Several readers have asked about the NAO robot teams competing at RoboCup 2011, so we decided to try and put the situation in perspective, and take a look at the rulebook, which turned out to be much more complex than we had imagined.
The RoboCup Standard Platform category was originally designed to be exactly that - a "standard platform". The concept was to create a uniform playing environment where all the teams used the same robots, the same restrictions, and the same advantages. At the same time they would have a free hand to experiment and innovate with the software, AI, and algorithms in order to coax the best performance out of their robots and win the match.
How the RoboCup Standard Platform League began...
The first robot platform was the Sony AIBO robot dog, which worked quite well for years and helped the teams advance the state of the art. In fact that RoboCup category was originally sponsored by Sony and was known as the "Sony Four-Legged League" and only AIBO robots were allowed. Around 2004, the league was reorganized and the name was changed to the "Four-Legged League", but the restriction to only allow AIBO robots to compete was retained. This may seem like a trivial distinction since there may not have been any strong four-legged robots on the scene capable of taking on the AIBO head to head, but certainly some universities must have been more than capable of designing their own robot canine platforms.
Unfortunately Sony, for totally understandable business reasons, had to discontinue selling the AIBO. Consequently, RoboCup was left high and dry, without a strong, standard robot platform to replace AIBO. By that time, with a decade of experience under their belt with what had turned out to be a defacto standard competitive environment, the organizers decided to make it official, formalized the rules, and renamed the category. They issued a call for bids along with a detailed set of requirements, and after extensive tests and evaluations, the NAO humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics was selected as the new standard platform.
Standard Platform is only one of the RoboCup categories
It's important to keep in mind that the "Standard Platform" is only one of many RoboCup categories. Teams that want to enter the RoboCup competitions aren't required to use the NAO robot for any of the categories except the Standard Platform. Many of them do select NAO based on the robots performance and capabilities, or their own needs. Some teams may select a particular robot because they have a significant investment, both in terms of money, time, and know-how based on that robot line. Supporting multiple robot platforms isn't easy and definitely requires a major commitment. It isn't just about winning the match or the championship. It is all about moving the technology, knowledge base, and know-how ahead in a highly motivating and exciting way.
Totally autonomous robots
Another major distinction is that the Standard Platform robots have to operate fully autonomously. That means that no remote sensing, no remote computing, no human operator interaction or control is allowed. That's not quite true - teams are allowed to send a very limited set of commands to the robot basically telling it what 'state' it should be operating in. These inclued 'Initial', 'Ready', 'Set', 'Playing', 'Penalized', and 'Finished'.
Even the amount of bandwidth that can be utilized by the teams is tightly defined.
Some of the rules can get rather obsure, though we're confident that the teams and officials believe they are intuitive and probably wouldn't understand why novice fans could get confused or puzzled. For example, it took us a while to clearly understand the 'ball holding' examples. Perhaps we're a bit 'slow' when it comes to sports. 😀
Of course, you can always enjoy the competition without knowing the rules or understanding why the referees make the calls they do. But, if you want to know more about the sport, especially the unique rules and complex environment defined by the Standard Platform rulebook, you'll want to check out the detailed 2011 rules.
Thanks to BotSport.TV, here's the RoboCup Soccer 2011 Standard Platform League Final match pitting the B-Human team against the Nao Devils. Both teams were from Germany:
(Via Rules 2011.)