We're in a rather strange building here on the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. The ancient building we are in has two large open atrium-like areas in it. During the day they are unused. In the evening hours though these areas often surprise us. I've walked for coffee to find a usually empty atrium transformed into a full table tennis competition complete with official tables, referees and onlookers. It is also really weird to walk around your office building and suddly realise that you are one of the few people not wearing a judo outfit because the classes just started. I know not to work too late on a Tuesday because then the Philips Harmonie Orchestra practice tends to shatter any productivity gains.
One of the neighbors that I was the most curious about was the Philips RoboCup team. They are a group of 15 enthusiasts, here every Wednesday night, that get together to enter into competitions revolving around autonomous robotic football players. They write the code, the algorithms and hack the hardware so that their team of autonomous soccer robots will beat out teams from all over the world in competitions.
This is why in the middle of this atrium next door to our offices there is a RoboCup football pitch. The pitch itself rather confused me on my first visit but it has always intrigued me also. So, today I went over to shoot some pictures and talk to the guys on the team.The robots have very little in the way of processing power and come with a modem. But, they only use this modem to upload and download software to them and to communicate with the other robots on their team. The robots tell each other where they are on the field, where the ball is and how close they are to the ball. An individual robot can then "claim" the ball to make the ball if it is the closest to it and tell the others that it will go for the ball. Some robots are assigned defensive or offensive roles and there is a goalie also.
The robots use a camera pointed at a mirror to see the area around them, one processor handles the video the other movement. The processor that they use to determine where the robot should move has around a 100 MIPS of power. 100 MIPS(Millions of Instructions Per Second) is comparable to the power present in a 90 Megahertz Pentium processor. This was the power of a regular desktop PC, in 1994. If you do not know what Pentium means, think slow, think Windows 95, think Forrest Gump tops the box office. The power that you used to play Colonization in 1994 is now used to move a robot autonomously around a football pitch. You are currently viewing this blog on a PC that probably has 2.4 gigahertz. Although I can't be sure because gigahertz used to mean something and now it doesn't.
The goal of all the RoboCup players is to make machines that are capable of taking on and winning from human soccer players. While at the moment our RoboCup players might look kind of cute and goofy, beware! I've read a lot of Isaac Asimov and can tell you that robots and humans never end up getting along.