An Unexpected Lesson From RoboCup 2023
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 16 July 2023

Guest appearances by Spot and MiniCheetah at RoboCup 2023 which took place this month in Bordeaux, France suggest a new route to achieve the contest's goal that by 2050 a team of humanoid robots should be able to beat the human world champions.

Since the first RoboCup in 1997 the international RoboCup community has fostered the development of intelligent robots by running competitions that are used by scientists and students from all over the world to test and demonstrate their robots. RoboCup 2023 attracted 15,000 participants and 2500 competitors from 45 countries around the world and here we take a look at videos of some of the Soccer league finals.

First let's take a look at some non-humanoid robots with a short snippet of the Middle-Size League Final match between Tech United Eindhoven versus Falcons.  

The YouTube description of this footage reads:

While the first half lacked some energy from both teams, the second half showed a transformation as the players of Tech United had more focus and skill, resulting in 4 spectacular goals.

This does sound like a football commentary the fact that these are wheeled robots means that is a far cry from the human game - but at least there is evidence of some forward thinking and goal-oriented planning, something that seems to be lacking in the humanoid robots where the focus is still on locomotion and balance.

In the finals of the Standard Platform league, B-Human met HTWK Robots:

All the Naos on the pitch seemed to want to fling themselves to the ground for the fun of getting back up - but while this behaviour might mimic that of human footballers it seems counter-productive when it comes to scoring goals.

Something that I not seen before was that robots that pushed a rival robot over were carried of the field for a timeout period. Players on both sides were penalized in this way. 

As we could have predicted from its form over several years B-Human emerged the winners. In fact B-Human didn't drop a single game in the contest, scored 47 goals in total and hadn't conceded any. HTWK Robots had defeated all the other teams it met prior to B-Human, had scored 20 goals and let 8 into its net.

The Humanoid AdultSize Final in which Team NimbRo of Germany faced HERoEHS of Korea was a re-run of 2022. While NimbRo won 8 goals to 0 and exhibited better balance, this was still a one-on-one contest with each robot having a human minder hovering above them, or should that be "towering" given the difference in height. 

This video indicates how RoboCup may be hindering rather than helping in the mission to endow humanoid robots with the agility and intelligence required to defeat a team of the world's best football players by 2050. It is obvious that a small amount of progress has been made since the previous year's performance - when one of the HERoEHS did indeed start to fall, only to be scooped away by its minder  

So how can a breakthrough come about? Perhaps by introducing quadrupeds to football and letting them participate in future RoboCups, as suggested here in a promo for RoboCup 2024 which will take place in Eindhoven.

In this video we see Spot and MiniCheetah on the RoboCup pitch in Bordeaux while hearing that because it is a closed system designed for other purposes by Boston Dynamics, Spot isn't a candidate for the next Renaldo or David Beckham - a real shame as its dance moves demonstrate its inherent agility. In fact its programming means it avoids the ball rather than engaging with it. MIT's MiniCheetah however has open software and hardware and some work has already been done toward making it into a four-footed football player. But how can that work contribute to realizing RoboCup's mission of fielding a championship team of humanoid robots?

The answer given is "evolution". Our ancestors evolved from quadrupedal to bipedal - so why not repeat the process in an accelerated time frame and, having learned how to play football, let MiniCheetah then learn to stand upright. robocuplogo

More Information

RoboCup 2023

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 16 July 2023 )