Not-So-Artificial Intelligence: RoboCup Singapore Open 2016

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By Clarence Lee (17S06D), Ivin Lee (17S06F), Chen Beijia (17S06F), Yong Duan Kai (16S06P), Lim Tian Yi (16S06S)

Recently, Club Automatica participated in RoboCup Singapore Open 2016 – one of the two major competitions our club takes part in annually – between 31 March and 2 April.

The RGS and RI Robotics Family at the RoboCup Singapore Open 2016

In RoboCup, participants compete in 4 distinct categories: Cospace, Dance, Rescue and Soccer. While each category’s demands are different, all are an exercise in creativity: Participants are given a seemingly simple task, and also complete freedom to choose the methods by which they will complete the task. In a sense this freedom can increase the difficulty of the task – given the plethora of electronics systems available, club members had to source for the optimal solution given time and budget constraints.

Despite these challenges, Club Automatica achieved spectacular results this year, attaining 1st in both Soccer and Rescue, and 1st in Dance Superteam.

Cospace Category
Unlike other categories, Cospace doesn’t involve any fiddling with physical contraptions. Rather, competitors have 3 hours to meticulously compile a code that gives instructions to a virtually-simulated robot to avoid various obstacles and collect objects. As the playing field is revealed only at the start of the competition, the bulk of the programming has to be done during the competition itself.

Dance Category
Though some may perceive that robotics is all about rigid programming and step-by-step structure building, the RoboCup Dance Team proved these perceptions wrong during the Dance competition, with their creativity and imagination. Instead of defaulting to tried-and-tested solutions, they gamely took the risk of utilizing innovative and complex mechanisms. These included using rotating tracks to change the costume of our robot, and employing pulleys to move different parts of the robot body. For example, the head of the robot (below) can actually be be detached from and reattached to the body. Moreover, besides designing all the mechanisms of individual robots, we also designed the performance, which involved numerous interactions between robots, and demanded not only precision but also a competent aesthetic overview.

The President Mummy robot tilting his head to act cute

Eventually, we were able to clinch the 1st position in Dance Superteam category. The connections and friendship we gained in the process made this experience all the sweeter.

Rescue Category
Rescue incorporates the twin aspects of robotics – programming and building – into a single event in a race against the clock. Participants have to build a robot that can not only navigate a maze by tracking a black line, but also detect and capture balls, and score the greatest number of points in the process.

This year’s Rescue event saw 3 teams from RI participating, with each team taking a different approach to the mission. This strategy allowed club members to exercise their creativity to the fullest, while being exposed to different systems and mechanisms.

However, in the face of the actual mission, preparation is but half the battle won. Field conditions can pose unforeseen challenges that require teams to adapt on the fly. As programmers seek to perfect their logic, builders stay constantly on hand to lend their aid in making changes to their robots’ builds to suit the new codes.

All this is a build-up to the missions — essentially a narrow race against time — as teams watch in anticipation the product of their hard work in action. As the robot makes a gruelling effort to complete the obstacle course, teams have to make crucial decisions: keep trying to score the all precious points, or skip the checkpoints in favour of progressing in the course.

Club Automatica’s very own prize-winning Rescue tank.

In the end, both our members’ hard work preparing for the competition and their quick thinking at the venue helped us clinch the top award for Rescue.

Team Singularity’s Rescue robbos in action

Soccer Category
In RoboCup Soccer, teams have to build a pair of robots that can play soccer autonomously – with the ultimate aim of scoring more goals than you concede, while operating in the spatial restrictions of the field.

A RoboSoccer match, executed well, is the tension of a real soccer match condensed into 20 short minutes – the robots whizz around on the faux grass, jostling for possession of the ball in their best impression of a human player. Team members and referees watch the robots’ every move – be it watching for infractions that robots make, or attempting to determine opponents’ strategies – and formulate the best ways to work around them.

The kickoff to RoboSoccer.

Each robot is a dual entity – equal parts hardware and software, supported by both LEDs and logic operators. And it’s only in the unity between both that the capabilities of the robot are maximized.

As in the other categories, improvisation is key. There are two halves to each match, and half-time is spent making quick fixes to the robots or tuning their performance. This time spent cannot be discounted and the last-minute adjustments to the robots do make a significant difference to the outcome of the battle.

Though it may seem like as though the majority of the battle was fought and won during the three days of the RoboCup competition, we believe that a huge proportion of the fight was not with the other teams – it was duked out against ourselves during the months spent in preparation. It was only in the countless afternoons and nights spent attempting to achieve perfection that we found our success.

And yet, the pursuit of perfection will never end. There are no limits in the pursuit of improving our robotics skills, and the time prioritization at the competition venue could have been improved as well. This pursuit of perfection is the driving force behind Automatica: each time we think we’ve completed our tasks, or attained our goals, there’s always another peak to aspire to. Nonetheless, with the dazzling conclusion to our competition this season, we look forward to a 2016 with many more successes ahead!


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