Why smart robots should be as lazy as possible

Why smart robots should be as lazy as possible

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

RoboCup 2024  is the world championship for robotics and involves fully autonomous robots that play soccer matches, perform household tasks or locate difficult-to-reach places as part of rescue work

A conversation with René van de Molengraft

Thousands of people are expected to visit Eindhoven for RoboCup 2024, the world’s largest competition in robotics and AI. The best teams from around the world will compete for the world title in various robot competitions.

The soccer robots of TU Eindhoven’s team, Tech United, compete in the Middle Size League (MSL), the most spectacular robot soccer. Their healthcare robot, HERO, takes part in the @Home league.

Soccer robots are attracting a lot of attention, especially in the MSL. Using a real soccer ball, they play five-on-five matches in two 15-minute halves on an 18 x 12-meter field. They are programmed in advance but, once the whistle blows, they play soccer completely autonomously and humans are simply spectators.

They look like a sort of moving traffic cone on three omni wheels. These wheels cannot steer but can passively roll sideways. Thanks to these wheels, the robots are highly maneuverable and reliable.

RoboCup primarily serves to stimulate the development of technology in mechatronics, computer science, electronics and AI, among other fields, with competition as the drive. After each tournament, the knowledge and progress are therefore shared with all participants. So, Tech United will have to come up with something new this year to go for its eighth (!) world title.

A conversation about the latest wonders we can see there, the challenges on the way to achieving the grand goal of defeating human soccer players by 2050, and why soccer robots – and robots in general – perform even better when they are lazy.

“We’re introducing two new elements this year,” says Van de Molengraft. “The first improvement concerns the wheels. This year, we have a player with three steerable wheels. This allows the robot to accelerate and brake much faster. For now, it will be used as a substitute to see if the robot can handle an entire tournament.”

“The other improvement is invisible as it relates to the software. We have completely recreated old code from the very beginning and have adapted it to the rest of the code. This code improves the robots’ movements and therefore basically all soccer actions.”

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