The French team RoboBreizh won a key event of the RoboCup 2022, the most prestigious robotics tournament in the world. It is in the « @Home » category, dedicated to home help, that the expertise in on-board programming from Brest residents made the difference.
These are somewhat special Olympics where the panel of tests ranges from the practice of football to the art of enforcing the rules of conduct to unscrupulous guests. But above all, the participants are all robots. This RoboCup, often considered the most important and prestigious robotics tournament in the world, has existed for twenty-five years. And after two remote sessions, it was finally held in public this year, from July 11 to 17 in Bangkok, Thailand. More than 3,000 robots and 3,500 competitors from forty-five countries competed there in different events and categories.
Football, disaster rescue, household chores, industrial robotics and junior section are the five main leagues.
The competition is divided between five main leagues: football, rescue of people in the event of disasters, household chores and home care, industrial robotics and, finally, a section reserved for juniors. These leagues can then be divided into sub-categories according to the degree of freedom granted on the design of the robots. Some are indeed designed from A to Z by the teams (of humans!) participating, but, in other cases, everyone competes using the same robot model, such as the well-known Nao and Pepper by example. So, only the programming makes the difference between the competing teams.
All competitors on the « same » machine
In the « @Home » league, devoted to home help, the French team RoboBreizh led by Cédric Buche, currently on a CNRS delegation to the international research laboratory Crossing, won first prize in a category where all the participants used a humanoid robot: Pepper. Approximately 1.20 meters tall and mounted on casters, designed by Aldebaran Robotics (later acquired by SoftBank Robotics/United Robotics Group), its production was completed in 2021. There was another “@Home” home robotics competition where you had to design a robot, but for us, it was all about the computer part and the programmingsays Cédric Buche. It’s as if, in Formula 1, everyone races with the same model of car. This is the format I prefer. »
Over a period of five days, the teams had to program a Pepper robot to perform various household tasks. In a fake apartment, for example, he had to welcome guests by opening the door for them each time they rang, inform the host of their arrival, but also ensure that the guests followed certain instructions, such as the prohibition of keeping your shoes inside or entering a particular room, while checking that everyone had a drink. However, the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms used to achieve these feats had to work on the processors of a Pepper today far from being at the forefront in terms of computing power…
A Pepper robot reset…
The organizers had fun making changes so that we couldn’t schedule everything in advance.
« The teams passed one by one but the organizers had fun making changes so that we could not schedule everything in advance.continues Cédric Buche. Thus, Pepper had to react appropriately if a guest who entered the forbidden room stayed there, recognize those who had disobeyed the same instruction several times over the course of the evening, and manage to convince them to fall into line!»
The robot comes with a basic system and some features, but the RoboBreizh team, which was participating in the RoboCup for the very first time, preferred to erase everything and start from scratch. It has also decided to limit itself to a fully embedded system, the specialty of Cédric Buche, which deprives Pepper of Internet access and therefore of the many AI solutions offered online, in particular by GafamCloseAcronym formed from the initials of the five most powerful companies in the Western Internet world: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft..
Duel at the top between robots during a football match during the RoboCup, in Bangkok, on July 16, 2022.
» We were all about even at the end of the first day, but we managed to break away on the following daysexplains Cédric Buche. We are the only ones to have made a fully embedded system, that is to say without constant communication with the outside world. This approach may seem less efficient at first glance, but we thought it was too risky to transmit information in an environment as noisy and complex as the RoboCup, given the number of people per square meter who were sending data over WiFi to a machine ! This radically different solution worked in our favor, even if the detection of shoes by our Pepper was particularly difficult with its low resolution camera (320 p) and a processor with a power equivalent to that of a mobile phone. from ten years ago…”
The « all on board »: more robust, more ecological and safer
We are the only ones to have made a fully embedded system, without constant communication with the outside. (…) It was more prudent given the number of people per m2 who were sending data via WiFi to a machine!
The idea of everything on board is not only linked to the conditions of the competition. It also corresponds to the practical cases of application of such robots, rather designed for elderly or dependent people who do not necessarily have good Internet access. The constant transmission of data to be analyzed online also involves a significant energy and ecological cost. Finally, everything embedded is of major interest for the confidentiality of data, in particular images, which are processed locally in the robot and not sent to the Cloud.
Beyond the media showcase that allows the general public to familiarize themselves with robots, these competitions are an opportunity for researchers to understand the state of the art of the discipline in a situational context. « During the tests, the robots must operate in frameworks that are not completely predictable, which is what makes the operation particularly interesting.emphasizes Cédric Buche.Locked up in the lab comparing algorithms and benchmarksCloseIn computing, it is a test bench to measure the performance of a system to compare it to others.we end up going in circles… »
Excellent opportunities to meet other researchers as well as industrialists, major events such as the RoboCup are also popular with doctoral students and trainees who often make up the bulk of the troops. « Many students receive job offers there. », rejoices Cédric Buche. However, the French teams show a lot of talent in these international competitions.
« There is clearly French expertisesupports the researcher.French teams have won several victories in the junior categories and the Bordeaux team Rhoban came second in a football event that they have already won four times in a row in the league. « Humanoid Kid-Size » in previous editions(see video above).We don’t have to be ashamed of the big teams, especially from Asian countries. Last sign of France’s success and place in robotics competitions: the RoboCup 2023 will be held in Bordeaux. ♦
To know more :
the RoboCup site and that of the champions, the RoboBreizh team
To read & see on our website:
The century of robots (file)
Relive our live on soccer robots (video)
Relive the #FutuRobot challenge live! (video)