PORTLAND, Ore. Like many professional sports leagues, robot soccer is expanding this year.
RoboCup 2007, which starts Sunday (July 1) and runs through July 10 in Atlanta, will host 1,700 robot researchers and 300 robot teams from 33 countries. They will compete in robot soccer, search-and-rescue missions and for the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup. For the first time, MEMS-sized robots will compete in their own league.
RoboCup 2007 will be hosted for the first time at Georgia Tech, which is seeking to field a full team of robot soccer players. The organizers have set 2050 as the date for a human-versus-humanoid soccer match, said Tucker Balch, chairman of the 2007 conference and a professor at Georgia Tech's College of Computing.
Robots "are just starting to look like people instead of machines," said Balch. "They still move a little bit slowly, but [what] you connect with is the way their eyes fix on the ball, and the way they use their arms for balance."
As humanoid robot software improves, Robocup will eventually expand from four-on-four to 11-on-11 humanoid robot soccer matches. "It's software that is making the most important differences in robot behavior," Balch said. "Many of the teams will play much better this year even though they are using almost exactly the same hardware they used last year."
RoboCup 2007 will feature a new Nanogram League in which microscopic robots will compete. Nanobots will be guided by external controllers. Most entrants will use external microcontrollers and wireless communications to control electrostatic actuators.
At least one entrant is using a magnetic coupling to remotely actuate nanobots. "We are using a micro-milling laser with a spot size of two or three microns, enabling us to cut out robotic shapes from magnets to manipulate the tiny soccer balls," said doctoral candidate Steven Floyd of Carnegie Mellon University. "We thought most teams would use electrostatic actuators, so we decided to do something different."
The soccer balls are actually silicon nitride disks with three divots that lift them off the surface to decrease friction. Teams will view the arena through an optical microscope and use off-board electronics and visual feedback to control robots.
Search and rescue
Small robots are particularly useful for rescue operations since they can fit into small spaces humans can't. Autonomous rescue robots require mobility, sensor perception, route planning and map reading to find disaster victims.
During RoboCup, rescue robots will navigate a simulated disaster site the size of an apartment. Robots will be timed during a competition to determine how long it takes to find victims, identify survivors and transmit back a map that human rescuers could use to locate the victims.