Robot competitions seem to be a growing event that increasingly includes more and more people. At ISR-Lisboa this kind of competition is becoming a staple, particularly with researchers at the Mobile Robotics Lab. Professor Pedro Lima, from IRSg, explained some of the reasons why competing with robot technology might be such a good pairing with scientific research.

“Researchers are used to presenting their work in traditional ways, within their area of expertise and usually in conferences that are very much directed at their peers. Robot competitions have great value from an outreach point of view since they are an excellent way to attract young people to the field and incorporate other audiences. But besides that, they are a great problem-solving challenge. When you have a student trying to solve a very well defined issue, that everyone is trying to solve as well, it’s a fantastic way to compare solutions. The competition’s purpose ends up merging with the scientific purpose of the research. And it’s a boost for publishing as well since plenty of students use case studies from competitions for their work.”

Professor Pedro Lima also explained that these types of competitions are a useful way to prepare the students to find quick solutions to unpredictable events, something very relevant in research. Even for the same event, the rules change from year to year to make sure that the situations continue to be demanding. They also present a mostly open environment that often fosters sharing. “If something goes wrong teams many times share tools, an extra battery or even algorithms. Some years ago it was very difficult to convey the message that robot competitions are something that manages to not only be educational but also a valid push forward for the academic field. Nowadays a project specifically catered towards robot competitions can very well be approved with flying colors. Ten or fifteen years ago it would probably be denied without much deliberation.”

When the European Commission decided to invest in this type of events one of the first projects it financed was RoCKin, an ISR-Lisboa project aiming to foster scientific progress and innovation in cognitive systems and robotics, directly through the design and implementation of competitions. Since that pioneer project efforts have continuously been gathered and nowadays ISR has a secure position in the field due to the increased know-how and experience.

A particular team constituted by students and researchers from ISR-Lisboa often represents the institute in robot competitions. SocRob, a long-term internal project that encompasses a broad range of efforts towards robots in performing tasks, was first founded to participate in RoboCup’s soccer competitions. It deeply endorses the idea that they are addressing taxing scientific problems that arise when effectively deploying robots in the real situations.

“We always hope that this kind of events can have ripples in the future. From the moment robot competitions started involving junior teams there was a big investment from schools in robotics. After that, there seemed to be robotics clubs in almost every school, with educators even introducing it in the curriculum and teaching robot parts and components.”

More about particular competitions:

The European Robotics League is a purely European initiative that works as a framework for two indoors robotics competitions: ERL Industrial Robots and ERL Service Robots, and one outdoor robotics competition, ERL Emergency Robots. Local and major tournaments are based in smart-cities across Europe and open to international participation. ERL Service and ERL Industrial Robots offer a testbed across where researchers compete, meet, discuss, learn and improve, whilst ERL Emergency Robots organizes a pre-competition summer school where attendees prepare for the major tournament.

When: The next Major tournament will take place at IROS 2018, from the 1st to the 4th of October, in Madrid.

After the AI&Robotics community completed the challenge of having a robot defeat a human world champion in chess in 1997, the question was only what would the next objective be. RoboCup is an annual international competition that since then aims to develop a completely autonomous team of humanoid robots that could defeat the champion human team in soccer. Soccer presents many chances for errors. Robots need to find the ball, successfully kick it, to know where the other players and goal are…so it’s not only fun but an activity that can have a major impact.

When: There are several ongoing local Opens, but RoboCup 2018 will take part from the 16th to the 22nd of June

FreeBots aims at challenging the research and development community to the world level and present academic results in the form of technical and public demonstrations. This event is promoted by the Portuguese Society of Robotics and the demonstrations are streamlined by diverse research groups and companies.

When: The next FreeBots competition will take place at the Nacional Festival of Robotics, from the 26th to the 30th of Abril in Coimbra.