Last week, the annual RoboCup event took place at Bordeaux, France, and some of us drove all the way there to experience it for the first time! And it was an unforgettable experience.
For those who haven’t seen what RoboCup is about, a little refresher : our team competes in the Small Size League, in which a group of 6 (or 11 for another division) small, wheeled robots competes to get the orange golf ball we use as a football into the goal. There is a camera above the field that detects the position of all of the robots and of the ball, and sends this information to a computer that is in charge of controlling all of the robots (the mothership, as we call it). As such, all of the playing is done autonomously, which makes it a very interesting software challenge.
The competition in Bordeaux took place at the Palais des Expositions, a massive hall in which many such events are held. For the Small Size League, there were 3 fields (a big field for division A, a smaller one for division B, and a practice field), and the competition was held over 4 days.
After a 15-hour drive down to France, we arrived at the camping in Bordeaux very late at night, which meant that we had to manage to set up our 5 tents quietly and in the dark.
During the first day, we had the opportunity to discover all of the other RoboCup leagues, which we had never looked at much before. The SSL terrains were just next to the hilariously clumsy Standard Platform League robots, which meant we had quite a few opportunities to see their matches. We also saw some Middle Sized League matches, including one where Eindhoven played, and had a look at the humanoid league with human-sized robots. There were also many stands from quite a few different companies, which was a nice opportunity to do some networking (and for Tim to get a free Matlab cap 😄).
We took the opportunity to visit Bordeaux on the second day, which is a really nice city even in the scorching heat. We walked around the city centre first, stopping at a bakery to get a real French breakfast and visiting the cathedral. We also had the opportunity to practice our boomerang skills in the botanical garden nearby.
We had some really nice burgers for lunch, and then made our way back to the camping, and had a refreshing dip in the pool.
At some point, Tim was graciously donated a blank pass on which he could write his name, and very quickly we all ended up on the other side of the barriers. On the third and final days of the competition we were able to talk to almost all of the teams, which allowed us to learn so much and get many new ideas for our robot.
The software team discussed many aspects of our strategy, as well as topics such as using an onboard camera to catch the ball better or filtering the data we get from the SSL vision software. Meanwhile, on the hardware side, we were able to talk about the dribbler, a part that many teams did differently and on which we were able to see some very different approaches to ours. Thomas also found out that the RoboFei team from Brazil used the same motor drivers as us, so we got some tips from them. We also learned that reliability is definitely one of the biggest problems that teams face, with everything from the IMU and radios to the electrical system for the kicker breaking regularly, meaning a lot of teams had broken robots, especially at the end.
Then came the fourth day, with some really exciting matches! The final of division A between the TIGERs (from Manheim, Germany) and ZJUNlict (from China) was very suspensful. I won’t spoil the result for you, but you can go and watch the match here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucWWzDMxYxQ
By that time, Tim had pretty much become the official SSL photographer, so he got to take many pictures! You can find all of them on our Nextcloud : https://cloud.delftmercurians.nl/apps/memories/s/2L7JfZs2oAxbe38
We left on the Sunday evening (unexpectedly - I thought we had booked the camping for another night 😑) to drive back to the Netherlands.
Overall, this trip was really an amazing experience! Not only did we get rushes of adrenaline, we also gained lots of knowledge from watching the matches, and came up with lots of ideas to implement in our own robots ! We now feel more motivated than ever to continue working on our robots to compete next year!
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