FHWS does RoboCup

FHWS team enters the renowned robotics competition

Almost everyone knows the recordings of football-playing robots in RoboCup, the renowned international robotics competition. But there are now other competitions as well as the famous football league. These include the RoboCup@work league for industrial robots, in which FHWS now wants to show off its robotics know-how with its own RoboCup team.

RoboCup was launched in the nineties. The original goal of the international scientists who developed the idea of RoboCup was, and is still today, for football-playing robots to be able to defeat a human World Cup team by the middle of the 21st century. By now, however, this is no longer the sole focus of the competition. Since the first official RoboCup game and associated conference in 1997, the competition’s fame has grown from year to year and the event attracts increasing numbers of visitors. The last RoboCup, which took place in Sydney in 2019, had more than 3000 participants and 30,000 spectators, for example. The concept was developed in order to drive research in the field of robotics, make the field of research more attractive and spark the public's interest in robotics.

Picture of the course
The course at the 2020 German Open in Magdeburg was anything but easy. (© Tobias Kaupp)

This is also the goal for Professor Dr. Tobias Kaupp, who launched the project at FHWS. He has been following RoboCup himself for several years, and has even been to the competition as a spectator. When he met other teams from the smart factory field at the RoboCup German Open in Magdeburg, he was inspired to establish a team at FHWS too. The whole thing finally gained momentum with funding from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering for the necessary mobile platform. Funding from the Hans-Wilhelm Renkhoff Foundation, which supported the project with roughly €20,000 after a research application from Tobias Kaupp, provided the final kick-off whistle. The first master’s students were brought on board, and the FHWS RoboCup team slowly took shape.

Competition as a research environment

In addition to the famous RoboCupSoccer league, today’s RoboCup also has four other leagues which deal with various areas of application for robotics and each have multiple sub-leagues. These overarching categories include RoboCupRescue, RoboCup@home, RoboCupJunior and RoboCupIndustrial. One of the sub-leagues of RoboCupIndustrial is the RoboCup@work league, which FHWS is entering in 2021. This is all about the use of robots in a working environment, i.e. so-called industrial and service robots. The competition is very application-oriented, the tasks to be mastered by the robots have been developed together with companies and illustrate real scenarios and problems in industry. The robots developed can therefore also actually be used in industry in the future.

The FHWS team’s robot is no small, football-playing robot, but rather a mobile platform which is equipped with a gripper arm. It should be able to be used in factories, for example, to orient itself there independently and to complete various tasks. These include autonomous navigation through the premises, detecting, locating and picking up objects and subsequent transportation and depositing. The type of tasks in the competition are known in advance, but the exact course design is not. Participants have one minute on site to configure their robots appropriately, and then they’re off.

In order to be able to master this complex challenge, the team divides various tasks among the members. Up to eight team members work together on the platform. The team predominately consists of master’s students studying mechatronics and electrical engineering who are writing their master's theses on the project, as well as doctoral candidate Florian Spieß who is jointly responsible for the project as the student contact.

The platform was bought by the team. The students’ task is to enhance it with appropriate sensors and develop the intelligent software and hardware solutions to master the tasks. Everyone has their areas of responsibility, from building the gripper arm through integration of the hardware and the selection of sensors to evaluation and calculation of data. The team uses a simulation and a test environment which has been built on the Konrad-Geiger campus in Schweinfurt to test the platform.

“The roboticists of the future”

Participation in the RoboCup German Open 2021 is the first hurdle for the team and their platform, a sort of preliminary decision for the actual international RoboCup which should take place in June of the same year in Bordeaux. But the focus for the team is the task itself and participation, even if that doesn’t go any further than the German Open. “It is simply a matter of the students learning something from RoboCup,” explains doctoral candidate Spieß. “Even if we are not the best team, the students have worked on real, industrial projects.” According to Florian Spieß, the biggest benefit for the students is the practical aspect of the whole thing. The students can further develop their knowledge and skills in concrete application scenarios. This experience is essential for Prof. Kaupp too: “I don't think it's all that important for us to perform brilliantly. The important thing is that we can teach the students as a result, that we make progress and that we are able to implement our knowledge in industry.”

FHWS’ goal, much like RoboCup's, is to drive research as well as to make the industry aware of the students’ work. For Prof. Kaupp, participation in RoboCup is the perfect way to serve both research and teaching at FHWS and the industry, which is increasingly investing in the smart factory field. The industry should benefit from the research as well as the teaching for the students. Since the topic is so relevant for the regional and supra-regional economy, the project is also part of FHWS’ “Digital production” research focus. The development in industrial robots driven by the @work league is of particular interest for the regional economy at the Schweinfurt location. According to Professor Kaupp, there is definitely demand from companies for further growth in the field of intralogistics and smart factory. Qualified workers and advanced research are required for this – and FHWS can offer both: “We want to demonstrate that we are training the roboticists of the future.”

Quote PhD student Florian Spieß: Even if we are not the best team, the students have worked on real, industrial projects.

“Absolute camaraderie”

Whether the team wins or loses: all participants will take a great deal of fun, as well as plenty of knowledge, home from the competition. That’s why RoboCup is not a true competitive event such as those people are familiar with from other fields. Here, the focus is on the common interest in robotics and advances in development. Mutual support and exchange are not uncommon, they are even typical of the special spirit of the event. Jonas Beenenga won the German Open in 2014 with the B-Human team and went on to win third place in the RoboCup Standard Platform league at the international competition in Brazil. He remembers the exchange with robotics enthusiasts from all around the world: “It’s very exciting because people come from all round the world but are striving to achieve the same thing.”

Tobias Kaupp also emphasises the open atmosphere on site: “There is simply absolute camaraderie.” Through mutual exchange with other teams, all participants can learn something and be motivated by other people’s results. “It is extremely motivating to have a competition that we can get the students so involved with,” he explains. “And it needs to be fun, that’s really the most important thing.”

Quote Prof. Tobias Kaupp: We want to demonstrate that we are training the roboticists of the future.
Prof. Dr. Tobias Kaupp

Prof. Dr. Tobias Kaupp also teaches robotics and control technology content, among other things, at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. (© Simone Friese)

Profilfoto Svenja Zeitler

An article by
Svenja Zeitler