Who let the bots out?

Aug. 7, 2003
At first glance, they appeared to be adorable Sony Aibo robotic dogs. In reality, they were fiercely competitive soccer-playing bots vying to be top dog in the 2003 Robocup American Open held at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.

Preparing for kickoff.


Sonia Chernova, a computer-science major at Carnegie Mellon University, checks out one of the bots from the Sony Legged League prior to game time.

Held in the U.S. for the second time in its seven-year history, the Robocup competition attracted teams from Canada, Puerto Rico, South America, Mexico, Europe, Australia, and the U.S. to play in real and virtual leagues.

The Small-Size Robot League uses color-coded wheeled robots that are rather like overgrown Rubik's cubes. These bots play in teams of five controlled via remote computers. They are completely built by participants and have kickers, various drive mechanisms, and two, three, or four wheels.

The Simulation League plays other teams on computers as far away as Germany, Holland, and Australia. Two teams of 11 software users compete using the Robocup Soccer Server. The games are broadcast on large screens, similar to an oversized computer game.

Much excitement centered around the Sony Legged Robot League competition. Spectators and team members cheered as the Aibo bots struggled to move a bright orange ball to goalposts fiercely defended by goalies. Each team consists of four

robots, including a goalkeeper. The bots place the ball between their front legs, shuffle forward, and shoot with a swing of the head. The action was slow moving, and the bots had a tendency to become entangled. Games are played in two 10-min segments.

The heart of these bots, off-the-shelf Aibos, is a 386-MHz CPU. The movable mouth, head, legs, ears, and tail have a total of 20 degrees of freedom. Eight sensors, including temperature, infrared distance, acceleration, pressure, and vibration are built into the head, back, chin, and paws. Aibo sees through a CMOS image sensor, and miniature microphones and a speaker provides audio. The juice to power Aibo comes from a lithium-ion battery pack, which lasts approximately 90 min.

Carnegie Mellon's CMDragons and CMPack03 took first place in the Small-Size Robot League and the Aibo Robot League competitions. In the Simulation League, the Brainstormers of the University of Dortmund, Germany, beat the UvA Trilearn team from the University of Amsterdam.

Robocup is an international research and sports initiative that pushes the boundaries of science in artificial intelligence and intelligent robotics. The ultimate goal: To create a team of fully autonomous soccer-playing robots that will defeat the human World Cup soccer champions by 2050.

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