These adorable soccer robots are training to play against real pros by 2050 and in the past year have come a long way.
Students at Newcastle University have been working on improving the tech which enables these robots to play soccer all on their own, without a controller.
Each year the game requirements increase in difficulty, pushing the students to further develop their robots.
Last year they played in Brazil. But in preparation for the 2015 RoboCup in Hefei, China, the students have been working on improving the robots’ walk because they’ll have to play on an uneven 3cm high astroturf surface rather than the flat smooth surface they currently kick around on.
The teams have also had to teach the robots to determine which side of the field is their own goal and which is the other teams — when both ends are identical.
“The robot keeps different ideas of where it is on the field and tries to update, based on what it sees, which is the most likely,” University of Newcastle student Mitch Metcalfe said.
“The walk’s been a bit of a challenge, and this year it’s getting a lot harder because we have to walk on this [longer] grass.”
The long astroturf causes a bunch of problems. When walking flat-footed they get stuck in prosthetic grass and because it’s not level they can’t assume their orientation is correct.
“We might try and go for a heel or toe walk… we think that might help with the long grass because it can dig its heels in,” Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe explained after they changed the grass at an event in Germany only one goal was scored in the whole tournament.
After last year’s RoboCup the students took all the robots apart and rebuilt them from scratch, changing the heads and making them sturdier.
“The reason behind that, even though they’re not as cute, was we wanted better cameras,” he said, adding “it’s a wider camera, you need a bigger head.”
The students 3D printed the new heads and replaced the old 3D printed bracket, which connects the head to the body, with a steel one because they found it fractured along the layered print lines.
“By the end of our competition all our heads had snapped and they were all hot glued together,” he said. “This year, that won’t be a problem, they’re very solid.”
They’ve also dressed the bots in cute little safety vests so they don’t hit the ground as hard.
“I’m not sure if it makes much of a difference, but it sounds better and it makes me feel better when they don’t go clunk every time,” he said.
Here they are in action today.
And here’s what they were like a year ago.