How to Learn & Code with Robots during a Remote-only RoboCup 2021?
RoboCup, the annual International Robotics Competition is around the corner, and owing to the present COVID19 situation over the globe, RoboCup 2021 is being organized online starting from 22nd June 2021. The competition will be organized virtually with an aim to create an environment as close as possible to the physical competition in conjunction with the rules of the various leagues.
Let us try to take a look briefly at the history of RoboCup and then dive into the dynamics of RoboCup 2021.
Brief History of RoboCup
RoboCup, an annual International Robotics Competition was founded in 1996 with an aim to promote Robotics and AI research. The founding group of university professors Hiroaki Kitano, Manuela M. Veloso, and Minoru Asada had envisioned a publicly appealing but formidable challenge with a mission to devise a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots capable of competing and winning against the winner of the most recent World Cup, complying with the official rules of FIFA, by 2050. The first challenge was held in 1997 in Japan wherein 38 teams from 11 countries had competed. The last contest RoboCup 2019 held in Australia saw a considerable increase in participation since its inception with 335 teams from 40 different nations competing against each other.
RoboCup provides a forum for integrating various broad areas of AI and robotics. These areas include real-time sensor fusion, reactive behavior, strategy acquisition, learning, real-time planning, multiagent systems, context recognition, vision, strategic decision-making, motor control, intelligent robot control, and many more.
The rules and policies of RoboCup are updated regularly in order to make the contest more realistic aligned with contemporary advancement in the field of science and technology of robots. The rules are reviewed and updated every year by the league technical committee, in close consultation and discussion with associated researchers and participants. 5-10 years roadmaps are discussed and used as references for annual changes in rules and policies.
Currently, there are 6 major domains of the contest, each with a number of leagues and sub-leagues. The major leagues include RoboCupSoccer, RoboCupRescue, RoboCup@Home, RoboCup Logistics, RoboCup@Work and RoboCupJunior. The major leagues can be described as follows;
- RoboCupSoccer league concerns promoting research around cooperative multi-robot and multi-agent systems in dynamic adversarial environments. Amongst the five sub leagues, the NAO robot developed by SoftBank Robotics Europe is the standard robot architecture used since 2007 in the RoboCupSoccer Standard Platform competition to concentrate the effort to the software development and to guarantee equal opportunities, with absolutely no modifications or additions to the robot hardware are allowed including the additional hardware, the off-board sensing or processing systems.
- RobocupRescue aims to cultivate awareness and promote collaborative research related to search and rescue applications by developing simulators, and intelligent agents, and robots to provide an objective evaluation of robotic implementations in representative environments.
- RoboCup@Home league focuses to foster research in the domain of service and assistive robot technology with high relevance for future personal domestic applications. Amongst the sub-leagues, the RoboCup@Home Social Standard Platform and RocoCup@Home Education Standard Platform competitions use the standard platform Softbank Robotics Pepper.
- RoboCup@Work aims to invigorate open research challenges in industrial and service robotics.
- RoboCup Logistics league is an application-driven league inspired by the industrial scenario of a smart factory, where several machines provide manufacturing services to refine, assemble, or modify a workpiece eventually resulting in a final product.
- RoboCupJunior (RCJ) is a project-oriented educational initiative that sponsors local, regional, and international robotic events for young students. It is designed to introduce RoboCup to primary and secondary school children, and as well as undergraduate students.
RoboCup 2021 will be a fully remote event with RoboCup competitions and activities taking place all over the world. Within the scope of robotic platforms developed by Softbank Robotics, let us try to have a look at how the teams can participate virtually and prepare for the competitions.
1. RoboCupSoccer Standard Platform
The Standard Platform League will be recreated in a new form, developed to provide an equal opportunity to the teams to competitively measure their skills in robot soccer given the present circumstances. The event will entail live streaming of videos to facilitate coordination amongst teams and as well as provide an entertaining experience for the public and sponsors.
For 2021, the RoboCup SPL competition will consist of four challenges of increasing complexity:
- Testing gameplay skills of an individual robot.
- Testing team coordination.
- Testing remote competitive gameplay between different teams.
- Testing the quality of remote deployment using autonomous calibration.
Conditions of the home venues across all SPL teams tend to vary, allowing teams to participate in some or all of the contests based upon their capabilities. For the first two challenges, teams are allowed to compete exclusively using their robots at their home venue. The latter two challenges ask teams to remotely deploy their code onto robots at a neutral host venue, allowing the facilitation of fully remote soccer games.
In order to participate, teams have to remotely deploy their software on the NAO. Teams can either deploy software via remote control connection or deliver a fully autonomous setup. Over the next few months until RoboCup, teams will have several opportunities to talk, discuss, exchange ideas and code. Two options will be properly available: Meetings like RoDEO and a spring RoHOW as well as discussions using SPL Discord channels. The second option is a code-sharing section like it is available for the V6 support on the RC SPL website.
As basic requirements for the teams - Firstly the team must be able to deploy their robot software on a NAO V6 remotely or be able to produce a fully autonomous image for a NAO V6. Secondly, the team must be able to host an arena. If not, they have to find a substitute team. Substitute teams take over the hosting arena responsibilities. Thirdly, the robot should be able to semi- or fully-automatic calibrate itself.
The teams are required to use a NAO humanoid robots in version 6 manufactured by SoftBank Robotics. Absolutely no modifications or additions to the robot hardware are allowed. No additional hardware is permitted including off-board sensing or processing systems. Additional sensors besides those originally installed on the robots are likewise not allowed.
The teams can visit the Rule Book for further information on the hardware & software prerequisites and arena rules.
Testimony - “I think it's exciting because RoboCup is something that everybody can really understand, like playing soccer and seeing how robots can do it. And that you can actually judge how far science has come or not because you find many things that are not perfect yet. With robots that play soccer, you can directly compare to humans and say it's a big difference but you also see progress, that's the idea with the RoboCup.” - Thomas Röfer
2. RoboCup@Home Social Standard Platform
The focus of RoboCup@Home lies on the following domains but is not limited to Human-Robot-Interaction and Cooperation, Navigation and Mapping in dynamic environments, Computer Vision and Object Recognition under natural light conditions, Object Manipulation, Adaptive Behaviors, Behavior Integration, Ambient Intelligence, Standardization and System Integration. Social Standard Platform League wherein SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper is used as a standard robot, has a special interest in the social aspects of human-robot interaction, both removing the hardware constraint.
The 2021 RoboCup@Home Virtual Competition will feature the OSS HSR simulator. The 2021 RoboCup@Home Virtual Competition will feature TWO tests for Stage I, plus ONE tests in Stage II. The winner of the 2021 RoboCup@Home Virtual Competition will be the highest-scored team (i.e. no Finals). A brief Poster Session will be held where the team introduces itself to the community and presents their approach(es) and highlights their research.
Tests in Stage I will be run for 5 minutes (virtual wall-clock time), in which the robot must try to complete the assigned tasks involving “Clean Up” and “Go and Get It”. Tests in Stage II will be run for 15 minutes (virtual wall-clock time), in which the robot must try to complete the assigned tasks involving “Clean Up: Reloaded” (an enhanced version of Clean Up, with a greater number of objects lying around, featuring especially those with an average recognition confidence ratio rather low.) All tests for all teams in the 2021 RoboCup@Home Virtual Competition will be run in parallel by an Expert Technician.
For the RoboCup@Home 2021 event, the teams must send an email to the Organizing Committee to participate in the qualification process. Thereafter the qualified teams must send the robot model to be used during the competition via email to the Organizing Committee. The Technical Committee will inspect the robot models to verify they are compatible with the simulator and that all sensing and actuation is performed at a component level and not bypassed by reading the variables of the simulator such as position, pixel collision, etc. In order to prove a running virtual robot model, each team has to provide a qualification video. The team also needs to submit a 6-pages long scientific paper (TDP), detailing information on the technical and scientific approach of the team’s research, accompanied by a website designed for a broader audience.
For more information, participants can refer to the official page of the league for information and registration details.
3. RocoCup@Home Education Standard Platform
The RoboCup@Home Education Challenge is an educational competition platform to cultivate beginner teams for RoboCup@Home challenges. The unique Workshop+Competition format effectively boosts novice participants for challenging service robot development and AI learning within an event time. Hosted locally and internationally, by the community, and for the community.
The purpose of the Education Challenge is to open participation for everyone, especially novice and non-expert participants with no past experience. There are 2 types of robot platforms in the Education Challenge: Open Platform and Standard Platform. Teams in Open Platform use custom build robots for the challenge events. The challenge’s development focus is on both hardware and software designs. Whereas, teams in Standard Platform use a standardized robot platform - Pepper robot from SoftBank Robotics in the challenge events. The development focus is mainly on software design.
In the qualification procedure, teams are required to submit qualification materials (i.e. Team Description Paper (TDP) and team video) to the OC for reviews. For each platform and each category, there will be 1st and 2nd place awards, wherein SoftBank Robotics Award is given to the team which exhibits the best use of Pepper robot software development tools.
There are three tasks in the challenge, namely “Carry My Luggage - Navigation task”, “Find My Mates - Vision task”, and “Receptionist - Speech task”. The final objectives for this year are that the robot serves food to a user, and the robot interacts with a non-expert user naturally.
General Rules of Participation in RoboCup 2021
This year, registration for each qualified team will include the registration and fee of one team member. When completing the “Major Team” registration, the team will need to input the name and contact information for one team member. In addition to registering your team + 1 member, all other participating team leaders and team members will need to register as Major Faculty/Staff or Major Student participants.
For Junior League, registration for each qualified team will include the registration and fee of one mentor. When completing the “Junior Team” registration, the team will need to input the name and contact information for one mentor. In addition to registering your team + 1 mentor, all other participating mentors and team members will need to register as Junior Mentor or Junior Student participants.
For more information teams can visit the official website of RoboCup 2021 for registration and participation purposes.