One week out from RoboCup 2019 in Sydney, the UTS Unleashed! team hit a problem so severe members doubted they would make it to the starting line.
“We had problems with the robot’s navigation system – it just kept bumping into things,” said undergraduate programmer, Suwen Leong. “However, the team rallied and endured really intense days, some with 3am finishes, to get us back in contention.”
Those long hours paid off, with UTS awarded the gold medal for the Social Robot Standard Platform League (SSPL) at the event, held in Sydney for the first time.
It follows the team’s silver finish at last year’s competition in Montreal.
UTS Unleashed! is led by Distinguished Professor Mary-Anne Williams and comprises a core team of social robotics researchers who have worked together for several years. It competes in the @Home league, which is focused on human-robot interactions.
The competition involves challenges that require a high degree of social interaction and adaptive behaviours in different social situations.
It’s the perfect arena to test the skills of The Magic Lab at UTS.
Pepper’s human social characteristics put to the test
At RoboCup 2019, UTS was one of six teams exploring technologies to program a humanoid Pepper robot, supplied by Softbank Robotics.
Social robots are designed to show human social characteristics such as emotional expression, to conduct dialogue, to use and respond to natural human cues such as pointing.
They also must develop “social competencies” – that elusive ability to intuitively respond to what other people are communicating through both verbal and non-verbal activity.
Over four days UTS Unleashed! achieved high scores across all activities in the @Home league designed to test these characteristics:
- Party Host: demonstrating hospitality by meeting and greeting guests and making introductions
- Housekeeper: helping to clean up and take out rubbish
- Restaurant: operating in an unfamiliar environment with unknown people. Unleashed! achieved the highest ever point score – 800 – for tasks which included successfully taking and fulfilling orders from three people.
“With our research focus on developing safe and secure robots for human-centric environments, we are looking for ways social robots can operate with not just the intelligence to optimise and perform physical tasks but to work with humans in reliable and enjoyable ways,” said Professor Williams.
Robots also need resilience to perform when needed.
“We need robots that can keep operating in the home even when there are networks outages or other issues beyond the ability of the average person to fix. So we need to apply our technical expertise and ensure that a robot can keep running even if it's being repaired remotely.”
While RoboCup is about fun and games, it’s also a teaching and learning experience.
The event wraps up with a symposium where teams share their research, learn from students at other world-leading universities, and benchmark their creative social robot behaviours to new complex and challenging engineering and IT problems.
The UTS Unleashed! team celebrates its win at RoboCup.
The artificial intelligence developed by UTS Unleashed! for this competition was the culmination of a three-year project.
Next up for the Magic Lab - a collaboration with the Southwest Sydney local health district on various robotics applications, with prototyping to begin in late next year.