RoboJackets compete at RoboCup 2011

During the second week of July, Tech’s robotics team, the RoboJackets, represented Tech in the 2011 RoboCup world event, held in Istanbul, Turkey. The RoboJackets performed well and advanced to the playoff rounds for the first time.

RoboCup is an annual robotics competition that hosts teams from all over the world to compete against each other in a soccer competition where the players are robots.
The stated goal of the event is to eventually feature “a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players that can win a soccer game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.”

The event is broken down into several leagues. These include the humanoid league, which features humanoid robots with individual vision, and the small-size league, which uses five robots that feature overhead vision and whose diameters are less than 18 cm. The small size league is the one in which the RoboJackets participate.

“One of the nice things about the small size league is that because you have the overhead vision system, you can worry more about doing more planning and passing. So this league turns out to be one of the fastest leagues, compared to the humanoid leagues,” said Alex Cunningham, team manager and software lead of the RoboCup team and an ECE PhD candidate.

The RoboJackets were one of two teams that represented the United States at the event in Istanbul. The other U.S. team at the event was a joint team comprised of students from Harvard and MIT.

“[Harvard’s and MIT’s] robots were a little broken this year, and they left early. Their team is one year older than ours, but it took them a couple of years to make their robots literally not catch on fire. The teams that have their robots carefully tuned and everything planned precisely tend to do the best,” Cunningham said.

Aside from fielding a RoboCup team, the RoboJackets support many other robotics-related activities. The other two collegiate robotics teams are a team for the IGVC event, which deals with navigation and mapping, and a team that competes in the BattleBots competition.

The RoboJackets also host a kickoff event for the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), an international competition for high school students, in Jan. each year at the Ferst Center.

Earlier this year, the RoboJackets moved their shop from the old Tin Building to the Student Competition Center on 14th Street.

The additional space allowed for an indoor miniature soccer field to test their robots, but at the same time, their new off-campus location has made recruiting more of a challenge.

Still, membership in the club has proven rewarding for many. Because of practical and technical skills that team members learn in the process of designing and building robots for competition, former members of the RoboJackets have gone off to work for entities such as Caterpillar Inc. and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“[I initially joined because] I wanted to get some hands on experience that you don’t get in the classrooms. Robotics is one of the few areas where there are a lot of mechanical problems, a lot of hardware testing and also a lot of software testing in the development cycle,” said Stefan Posey, president of the RoboJackets and a sixth-year AE major.

For Posey, the process of designing and building a robot tends to be a very valuable experience.

“Seeing your robot finally work the way it’s supposed to and seeing your design coming together and performing is very rewarding,” Posey said.

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