Games highlight Kinect sensor’s value in robotics

They probably won’t get a ticker tape parade like the U.S. national women’s soccer team did after winning the 2015 World Cup, but the winners of the recent 2015 RoboCup certainly deserve their moment in the sun. This international competition—it’s been held annually since 1997—features soccer-playing robots of different sizes and configurations. And while it looks like all fun and games, the RoboCup competition has a serious purpose: to advance the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

“Soccer-bots” are more than an entertaining novelty: designing these complex machines helps advance robotics and artificial intelligence research. Plus, they can vacuum the artificial playing surface (or at least they should!).

The 2015 RoboCup, which took place from July 17 to 23 in Hefei, China, drew more than 100 teams from 76 countries. That’s a lot of robots, and most—over 90 percent—featured motion sensors, 70 percent of which were Kinect sensors. (Those figures are courtesy of Beijing Trainsfer Technology Development, a Chinese high-tech company whose personnel were at the games.) The theme of this year’s RoboCup was advances in inexpensive but high-quality robotic platforms and hardware, so the prominence of Kinect-enabled robots made perfect sense. After all, the latest Kinect sensor is prized for coupling low cost with outstanding capabilities.

Just in case any of the assembled researchers needed more incentive to use the Kinect sensor, Guobin Wu of Microsoft Research Asia and Browning Wan of Trainsfer gave an invited talk in which they demonstrated how the Kinect for Xbox One sensor can enable robots to recognize gestures, body movements, and voice commands.

So, how did our Kinect-enabled robots do? Well, of the 12 teams competing in the Middle Size League, nine used the Kinect sensor in their goalkeepers, including the champion team from Beijing Information Science and Technology University (BISTU). The BISTU developers tested a number of different motion sensors and chose the latest Kinect sensor because its color camera provided an expanded field of vision, enabling the goalkeeper to detect the ball from as far away as 7.5 meters, and its transmission rate of 30 frames per second gave the goalkeeper more time to get into position to block an incoming shot.

This goalkeeper robot has a distinct advantage: a Kinect sensor (surrounded by a protective gray-colored frame).

This goalkeeper robot has a distinct advantage: a Kinect sensor (surrounded by a protective
gray-colored frame).

And while robots playing soccer are surprisingly entertaining, the real intent of the RoboCup, as mentioned earlier, is to promote serious research into AI and robotics, and we’re happy that the latest Kinect sensor is helping in these efforts.

The Kinect for Windows Team

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