Tamkang takes robot competition by storm
FIRA is an abbreviation for the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association. As the name suggests, it is an organization that promotes robot-soccer competitions globally. The FIRA Cup, hosted annually from 1996, attracts robot enthusiasts and technology experts, who compete for prizes and share the fruits of their research among fellow technicians.
This year, the FIRA Robot World Cup was held in Bangalore, India. Representing Tamkang University at the event, the Department of Electrical Engineering’s “robot research team” overwhelmed their opponents to claim a vast collection of medals and prizes. For the sixth time since 2003, they were crowned champions of the RoboSot competition – a game of robot soccer composed of intelligent, wheeled mobile robots. They also claimed top honors in the footrace subcategory of the HuroCup (Humanoid Robot World Cup). Their efforts earned them medals in a number of competition subcategories, including penalty kicks, basketball hoop-shooting (runner-up), rock climbing, marathon, and weightlifting (third place); achieving a final tally of three gold medals, two silver medals, and three bronze medals. Their overall score put them in equal first place with fellow Taiwanese contender, National Cheng Kung University.
The robot research team was lead this year by Prof. Wong Ching-chang of Tamkang’s Department of Electrical Engineering, a man widely credited for Taiwan's glowing success in overseas robot competitions. The team itself consisted of 15 students from the Department of Electrical Engineering, including RoboSot team captain and second year PhD student, He Yang-yao, and HuroCup team captain and third year PhD candidate Hu Yue-yang. During the five-day competition, held from September 15 – 19, Tamkang’s contingent prevailed over teams from England, China, and Korea, amongst others, returning home as well-deserved victors.
As always, Tamkang’s RoboSot team gave a dazzling performance. And this year, their robots boasted a number of noticeable improvements. For one, their overall appearance had been toned down and simplified. On the sides of their robotic shells, the representative letters TKU had been engraved. They weighed less than previous years, due to a series of technical modifications, which enhanced their speed and agility.
The RoboSot competition is played with three robots to a side. The robot-soccer field is proportionately identical to a real-life soccer field, but scaled down to accommodate the robots’ limited mobility. “To date, our goalkeeper has not once conceded a goal!” He Yang-yao boasts.
Meanwhile, the HuroCup team, hoping to successfully defend their number one placing in last year’s competition, unveiled their newly-designed 7th generation robot, which was built specifically for this year’s FIRA Cup. A dual-control chip design gave the robots greater balance and stability; while the use of newly-developed Industrial PC technology allowed for improved image processing capability and enhanced resolution. When combined, these technical nuances are the key to success. As Hu Yue-yang noted, the sleepless nights writing formulas and laborious testing and re-testing before the competition was all worth it.
Their diligent efforts were also rewarded with a placing in the competition’s robot-marathon event, which in contrast to past years was held outdoors. In a natural outdoor setting, variations in ambient lighting hinder the robots’ ability to visually assess their surrounding environment. As a result, the robot-marathon devolved into a messy affair, with only three teams completing the course to reach the finish line. Hu Yue-yang excitedly explains “We’re very satisfied with the results of the event, but we’ve still got plenty of room for improvement. We’re looking to attain great results again next year, and to take Tamkang’s humanoid robots to an even higher level of sophistication.”
Prof. Wong Ching-chang has been hailed by several leading magazines as “the man who earns Taiwan gold medals overseas; the impetus behind Taiwan’s robotic gold rush.” Prof. Wong humbly observes “we are improving, but others are also improving.” Robot competitions are won or lost in the blink of an eye. In any given moment, an unexpected variable may push the course of a match in either team’s favor. To increase their chance of success, students at Tamkang invest much of their time making improvements to their robot models. They hope to “learn through doing” and aspire to achieve even better results in future robot based competitions. With their industrious, never-say-die attitude, it is of little doubt that the Electrical Engineering Department’s robot research team will again claim the limelight in next year’s Robot World Cup.