Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems

VT RoMeLa robots make semifinals at RoboCup 2010

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DARwIns go up against the Dribblers

June 30, 2010 – As the U.S. soccer team engaged in the opening rounds of the FIFA World Cup, some U.S. humanoid robots made it to the semifinals at RoboCup 2010 in Singapore.

Virginia Tech’s kid-size DARwIn, which, in 2007, was the first U.S. robot to compete in RoboCup, ranked 4th out of 24 teams. Moreover, the new five-foot-tall CHARLI placed third out of six teams in the first-ever adult-size competition.

The international soccer tournament aims to produce robots capable of playing soccer against humanity's best players by 2050 — and winning. The robots must play autonomously, using their own intelligence and algorithms, rather than relying on control by a human player.

VaCAS member Dennis Hong advises both Virginia Tech teams, which compete in the humanoid contest. Tech was the only U.S. entrant in the adult-size competition, while George Mason also competed in the kid-size division this year.

DARwIn: competing at kid-size

More about DARwIn

The DARwIn team was the first U.S.-based team to enter the RoboCup competition, starting in 2007. The kid-size robots stand slightly less than 2 feet tall and play on a team of three.

The team faced technical difficulties this year, but quick repairs in the field allowed them to persevere to the semifinals. “You can see the complexity of the system,” remarked Hong. “We check and check again, but there are always problems that creep up from somewhere.” In their very first match, against the aiRobots team from Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, all three DARwIns initially froze up, allowing the opposing team to score two goals. The team repaired two robots during half time, and pulled off a 3-2 win despite the initial setback.

After more victories in the early rounds, the DARwIn team faced off against Germany’s Darmstadt Dribblers in the semifinals. The Dribblers, the defending 2009 champions, had defeated every other team without losing a single goal. Technical failure took down one of the DARwIn robots immediately.

The game’s second half saw more technical failures on both sides, leaving one DARwIn to face off with two of the Dribblers. Despite the odds, the remaining DARwIn scored a goal against the Dribblers holding the final score to 9-1.

The Darmstadt team, Hong says, “is a close friend of Team DARwIn.” RoMeLa, VaCAS, and Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech often work closely with TU Darmstadt, and the Dribblers’ team leader, Oscar von Stryk, was the first to suggest that RoMeLa participate in RoboCup, according to Hong.

CHARLI: rising to full stature

CHARLI on the playing field

CHARLI made it to the semifinals of the adult-size division. The team overcame an early obstacle, diagnosing and replacing a faulty balance sensor the day before the competition.

The team – and CHARLI – overcame more technical difficulties to claim the third place trophy. In the quarter finals, CHARLI’s newly-installed balance sensor popped out, causing the robot to shake and damage its legs. Then, while playing goalie, a fall broke several gears. Nevertheless, in what Hong describes as a “miracle,” CHARLI managed to walk again and pull off a victory in the game.

CHARLI holds his third-place trophy

CHARLI holds his third-place trophy.

Although CHARLI only took its first steps in April, it was one of the few adult-size robots at the competition – or in the world – capable of walking like a human. Only a few full-sized, walking, humanoid robots have been built, including million-dollar demonstration models like the Honda ASIMO. In contrast, RoMeLa built CHARLI with only $20,000 in seed funding contributed by the Student Engineers’ Council.

An amazing game and journey

Overall, says Dennis Hong, RoboCup 2010 was “an amazing game and journey!” The team, he says, “did an excellent job under tremendous pressure and achieved our goals and beyond. We can’t wait to show the world what CHARLI and DARwIn will be able to do next year.” RoMeLa will continue improving its robots, aiming again for the coveted championship at RoboCup Istanbul 2011.