RoboCup soccer provides a fascinating window into the current state-of-the-art in robotics and artificial intelligence. However, building robots much taller than a garden gnome has proven a daunting requirement for university labs with limited budgets and experience. Just five teams qualified to compete in the mid-range TeenSize category this year, for robots three to four feet (95-120 cm) tall. A new open-source hardware platform from the University of Bonn's Team NimbRo fills the gap for newcomers and veterans alike.
Team NimbRo, led by Professor Sven Behnke, is in a particularly good position to commercialize a TeenSize robot platform. Not only have they won in the TeenSize class several years running, they took home the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup for "Best Humanoid" this year. The NimbRo-OP stands three feet (95 cm) tall, weighs 14.5 pounds (6.6 kg), and has a total of 20 degrees of freedom (it uses the standard configuration of six servos per leg, three per arm, and two in its neck). It may look a little dopey at first, but underneath it sports a dual-core PC powered by the AMD E-450 processor, has two gigabytes of RAM, and a 64 gig solid state drive.
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Its Linux-based software is based on that used by the DARwIn-OP, a popular KidSize platform developed by Virginia Tech's Team DARwIn and Robotis (a Korean company that markets a line of robot kits and parts). The NimbRo-OP also uses Robotis servos, which are considered the industry standard, and its software comes ready to recognize the ball and perform basic soccer skills like walking, kicking, and standing up on its own.
All things considered, the NimbRo-OP looks like an incredible platform that should make good on its promise of broadening the TeenSize roster. As can be expected with a large robot like this, the NimbRo-OP doesn't come cheap. For €20,000 (US$26,000) universities will get a fully assembled and tested robot that is ready to be tinkered with and programmed. Although it sounds rather expensive, it will save teams the trouble of prototyping their own, and the untold hours of research and development that would normally require.
Plus, with more teams competing, sharing, and building on their work, the more likely it seems that RoboCup's stated goal of beating the reigning human champions by the year 2050 can be achieved.
Don't miss the video of the NimbRo-OP in action below!