Robots are increasingly becoming part of our everyday life, but did you know there is league of soccer playing humanoid robots whose goal is to one day beat the winner of the FIFA world cup? Berlin United – FUmanoids, from the Freie University Berlin, recently took home first place in the Humanoid Kid Size League at the RoboCup German Open. The FUmanoids team consists of six robots and their twelve human programmers. I caught up with Simon Gene Gottlieb, a human FUmanoids member, to talk about our robotic future.
Karla: So tell me about soccer playing humanoid robots.
Simon: At the Freie University Berlin we build and research humanoid robots. The idea is that research and knowledge about the robots can be exchanged between different universities. To develop this knowledge the robots needed a task, and we all agreed upon soccer. What’s really interesting is that humanoid robots are human-like. Why is that an advantage? Well the environment that we live in is perfectly built for humans, so we believe that if we have a robot that is the same shape as a human it’s much easier for it to interact with the world than it is for a different type of robot. The idea is that these robots can do work for us in an environment that we don’t have to adjust for them. So we don’t need special laboratories – the robots can work in households, in healthcare settings and in factories where humans work now.
K: How are you currently developing your robots?
S: At the moment we’re focussing on two major aspects. One is motion. We’re working on copying human motion: bipedal. A robot walking on two feet is really really difficult. It would be really interesting to be able to manage this task. The second interesting aspect we’re working on is for the robot to understand its surroundings visually like humans do. We use webcams for this. The idea is that the robot can remember ‘oh I saw a ball here, a goal there, an opponent player over there, our players over here’ and decide on its own the best thing to do. This will enable the robots to make decisions that will help the team win.
K: Do you build and program your own robots?
S: Yes, at the Freie University we build and program our own robots from scratch. We design them mechanically, build our own electronic boards, put everything together and program the software.
K: How do you name your robots?
S: Our robots are named after famous computer scientists. Our first player is named Konrad, after the German computer scientist Konrad Zuse. He built the first programmable computer. Our second player is named after the American computer scientist Grace Hopper. She’s considered the first person ever to have written a compiler, which is pretty impressive.
K: You recently won first place at the German Open Championships.
S: Exactly. A few days ago we played at the German Open against different teams from around Europe. We played in the finals against Photon, a team from Russia. It was a really exciting game that even went into extra time because the scores were 0-0 at the end. We managed to shoot the deciding goal in the extra time.
FUmanoid Grace withstands direct contact from a large opponent robot and dribbles the ball close to the goal. Alan takes over when Grace loses the ball and shoots the competition-winning goal
K: Your robots have travelled internationally right?
S: Yes, we travel with our robots quite a lot. We recently went to the Iran Open, which we participate in often. Every year there is also a World Robot Championship, so our robots have been to places like Singapore, Mexico and the Netherlands for that. This year we’ll be travelling to China to compete.
K: What has been your biggest technical achievement as a team to date?
S: This year at the German Open we played with a new set of rules. From now on we have to play on artificial grass, which makes motion really hard. I think we’re the first team that could successfully show that it is possible to solve this problem. Movement is our strength, and at the moment that means walking on artificial grass.
K: Where do you see soccer playing robots in 5 years?
S: I think it’s always hard to predict technology, but in five years I hope that we will have robots that can kick the ball long distances. I’d also like robots that can show better team play than they do now.
K: Some people worry about an increasingly robotic future. Do you?
S: In my opinion there are a lot of advantages and a lot of opportunities this technology can bring us. If we focus on the good side and on the good parts and try to develop those, I think robots can relieve us of a lot of the work that isn’t ideal for humans to do.