The RoboPatriots are a team of humanoid robots (robots whose frame and actuation are based on those of humans) at the Department of Computer Science at George Mason University. They're ~2' feet tall and are trained to play collective soccer autonomously at RoboCup, an annual international autonomous robotic soccer competition. And we've had the great honor to produce the official 2015 RoboPatriots jerseys for their upcoming competition at RoboCup China 2015.
It's almost as if it was meant to be. Back in early-ish 2014, during some conversation about design, technology and the world that began with bags and ended with robots (we may have had a few ciders) Nik (Director of Production and Operations), showed us (me, Tom) a video of robots playing soccer. It was pretty freaking cool. These robots weren't being controlled; they were programmed to know to go after the ball, kick the ball, act as goalies. (And we didn't even know then that the GMU RoboPatriots are part of a learning from demonstration experiment, which means they are only trained how to play collective soccer -- rather than programmed how to play -- immediately before the competition.)
Easy to fill in the blanks from here, eh? We are robot soccer fans. We made the RoboPatriot jerseys. Surely we must've approached the Department of Computer Science at George Mason University and asked if we could make jerseys for them, right? Nope. Here's how it all unfolded.
In January 2015, a member of our Forums -- feijai -- sent us an email to alert us to a very lame bug/issue with our Forum software. He took the time to let us know about something we might not have known about otherwise and for that we were grateful and sent him a surprise thank you.
feijai received the surprise. And then he posted this:
feijai is Sean Luke, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science at George Mason University. His lab is the GMU Autonomous Robotics Laboratory. He programs and trains humanoid robots to learn how to play soccer! His robots were some of the robots we watched play soccer way back when.
Within a few minutes of the realization of this connection, Nik had the idea to create TOM BIHN soccer jerseys for the GMU robots. It didn't even occur to us that we might be able to make the official jersey's the robots would wear in competition at RoboCup; we just thought this would be a fun thing to do.
Nik figured out the dimensions of the humanoid robots, taking into account their back ports and vents. He cut and sewed the jerseys himself. We'll admit we were feeling a bit unsure about this whole thing: would we send the jerseys to Sean and would he be all like, "Uhh... thanks"? Then we remembered an important life lesson: don't let potential awkwardness or slight embarrassment stop you from doing something potentially weird and cool and unexpected. And so we send the jerseys off to Sean in a box with soccer robot illustrations drawn by Hannah. Here's how they were received:
Sean asked us if we'd be interested in making official jerseys for the RoboPatriots to wear at this year's RoboCup (July 17 – 23 in Hefei, China). It took us about 10 seconds to say yes.
Nik had done an admirable job designing and sizing the jerseys based off of information he found online about the DARwIn-OPs (the humanoid robots that are programed to be the RoboPatriots) but a few improvements needed to be made. Sean arranged for us to visit the Univeristy of Washington Department of Computer Science and Engineering and there we had the opportunity to see a DARwIn-OP in person and fit him (her? it?) for a jersey:
Several versions later, the RoboPatriots are now outfitted with their official competition jerseys in teal and magenta (these are the colors that the robots use to differentiate teammate from opponent).
Photo by Sean Luke
Photo by Sean Luke
Robocup 2015 is just about a week away! Learn more about the RoboPatriots (and all of the super cool people that are part of the GMU Autonomous Robotics Laboratory) here.
The recognition for the jerseys that Sean and the team at the GMU Lab have given us is a true honor. We're listed as a sponsor alongside the National Science Foundation: that's good company.
There's a whole world of fascinating research into robots and robotics that many of us are never exposed to; perhaps the most some of us are ever exposed to robots is through jokes or stories about them taking over the world. We don't mean to get all mushy, but this is a story about robots and about how they brought people together to work on something really cool and unexpected.
And maybe something even more unexpected will come out of this. When we first watched that robot soccer video back in 2014, we had no idea we'd be writing this post today, that we'd make the RoboPatriot jerseys for the 2015 RoboCup. Who knows what will happen next? Maybe someone who reads this post will send it to a friend who decides to watch the 2015 RoboCup with their kids and those kids get robot-crazy and decide to go to GMU when it’s time to go off to college and learn all about robotics.
Updated to add: Sean Luke (feijai) has posted a new thread in the Forums with more robot info!