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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Wits University will compete in the international RoboCup tournament

Wits University students will participate in this year’s 3D RoboCup simulation league tournament – a world cup for soccer robots tournament taking place virtually from 22 – 28 June 2021.

The Wits FC team consists of computer science students from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM) in the Faculty of Science and is headed by PhD candidate Branden Ingram and MSc student Andries Bingani.

The team is being supported by Associate Professor Benjamin Rosman and Dr Pravesh Ranchod from the Robotics, Autonomous Intelligence and Learning (RAIL) research group in CSAM.

Up to 24 teams will participate in this league that focuses on AI and team strategy.

Teams are also required to submit a conference-style paper which is reviewed by the RoboCup committee.

RoboCup, the world cup for soccer robots, is a major annual event on the artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics calendar with a goal to advance the state of the art of intelligent robots.

Teams from across the globe compete in different soccer leagues to show their mastery in AI and machine learning. The soccer robots can either be working physical robots or simulation robots.

Rosman said in order for development and innovation to be promoted there is an added requirement that each teams’ contribution contains some element of a novel approach on the problem of RoboCup.

“The code itself should also demonstrate the use and benefit of this new approach,” said Rosman.

Adding that the soccer robots tournament teams are all required to develop and submit a team of independent intelligent moving agents (players) that play soccer on a virtual field inside a computer.

Rosman said RoboCup presents a great opportunity for students to work together as a team and then compete against other students from around the world. Representation from Africa has always been minimal, at best.

“For our team to be able to compete in the tournament is important both for Wits’ representation internationally, and for providing our students with more exposure to international AI and robotics,” said Rosman

Ingram said the Wits FC robotics team have been in development for roughly two years.

Ingram said it was slow going in the beginning as they first had to understand what is available to them to develop their entry.

“Then installing the necessary software packages was difficult at the start but has been worthwhile, they say, because the experienced gained has resulted in them being able to create a far simpler method of doing things.

“These processes were then captured in tutorials that can benefit future Wits teams,” said Ingram.

Bingani said the 3D league increases the realism of the simulated environment by adding an extra dimension and more complex physics.

“We didn’t create the simulation but had to develop the AI and strategy for a group of agents which play within the simulated environment. In other words, we tell the players what to do given a certain situation, but we did not build the stadium they play in,” said Bingani.

According to Rosman these kinds of activities help promote science and technology by providing our students with a fun application of the theory in which they are so deeply immersed in their studies.

“It is an accessible means of outreach to the general public as many of the challenges we tackle in research can be explained in relatable terms,” said Rosman.

Adding that in taking part in RoboCup, they are also hoping to use their experience to help other local universities start their own teams, and then to stablish local leagues and tournaments to further advance science and technology in the region.

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