Cornell’s Big Red team defeated a German team in the fourth annual RoboCup Competition this weekend to win its second consecutive championship with an overall record of 5-0-1. The RoboCup is a tournament in which autonomous robots play soccer against each other.
The tournament ran from Aug. 28 through Sept. 3 in Melbourne, Australia. Cornell competed in the Small Robots League, which featured 23 teams from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.
In this league, teams of up to five robots the size of small coffee cans play on a ping pong table sized field using a golf ball in place of a soccer ball while a human referee enforces rules similar to those of traditional soccer.
“We felt we’d be able to win, but this year we’d win with style,” Assistant Professor Raffaello D’Andrea, the team’s advisor, said after returning from Australia.
One major difference between Cornell’s team this year and last year is the new style of play.
“Last year’s team was strong, quick, and played a hard, fast game,” D’Andrea said. “This year’s team, however, has traded strength and quickness for maneuverability and control, and the Cornell game has progressed from one of pure athleticism to one of finesse and grace. In other words, in ’99 we played like England; this year, we play like Brazil.”
Two improvements that allowed for this new style of play were omni-directional drive, which is the ability to roll in any direction without turning, and “dribbling” the ball, achieved by placing backspin on the ball so that it remains under the robot’s control.
“Our omni-directional abilities were extremely useful… [and] the ability to dribble the ball by giving it back spin gave us much more control than other teams had,” Josh Pollak ’00 said.
This year’s Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is used to control the robots, also improved from last year. The AI used this year is based on the idea of using a playbook to control the robots.
A camera, perched on top of the field, serves as eyes for the AI. Depending on the positions of the ball and players, the AI calls a play and each robot performs a task according to that play, Pollak said.
“For example, in a defensive play, one robot will be assigned to screen and block passes, while another robot will be told to get the ball from the robot who has it,” Pollak added.
The innovations in Cornell’s robots and AI are the result of a collaboration of different types of engineers.
“Cornell’s approach addresses the entire system with equal importance given to the areas of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science,” Bryan Audiffred ’00 said. “This ensures a complete and well-integrated system other teams cannot match.”
Cornell’s robots were designed so that they could be easily modified between matches and during half-time.
“We built a system which could be quickly and easily altered during the competition,” Michael Babish ’99 said. “We didn’t even write our penalty shot code until after our first match.”
The penalty shot code proved invaluable in the semifinal game against Singapore, which was decided by penalty shots after the game was tied 0-0 at the end of regulation.
D’Andrea said that this match “will go down as the best match of Robot Soccer to date.”
The students who participated in the competition are part of a class taught by D’Andrea. The eight students who went to Australia are Bryan Audiffred ’00, Michael Babish ’99, Tobias Welge-Luessen ’00, Josh Pollak ’00, Saeed Saeed ’00, Nicole Schlegel ’01, Mark Schwager ’00 and Will Stokes ’03.
Next year, Cornell will try to win a third championship when the competition is held in Seattle, WA. Cornell made all of the information on its robots and AI available to its competitors, a gesture D’Andrea fully supports:
“As long as [our competitors] base their system on our previous work, we will always be one step ahead…”
Archived article by Peter Lin