Now that the FIFA World Cup contenders have finished battling it out, another international soccer competition is just getting started in Brazil – only this time, the players aren’t human.
Five Bowdoin students are on their way to Logan Airport this morning for a flight to João Pessoa, Brazil, for RoboCup 2014 – an annual competition between teams of autonomous, knee-high robots whose soccer-playing prowess reflects the skill and hard work of their programmers. Known as Northern Bites, Bowdoin’s team has competed in nine RoboCups all over the world since the team’s 2005 beginnings in the Searles Science Building robotics lab.
“Everything the robots do on the field is the result of a program written by students,” said Professor of Computer Science Eric Chown, coach and faculty advisor to the team, noting that the technology has seen remarkable advances in the past decade. “We make progress every year, and over the years that’s a lot of progress.”
The masterminds behind this year’s robot athletes are Josh Imloff ’15, Daniel Zeller ’15, Megan Maher ’16, Nicole Morin ’16, and Dan Navarro ’16, who are each conducting summer research on improving aspects of robotic soccer skills, supported by Maine Space Grant Consortium Fellowships and a Freedman Summer Research Fellowship in Computer Science. Team captains Zeller and Imloff will continue their research in the form of honors projects in the coming year.
“This is an extremely competitive team,” Chown said. “All of the students are dedicated, eager, and focused on making everything better.” Robot soccer, he pointed out, isn’t just about sports glory: by striving to emulate human attributes such as agility in walking and running, the students have been tackling some of the biggest challenges in robotics. “You have to solve all the problems: sensing, teamwork, moving around, communication,” Chown said. “Soccer just happens to be a fun way to work on all those problems.”
Earlier this summer, the same group of students put on a demo of their soccer-playing robots at the World Science Festival in New York City. “Parents were fighting with parents over who should be where so that their kids could see the show,” Chown wrote in the Northern Bites blog, comparing the experience to “being at a Who concert in the 1970s.”
Now they’re ready for an even more epic adventure in Brazil. “Over the past year the focus has been upon improving our behaviors and features such as kickoff plays … we had big plans, and they’ve come together,” wrote co-captain Zeller in the team’s latest blog post. “We’re very excited about the competition, and hope to do right by our old teammates who brought us to the place we are today.”