RoboCup comes to Luxembourg

Robots to beat humans at football by 2050


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(JB) There is still hope for Luxembourg to compete in the next football World Cup, though it won't be human players battling it out on the pitch, but robots.

Luxembourg United is a five-a-side team composed of knee-high NAO robots, founded in Spring 2016 and being programmed University of Luxembourg students in order to compete in international games.

The team was created to compete in RoboCup, an international scientific initiative whose aim is to foster Artificial Intelligence (AI) and intelligent robotics research by providing a standard problem where a wide range of technologies can be applied.

The ultimate goal is to build and programme an AI team that can beat a human team by 2050.

“By then there may be different robots. It's not only people who evolve but robots too,” Dr Patrice Caire of the Social Robotics Lab explained.

Sharing knowledge to drive innovation

Luxembourg's SPL mixed gender squad was unveiled at the Musée d'Histoire de la Ville on Wednesday afternoon. Comprised of Daffy, Porky, Bugs, Tweety, Pepa and Speedy, it is still in its infancy but is progressing quickly.

Luxembourg United, the robot team, was unveiled to the public at the Musée d'histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
Luxembourg United, the robot team, was unveiled to the public at the Musée d'histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
Photo: Francis Verquin

Dr Caire said this is because the code is all open source and all teams participating in RoboCup must share their code.

“It's always improving because we are sharing that knowledge. It's why we were able to start so quickly,” said Dr Caire, adding: “Usually it takes at least two years to put a team together. In our case it's not even been one year.”

The robots are programmed in such as a way as to make them proactive and reactive. They communicate with one another via wifi to adapt to each other's movements.

Also, when a player is low on battery, it knows it must switch to a less-demanding role and will become a defender, for example.

The first test for Luxembourg United will come in 2017 when it competes in its first international tournament: the German Open in May.

After that, there are hopes they can compete in the World Cup in Japan starting July 22. The standard is expected to be high, though, as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil attracted 268 teams from 45 countries.

Oops, and he's down! But unlike their human counterparts, these players don't cry "foul" at the first opportunity
Oops, and he's down! But unlike their human counterparts, these players don't cry "foul" at the first opportunity
Photo: Francis Verquin

A RoboCup pitch in Luxembourg

While the project has already achieved recognition in Luxembourg, where the Banque de Luxembourg awarded it the first prize at the Deloitte/FNR Innovation Forum, the programmers still have some way to go before being World Cup-ready.

A big step in the team's preparations will be the launch of a RoboCup pitch, a 9 by 7 metre astro turf area with off-pitch areas. This pitch will be located at the university's campus in Kirchberg where the team can practice in real RoboCup conditions.

Dr Caire said: “Hopefully, eventually we will be able to have teams in different villages and cities in Luxembourg. But for now we've the national football team and we can invite other countries to play, like Germany, which is very strong.”

Luxembourg United is funded by the SnT Interdisciplinary Center for Security, Reliability and Trust. The team is currently seeking sponsorship.

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