Opened in January 2017, the artificial pitch measures just 9mx7m--hardly enough space for two players, never mind a full team. But the pitch was never designed for humans--it is for robots.
“This is the official size of a football field in our category, the standard platform or SPL,” explains Patrice Caire, founder of Luxembourg United, Luxembourg’s national robot soccer team.
The team was born in spring 2016 out of previous artificial intelligence projects working with the Nao robot model at the SnT. The aim was to programme a team of autonomous robots to play in the RoboCup federation, a now global federation using football to drive scientific and technological advances so that a team of robots can beat a human team at soccer by 2050.
“People think football is fun. That’s a great way to motivate students. But it’s also a great way to address research questions and for the industry to have access to applications which are useful for the broader public and industry in different domains,” Caire explained.
The project is a collaboration of several research areas based on four pillars of artificial intelligence: vision, localisation, movement and inter-communication between robots to find a strategy.
Applications for off the pitch
What Caire’s team learns from the challenges could ultimately be applied to the construction of lifesaving artificial intelligence able to deal with emergency situations such as nuclear disasters, fires or even delivering first aid.
Since the first RoboCup games took place in 1997, things have advanced quickly largely thanks to the fact that all code is open source.
To encourage innovation, for each tournament cup organisers introduce new challenges for the teams. They recently changed the colour of the football--previously red--to black and white. The pitch has also progressed from felt to 8mm astroturf, making it more challenging for the robots to keep their balance.
“It’s not like programming where no-one wants to share their code and help another person,” said student Alexander Eyjolfsson, one of the seven people currently working on Luxembourg United and who has been with the project since the start. “We use frameworks from other teams that have been in competition more than 20 years and build on that. That’s huge because you don’t normally get to improve on another person’s work and because it’s really in a scientific direction.”
Luxembourg team heads for Robocup
Caire and her team are now feverishly working to ready the team of 10 robots (girls and boys) for the RoboCup, which this year takes place in Nagoya, Japan, from 25-31 July. Despite being a relative newcomer to the scene, Luxembourg United made waves when they won the German Open in their category earlier this year.
“The fact we qualified means we are among the 24 best universities in the world in that domain. And we only started a year ago. It’s phenomenal how we got there in such a short time!” Caire said.
As a result of a national TV appeal for sponsors, the team raised €50,000 euros to compete in the tournament. But returning to Luxembourg with the cup is not their only goal--Caire hopes to install a second pitch at the university campus in Belval, to open the project up to more people. “If we can have robot soccer at bachelor level, then we can make the link with schools and try to help them set up and work with this,” she said.