It is day three of the RoboCup. After the 0-5 loss against Iran's Immortals last night, the Twente robot football team advanced to the 'Lower Tournament' to decide who would become the best of the rest. The team members let out positive noises after the loss, through Thijs Bink (software engineer, external affairs). 'The AI was greatly improved, the robots went faster than in the other two matches. Moreover, we have high hopes of starting more than four robots.'
The team has caught the upward trend, it soon becomes clear. After one of the German participants subjects the playing field to some gründlich vacuum cleaning, the Twente football robots show renewed élan during the warm-up. RD2D, who had emerged as the true star player on the Twente side anyway, twists and turns with lightning speed. And even former 'problem child' Jarvis seems to have a taste for it. No doubt the result of long days and short nights the student team made. Not until 3am last night were the soldering irons put down and the laptops shut.
The match was supposed to start at 9 o'clock, but the RoboTeam still managed to drag things out with the referees on duty. While ten Japanese football robots are in place, on the Twente side it is a race against the clock to have as many players as possible ready for the match. This succeeds after a time-out and a somewhat messy start. Because some technical problems also have to be solved on the Japanese side. Two time-outs later and, for the first time this tournament, seven functioning RoboTeam Twente football robots take the field.
Robots hold their own
The seven are putting up a good fight against the Japanese. Even the robots with broken kicker/chipper throw themselves wholeheartedly into the duels - an honourable mention for robots Bender and Baymax is in order here. Moreover, goalkeeper Jarvis parries many a Japanese shot with aplomb. Although the robots from Twente put up a strong fight, the Japanese gradually run out to a 2-0 lead in the first half. This was preceded by a reverse VAR moment - the people present had to judge a software decision - which turned out in Twente's favour. The ball had not crossed the goal line.
In the second half, Jarvis continues to parry and the defensive block of Baymax, Bender, R2D2, Marvin and Holt stands like a house. Offensively, however, the Twente football robots fail to make a fist. The final score: a deserved 4-0 victory for the Japanese, although a Twente honourary goal would certainly not have been undeserved. Still, nothing remains but elimination after four lost matches.
The 'reverse VAR' moment
With heads held high
Team members Thijs Bink and Emy Ganzeboom look back on the tournament with a positive feeling. 'We are definitely going home with our heads held high,' says Bink. 'If you look at what we started with in September... A small team, many part-time members and only two working robots who had returned from the previous tournament in Bangkok. We started this tournament with three functioning robots and finished with seven. We can really only be proud of that.'
Team leader Ganzeboom agrees with that sentiment. 'It is nice to see the growth we have shown, already since last September. We have been able to make a lot of strides on a technical level. If we had had the full focus on that, we might have played with eleven robots. But we have undertaken a lot around that, and you have to make choices.' 'When you are part of such a team, you develop in a way you don't learn in the lecture halls,' Bink adds. 'School classes have visited the Future Factory, we have been at fairs and made presentations at Rotary Clubs and on behalf of Pre-U. What we said earlier: when you factor in all the circumstances, it already felt like a victory to compete in Bordeaux.'
So the tournament continues without Twente participants. And only a strange turn of events can withold the German TIGERs with their hors catégory robots from winning the tournament. Until Sunday afternoon, the RoboCup will be a spectacle of playfulness for the day trippers and enthusiasts and engineerability on the part of the participants.
For as clumsy and frustrating as it looks at times, there is definitely a future in the technology people get to see here, explain Bink and Ganzeboom. 'Think image processing and the development of artificial intelligence,' says Bink. 'Compare it to chess, where a robot already managed to beat a human in 1997 (chess robot Deep Blue beat world champion Garry Kasparov, ed.). So we played that out. With these games, the robots have to constantly anticipate where the ball is at that moment, the actions of opponents... You have an almost infinite number of variables to take into account and in which you can develop the artificial intelligence.'
You also find other forms of technology in football robots, Ganzeboom adds. 'Our robots ride on so-called omniwheels, which can go in all directions. So you see exactly such technology in Amazon's warehouses. For example, the founder of RoboTeam (Ewoud Croll, ed.) started working at Lowpad, a company that develops logistics robots.'
And the future of the student team itself? A new team will start after the summer, with 16 members. They may choose to build on what the previous seven generations of RoboTeam Twente have built up. 'But it might also be good to change course,' says Ganzeboom. 'We notice that in the Small Size League, we are kind of stuck in the same place. The technology developed and refined by the previous teams always forms the basis. That is fine on the one hand, but can limit a team's creative freedom. Perhaps it could also be good to take on a new challenge, with a different type of robots.'
The current team will remain in Bordeaux for the next few days. First, to provide live footage and commentary for the rest of the tournament. Then to relax well-deservedly after the long days in the exhibition hall in Bordeaux. And perhaps one prize will go to Twente: the battle for the Open Source Award - which previously invariably went to Germany's TIGERs - is unusually tense.
Update Sunday 09/07, 19:38: Open Source award
RoboTeam Twente won't go home empty-handed. The team was just told that it has won the Open Source Award. They managed to impress with their presentation and the ways in which they shared and supported their software and hardware designs for the benefit and advancement of the RoboCup community.
Members of RoboTeam Twente and the Japanese KIKS team.