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Goal! Oxford scores at Robot World Cup


A team from Oxford University's Department of Computer Science have been competing at  RoboCup in Istanbul - the `world cup’ of robot football.  For the first time this year Oxford brought real robots to the competitions - and scored the first goal in their opening match. 

The competition aims to encourage innovation in robot building by getting roboteers to tackle the many problems that playing football embodies. Not only do team coaches have to conquer basic problems such as vision, but they also have to work on how to get their players acting as a team. All robots playing the game have to be autonomous - although the machines can swap information wirelessly.  Every team in this league uses humanoid Nao robots made by French firm Aldebaran Robotics. The robots are standard but the on-board software controlling their sensors, actuators and limbs is custom-written to try to make the best of the machine's capabilities.

 The Oxford participants partnered with Newport University from Wales and Kouretes University from Crete to form the `Noxious-Kouretes’ team. Despite their early lead,  their form sadly didn't continue, with the team taking 20th place in the this challenge  - not bad for a first attempt!

RoboCup started around 1997, with the stated aim of developing a robot soccer team by the year 2050 which is capable of beating the best human players in the world.   Oxford has been participating in RoboCup for about 5 years now; the various challenges imposed by the competitions forms an exciting counterpart to our more academic research activities into robotics and intelligent systems. Building robots that can robustly play football leads towards robots that are useful for more interesting tasks, such as home and hospital care robots, etc.
In previous years the Oxford Computer Scientists had only taken part in leagues that used simulated robots, which allows them to develop control programs for them without worrying about the practical issues in running real robots. This year they continued their participation in the virtual leagues:  the first of which was another football league, namely `3D simulation’ with the team - called `OxBlue’ - gaining 9th place.

The third league is rather different and is called the `Virtual Rescue Robots’.  The idea here is that it will soon be useful to send in robots after a disaster (such as an earthquake) to look for survivors.  Human rescuers have to do this now, but robots have the potential to be smaller and have more senses – and are also expendable if things go wrong.  Some groups here are actively building early prototypes of such robots, whereas groups such as ours focus on the software that will be needed to run them.  To do that we run virtual robots in virtual worlds, and the competition takes a single human controlling as many robots as they fell comfortable with, and looking for survivors that the organisers have planted around each scene.   This team - a joint effort with the University of Amsterdam called `Amsterdam-Oxford Joint Rescue Force’ or AOJRF for short - came in 5th. 

The Oxford team's blog:

Press coverage of RoboCup 2011:
RobotCup for soccer-playing robots kicks off

RoboCup: Robots play football to develop artificial intelligence