one of the most fascinating and historic cities in either North or South America, but most of the teams here have spent every waking hour since their arrival in Mexico inside the World Trade Center convention center, prepping for a competition – friendly as it is – that will lead to one winner who has bragging rights for the best robotics – surely the new leader in future technology – for the next year. 

No doubt the rest this team is taking, in a bright, noisy, crowded, music-filled hall, is well-deserved, and well-needed. Excelsior, gentlemen.

CHARLI walks! And introducing, Pippy...

We just shot this video moments ago at #RoboCup 2012 inside Mexico City's World Trade Center. Here, team members of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory walk with CHARLI, while to the left our team works on a new, midsize robot named Pippy. Pippy and his brother, Spiffy, will compete in the Mid-Size Humanoid soccer competition this year, a first fir RoMeLa, and a team project with our partners at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Engineering. Go Hokies!

Chili’s? Yes, Chili’s

It shone bright at night.
After packing, driving, an airplane flight out of Washington, D.C., customs, baggage searches, and a taxi ride through a dark and rainy Mexico City, Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory team neared their hotel. The clock was past midnight, even for central time, and several members of the team, including a writer/ photographer from the Virginia Tech’s University Relations, had been awake from anywhere between 24 and 48 hours, with little sleep and high stress. 

As the taxi rounded the corner to the main team’s hotel, Hotel Novit, every member of the team saw a gleaming bright red, white and green sign, familiar to any American who considers the mall as a beacon, if not the center, of guaranteed good food. Or at least a quick meal. The latter more important. Chili’s, open late, on the corner, yards from the main group’s hotel, and a mere two blocks from the remainder of the team, staying at a hotel a few blocks over. There was hope for a meal after all, as the windows and doors of every other restaurant were black and closed, even inside the hotels.

Unbeknownst to each other, the group which flew into the city together would eat together, slowly making their way through a familiar menu written in unfamiliar language. Too American? Too corporate? Maybe, and yes, but the warm meal was more than welcome for the tired and hungry, and as the big-screen, HD TVs around the restaurant blasted a boxing match and a soccer – sorry, football – game, all was right in the City of Palaces.

Oh, pssst, there is an  IHOP around the corner. So far, we haven't been in.

Dress like Johnny Cash: Or, Shopping for jeans in Mexico City

$729 pesos. Afraid to do the currency conversion.

Color is important at RoboCup. As DARwIn makes his way across the bright-green soccer fields to score a goal or take the bright orange ball from an opponent, color is everything.

The field. The ball. And especially the goals posts, either yellow or blue, depending on which side your team is assigned, or chooses. The robots operate on color, programmed to think, “Kick the orange object between the large blue posts,” rather than “Kick the round, regulation-sized tennis ball between the set goals to score a point.”

In the case of one of our DARwIn robots during a Tuesday practice session at Mexico’s World Trade Center, he had a blue goal set as his target, and as a blogger/photographer stepped onto the field to take some close-up shots of DARwIn, the little ‘bot made its way for the Levi’s worn by the man. Blue jeans, naturally.

Closer and closer, DARwIn scurried until one of his operators, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student, pulled the robot back. “You might want to wear black jeans instead,” he said with a heavy sigh, as the embarrassed shutterbug suddenly was full of the realization that his own legs were mistaken for quite wide and round goal posts. (Is a work out in order?)

Luckily, the World Trade Center contains a large shopping mall, with a four-story Sears inside it. So off the photographer went to buy black jeans, Levi’s, in Mexico, a souvenir one does not expect to purchase while visiting one of the largest, oldest cities in the entire Americas. (The man’s three pairs of blue jeans will get a rest for the remainder of the week, it seems.

But, come game time – which kicks off tomorrow – it’s better to be Dressed in Black, like the late, great Mr. Johnny Cash, then wearing blue and feeling red because the color of your pants skunked a robot’s chance to win a goal with leggy distraction. Thank goodness jeans don’t come in yellow.

One other note on clothing attire: No sneakers or shoes are allowed on the soccer fields. So, it’s stocking feet all the way, unless you want to get bounced from the field. So, if one has holes in his or her socks, the world will know fast. Luckily, that Sears sales sells socks, too. Second floor, if you must know.

Monday, June 18, 2012

RoboCup 2012 kicks off (literally)

Coleman Knabe stands by as CHARLI 2 (wired only for today) takes a kick.

RoboCup2012 kicked off 18 June 2012 as dozens of competitors from across the globe descended on Mexico’s City’s massive World Trade Center. In its 16th year, RoboCup is best known for its soccer league competition – which the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory of Virginia Tech dominated in 2011, with team assistance from the University of Pennsylvania – but it’s much more, with symposiums, a robot rescue competition, a robot simulation contest, and a Junior leagues event for youth.

Yet, soccer is the dominant event. Its goal: By 2050, create autonomous robots agile and smart enough to play professional, human soccer players by the year 2050. It’s a long goal, and the human-sized robots are still in the beginning stages of development for soccer play, but improvements this year over last already are raising eyebrows and excitement levels. But the end goal is not just a sports competition, another reason to pull out vuvuzelas. Imagine the robot that can play soccer against humans is also capable of search and rescue missions during an earthquake, or a leveled building, or the site of a nuclear plant in distress. 

In short, the true end goal is bettering the world and saving lives. Not scoring goals.

Even before the day began, a member of Virginia Tech’s entourage was stopped in an elevator at a nearby hotel. “You’re with RoMeLa?,” a person asked, excitedly, on her way to the World Trade Center. “Yes,” came the quick response. The T-shirt gave it away, black, with write writing, RoMeLa flagged across the back. 
Coleman Knabe and Jack Newton ready CHARLI-2.
For much of the rest of the day, inside a massive convention center trade room, those RoMeLa t-shirts were seen bussing back and forth between work tables and the ubiquitous tennis-ball green soccer fields, as the champion robots from RoboCup 2011 were unpacked: CHARLI 2, the nearly 5-foot tall humanoid robot player for Team CHARLI, and several DARwIn-OP humanoid robots, 28-inch bots that move quick, and can right themselves after taking a fall, and scurry after the soccer ball nimbly. 

The competition itself, set to begin day after tomorrow, is exciting and quite the adrenaline rush (especially with urgent on-the-spot repairs), but the first day of set-up consists of competitors working near elbow to elbow, building their robots if need be, testing movements, testing software, charging power battery backs, and making sure their metal-and-plastic autonomous competitors are walking tall and right.

A hiccup in web service didn’t slow the teams down as they set to work, often improvising on the spot: No laser guide to ensure a robot is standing exactly straight, no tilt, a string from a lanyard is used, a weight tied to its bottom to ensure tautness. (The day was brightened by the appearance of Jeakweon “J.K.” Han, a member of last year’s winning team, and the chief designer of CHARLI. He’s now in Korea at Robotis, but took time out to treat his former teammates -- and a blogger/photographer -- to lunch.)

Several undergraduate and graduate engineering students from Virginia Tech who are part of this year’s team are returning RoboCup veterans and champions from 2011, Mike Hopkins, Derek Lahr, Bryce Lee, Viktor Orekhov, Taylor Pesek. Joining them are RoboCup newcomers Coleman Knanbe and Jack Newton. Virginia Tech’s team is led, once again by Dennis Hong, founder and director of RoMeLa, and a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. 

In the Humanoid League under RoMeLa, CHARLI-2 is competing, an improved ’bot over his older brother who competed in 2012, and the DARwIn-OP humanoid robots also have new tricks for the Small-Size Robot League. It is the latter group which University of Pennsylvania team members are co-leading. (We’ll have more on the robots in the coming days as the competition heats up.)

Aditya Asreekumar readies a DARwIn bot.
As with 2011, the RoMeLa team is working with engineering undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania, including returning RoboCup competitors Seung-Joon Yi and Stephen McGill, joined by Aditya Asreekumar, Ashleigh Thomas, Jordan Brendza, Larry Abraham, Mike McGill, Spencer Lee, Will McDermid, William McGill, and Yizheng “Dickens” He. (Yes, the McGills, Mike, Stephen, and Will are brothers.) The UPenn team is once again headed by Dan Lee, associate professor of electrical and systems engineering.

Several of the UPenn team members are competing in the Standard Platform League, which has studetns using the same robot body to compete, but building their own software for the competition. Also new this year: The combined University of Pennsylvania-Virginia Tech team has entered the Mid-Size Robot League, also known as the Teen-Sized competition, with two new robots. (Again, we’ll more on these robots as the week progresses.)

As of this posting, the UPenn and RoMeLa team members remained hard at work inside the World Trade Center, prepping for tomorrow, and outside, rain, thunder, and a bit of a cold spell fell across Mexico City, making it feel more like New York’s early spring. Stay tuned for more posts, videos and photographs.
The main hall as registration was underway.