Held since 1997, the RoboCup international competition aims to encourage artificial intelligence and robotics research. Held over two floors in Singapore's Suntec City over 19th to 25th June, this year's RoboCup gathered close to 4000 participants in 500 teams from over 40 countries. I paid a short visit to RoboCup 2010, held this year in Singapore, to see what the robots of today can do.
There are four major competitions, the most prominent of which is RoboCup Soccer, where robots have to compete to win a soccer game. RoboCup is also perhaps the most ambitious: its official goal is to have a team of humanoid soccer playing robots win a game against the winner of the most recent World Cup by the year 2050!
Even Louis Vuitton, the designer label, is encouraging the robotic research. Each year, the winning team of the RoboCup Soccer Humanoid League takes home a crystal globe trophy crafted by Baccarat, presented in a custom-made Louis Vuitton Monogram canvas hard case, which is given over to the following year's champion.
Besides the RoboCup domain, the other three major competition arenas are RoboCup Rescue, where robots simulate search and rescue missions in disaster situations, RoboCup@Home, which gets robots doing everyday tasks in everyday places like homes, kitchens and shops. The last domain is RoboCup Junior, which is open for students up to the age of 19; challenges include a dance robot challenge, soccer challenge and a rescue challenge.
The RoboCup challenges don't just make fancy robots that dance, play soccer and bring you your coffee; they promote research which has real-world applications. A team from Singapore Polytechnic, for example, is currently in talks with St. Luke's hospital to develop robot nursing assistants.
One of 24 shortlisted teams in the RoboCup@Home challenge, the SP team is made up of lecturers, staff and students. Their robot had to complete various tasks, like 'Follow Me', where it had to follow a specific team member through obstacles, and 'Who's Who', where it had to remember two persons' faces together with their names, and pick them out later out of a room with three other people. Each individual challenge was scored on performance, and the scores were tallied up on the last day to determine the winners.
Part-time SP Technical Support Officer Htin Linn Kyaw, 19, who's been on the project for more than a year, started it as a student but elected to stay on the project after his graduation, "because when I started looking for a final year project, this was the one that interested me, and I wanted to finish what I started." He sees a rosy future for robots and humans co-existing. "Maybe in 10 years, an assistant robot may be in our homes helping us do our everyday chores. If you're disabled and you don't have any one else, this will be a great help."
When I asked him if he doesn't think there might be a future where robots take over our lives ala Terminator, he laughs and admits it could be absolutely possible. "But that won't be you and I are long gone!"
I like coffee and cameras, but not together.