Lucky number 36

UNSW has had great success in the RoboCup Soccer, but now they’re branching into the domestic side of things.

Imagine this – you arrive home and your robot welcomes you inside, taking your three shopping bags down the corridor to unpack them into the pantry. This could be a reality in the not too distant future, thanks to teams from around the world competing in a competition known as “RoboCup”.

A person will start talking to the robot and ask a question. Thirty-six will have to turn around, find this person, and respond.

Germán Castro, PhD student at UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering

The “RoboCup@Home Domestic Standard Platform League” (also known as @Home SPL) is new to RoboCup, an annual competition with five very different challenges ranging from robots designed to rescue people for instance buried in earthquake rubble (“RoboCup Rescue”), to robots that one day might beat human soccer players.

UNSW Engineering teams are long time competitors in RoboCup. They first competed in 1999 and have quite a reputation. UNSW was the world champion for the “RoboCupSoccer Standard Platform League” in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2014 and 2015 and has won several awards for its autonomous rescue robots.

The RoboCup@Home league is like RoboCupSoccer, in that it’s also operating on a “standard platform”, where all the teams use the same robot hardware, and no modifications are allowed. “The robot is standard, it can’t be changed at all. It all comes down to the programming,” says PhD student, Germán Castro who is one of four team members travelling to Japan for the competition.

UNSW applied to be just one of twelve teams selected to work with the new Toyota Human Support Robot and earlier this year, it received news that its application had been accepted. Soon after, the robot, HSRB number 36, the 36th off Toyota’s production line, arrived in the robotics lab.

Senior Research Associate David Rajaratnam, Senior Research Associate Bernhard Hengst, Professor Claude Sammut, Dr Timothy Wiley and PhD Candidate Germán Castro (left to right) and of course, number 36. Photo by Grant Turner.

UNSW’s team quickly got to work; they had less than five months to program 36 to become familiar with the chores of a household. In the competition, 36 will tackle common jobs in the kitchen, lounge room and bedroom and be tested on its softer skills.

“One event is designed to assess human interaction. Thirty-six will be put in a circle surrounded by people. There will be lots of noise and background conversations going on,” says Castro.  “A person will start talking to the robot and ask a question. Thirty-six will have to turn around, find this person, and respond.”

The team members are working on different components to make 36 a well-rounded (autonomous) domestic robot – speech, visual object recognition, navigation and pulling these together for high level tasks such as identifying and picking up an object with just the right force and grip.

When the team arrives in Nagoya they will have a short period of time to map the robot’s home and “familiarise” it with the layout. However there will be tasks where the robot won’t know what to do ahead of time.

“We will input information to 36 on where the living room is, and some of the known objects it will have to deal with, for instance particular groceries such as apples,” says Castro. “When it is given the task of putting the food away it should pile up the apples together on the table first, but there will be some objects in the mix that it won’t know and will have to decide what to do with them.”

Computer Science Engineering’s Head of School, Professor Maurice Pagnucco, who is on the team says, “This is going to be a great experience for our @home team. They’re only a small team and started working on programming the domestic helper in March. It’s going to be a good learning experience that we can build on when we compete next time.”

RoboCup@Home SLP team:

The travelling team for RoboCup@Home is:

  • Timothy Wiley (Research Associate, CSE and CRL Art&Design)
  • Gérman Castro Donoso (PhD Student)
  • Colm Flanagan (Master’s by Research Student)
  • Orly Natan (PhD Student)

The other members who have assisted are:

  • Maurice Pagnucco (Professor, CSE)
  • Mike Gratton (Research Associate, CSE and CRL Art&Design)
  • David Rajaratnam (Research Associate, CSE)
  • Claude Sammut (Professor, CSE)
  • Bernhard Hengst (Research Associate, CSE)
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