The Pennalizers, Penn's robo-soccer team, hone their robots' locomotion, localization and vision so they can compete in "soccer" tournaments.

Human soccer players are not the only ones gearing up for next summer’s World Cup. A team of robots at Penn are also training for a soccer tournament that takes place around the same time.

UPennalizers, Penn’s robo-soccer team, participates every year in RoboCup, an international robotics competition that draws teams from all over the world to build and program robots that play soccer.

The 2010 RoboCup — which will take place in Singapore — is estimated to bring in 3,000 participants from more than 40 countries.

Last year’s competition took place in Austria, and Penn’s team came in second. The team participated in every international competition between 1999 and 2006. After a short hiatus from 2007 to 2008, the team re-formed with a new group of undergraduate and graduate students from across the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Penn’s RoboCup team was one of the first participants in the original Sony Aibo league, which designed and trained Sony robotic dogs.

“I’d heard about RoboCup before I came to Penn,” said Engineering junior Anirudha Majumdar. “When I got here, I approached our faculty advisor ... to see if we could get it started again at Penn — and here we are.”

The team works with robots created by the French manufacturing company Aldebaran.

The robots’ “training” is divided into three components — locomotion, localization and vision.

For locomotion, the robots are programmed to walk, kick and maintain balance when kicking the ball.

They are also programmed for localization, the ability to detect their surroundings and act accordingly.

Finally, their vision settings are set to detect certain colors and images. For example, they are trained to associate the color orange with the image of a soccer ball, and so can recognize the orange soccer balls that are the standard at RoboCup.

“The problem is, they’re really sensitive to light,” said team member and Engineering junior Alex Lee.

“This caused internal camera issues at the last RoboCup, and is part of the reason we lost,” added Engineering junior Barry Scharfman.

Apart from training the robots they already have, the team is also working with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute to create their own robo-soccer players.

“Right now it’s just a mass of wires without a head,” said Engineering senior Steve McGill. “We call him Buddy.”

“Virginia Tech gave him the brawns,” added Engineering senior Jordan Brindza. “We’re giving him the brains.”

Scharfman added that RoboCup’s goal “is to have autonomous robots that can play the human soccer world champions of 2050.”

“By then, we may even have life-oriented robots who can run our banks and help people out in the home,” he said.

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