Thursday, June 21, 2012

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.” 

1 comment:

  1. Hey, it can be year of the Dragon too! Something's gotta ferry supplies to the ISS.

    I gotta say though, Darwin OP's pretty sweet for a Humanoid robot, maybe he'll get to fly in a Dragon one day :D

    Its interesting to see if the RoMeLa team will be able to beat other teams operating with the same hardware, and different software.

    Looks like CHARLI's going to roll full size again, so when can I buy my CHARLI-OP?

    All the best to JK, Dr. Hong, and the rest of the team, you guys continue to do amazing stuff!

    Go Hokies!