Computer Science, Innovation, Robotics, STEM

RoboCup: Participating in World’s Biggest Robot and AI #Hackathon

robocup 2015 MU team picture
Team MU-L8: Sally, Matt, Adrianna, Ryan, LEIA (robot), TARZ (not pictured) and Dr. Andrew Williams, Marquette University, HEIR Lab

This week, our students in the Marquette University Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab are participating in perhaps the largest and the oldest robot hackathon in the world, RoboCup, in Hefei, China.  RoboCup is sometimes referred to as the World Cup of robotics and artificial intelligence.  This is the tenth anniversary since I founded and led the Spelman College SpelBots to our first RoboCup in Osaka, Japan and it is a privilege to lead our current, outstanding team from Marquette University College of Engineering:  Matt, Adrianna, Ryan, and Sally.  We are competing in the RoboCup 2015 Hefei TeenSize Humanoid Soccer league. Our team re-designed, 3D printed, re-architectured the hardware, and wrote new embedded system software and adapted our previous vision code.  With the support of Dean Kristina Ropella, Marquette College of Engineering, friends and alumni of Marquette, and also the College of Communication social media crowdfunding team of students, we were able to qualify and compete this year and are grateful for their support. This year we are the only team from the U.S. competing in the TeenSize Humanoid League.

RoboCup: World Cup for Humanoid Robots

RoboCup is a global research project and competition whose goal is by the year 2050, to have a team of humanoid robots that can beat the human World Cup champion soccer team.  Since soccer is a global sport, it was chosen as the main category of competition of RoboCup initially with the hopes that the new technology developed would lead to advances in areas such as healthcare, assistive technology, and elderly care.  RoboCup not only advances robotics research, but it also builds bridges of cultural understanding and friendship between students and faculty of other nations.

robocup hackathon 2015


Ryan and Adrianna prepare for our first match while TARZ chills before his match.

Hacking and Making Humanoids

What’s a hackathon? Hackathons teach students how to work on hands-on, real-world technical projects and use there creativity , ingenuity, and teamwork to tackle tough problems.   Although hackathon’s are not new, I’ve observed that companies are increasingly supporting and sponsoring them to find new talent into their companies.  One particular organization, Black Founders, hosts hackathons while working with companies to introduce new software and hardware while also working to broaden the participation of minorities in computing.  College students should be encouraged to participate in these intense, short duration programming and “makers” competitions.

robocup 2015 crowd


TARZ smiles at young admirers from China at RoboCup 2015 Hefei while Matt works.

Learning Life Lessons

We arrived in Hefei, China this week after traveling for more than twenty four hours including our flight delays with an optimistic spirit and eager to learn. Along the way we faced various technical and travel challenges but our students are handling the pressures of competing in this intensely challenging “hackathon” to get our two MU-L8 humanoid robots to compete in soccer against universities from companies such as Germany and India. We look forward to our experience here and the memories our students will carry with them forever.  After all, its not the scores of the soccer matches that count, but rather the character and life learning that the students experience. Note: At the time of this writing, Team MU-L8, tied its first match against AcYut, Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani, India. Update:  Team MU-L8, tied in its second match against NimbRo TeenSize from the University of Bonn, Germany.

robocup 2015 LEIA

LEAI prepares to defend her goal against AcYut’s humanoids.

About the author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Marquette University and Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Engineering (HEIR) Lab.  He is the author of Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives.


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