Pushing the State-Of-The-Art
It is our intentions to use RoboCup as a vehicle to promote robotics and AI research, by offering publicly appealing, but formidable challenge. One of the effective ways to promote engineering research, apart from specific application developments, is to set a significant long term goal. When the accomplishment of such a goal has significant social impact, it is called the grand challenge project. Building a robot to play soccer game itself do not generate significant social and economic impact, but the accomplishment will certainly considered as a major achievement of the field. We call this kind of project as a landmark project. RoboCup is a landmark project as well as a standard problem.
We proposed that the ultimate goal of the RoboCup Initiative to be stated as follows:
By mid-21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win the soccer game, comply with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.
We propose that this goal to be the one of the grand challenges shared by robotics and AI community for next 50 years. This goal may sounds overly ambitious given the state of the art technology today. Nevertheless, we believe it is important that such a long range goal to be claimed and pursued. It took only 50 years from the Wright Brother’s first aircraft to Apollo mission to send man to the moon and safely return them to the earth. Also, it took only 50 years, from the invention of digital computer to the Deep Blue, which beat human world champion in chess. We recognize, however, that building humanoid soccer player requires equally long period and extensive efforts of broad range of researchers, and the goal will not be met in any near term.
The Landmark Project
The successful landmark project claims to accomplish a very attractive and broadly appealing goals. The most successful example is the Apollo space program. In case of the Apollo project, the U.S. committed the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” (Urgent National Needs, John F. Kennedy, Speech to a Joint Session of Congress, 25 May 1961, Congressional Record — House (25 May 1961) p.8276.)
The accomplishment of the goal itself marks the history of the mankind. Although the direct economic impact of having someone landed on the moon is slim (To be fair, the Apollo mission was planned to gain the “National Prestige” and to demonstrate technical superiority over the former Soviet Union. Even in this, aspect, no direct military advantage was gained by having few astronauts on the moon.), technologies developed to achieve this goal was so significant that it formed the powerful technological and human foundations to the American industries. The important issue for the landmark project is to set the goal high enough so that a series of technical breakthrough is necessary to accomplish the task, and the goal need to be widely appealing and exciting. In addition, a set of technologies necessary to accomplish the goal must be the technologies which can form the foundation of the next generation industries.
In the Apollo project, the actual goal was much more than manned mission to the moon (PROJECT APOLLO: “THAT’S ONE SMALL STEP FOR A MAN, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND.” The national effort that enabled Astronaut Neil Armstrong to speak those words as he stepped onto the lunar surface, fulfilled a dream as old as humanity. But Project Apollo’s goals went beyond landing Americans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth: To establish the technology to meet other national interests in space; To achieve preeminence in space for the United States; To carry out a program of scientific exploration of the Moon; and To develop man’s capability to work in the lunar environment.)
In case of RoboCup, the ultimate goal is to “develop a robot soccer team which beats human world champion team.” (a more modest goal is “to develop a robot soccer team which play like a human players.”)
Needless to say, the accomplishment of the ultimate goal will take decades of efforts, if not centuries. It is not feasible, with the current technologies to accomplish this goal in any near term. However, this goal can easily create a series of well directed subgoals. Such an approach is common is any ambitious, or overly ambitious, project. In case of the American space program, the Mercury project and the Gemini project, which manned orbital mission, were two precursors to the Apollo mission. The first subgoal to be accomplished in RoboCup is “to build a real and software robot soccer teams which plays reasonably well with modified rules.” Even to accomplish this goal will undoubtfully generates technologies which impacts broad range of industries.
The Standard Problem
One other aspect of RoboCup is a view that RoboCup is a standard problem so that various theories, algorithms, and architectures can be evaluated. Computer chess is a typical example of the standard problem. Various search algorithms were evaluated and developed using this domain. With the recent accomplishment by the Deep Blue team, which beat Garry Kasparov, a human grand master, using the official rule, computer chess challenge is close to the finale. One of the major reasons for the success of computer chess as a standard problem is that the evaluation of the progress was clearly defined. The progress of the research can be evaluated as a strength of the system, which was indicated as the rating. However, as computer chess is about to complete its original goal, we need a new challenge. The challenge need to foster a set of technologies for the next generation industries. We consider that RoboCup fulfill such a demand.
Difference of domain characteristics between computer chess and RoboCup.
Comparison of Chess and RoboCup
The RoboCup is designed to meet the need of handling real world complexities, though in a limited world, while maintaining an affordable problems size and research cost. RoboCup offers an integrated research task covering the broad areas of AI and robotics. Such areas include: real-time sensor fusion, reactive behavior, strategy acquisition, learning, real-time planning, multi-agent systems, context recognition, vision, strategic decision-making, motor control, intelligent robot control, and many more.