RMIT takes AI learning to next level at RoboCup23


After a journey of four years, a team of RMIT University staff and students are competing in Bordeaux, France after qualifying for RoboCup23 – a soccer World Cup for robots.

RoboCup is the premiere annual international competition for autonomous robotics. Founded in 1996, the goal for the competition is that by 2050, a team of autonomous humanoid robots will defeat the FIFA world champions.

“Competing in RoboCup for RMIT has been a journey four years in the making,” explained Dr Timothy Wiley, STEM College, who specialises in Computer Science and is heading up the RMIT contingent.

“We first started putting the team together in 2019 but had to pause our work during the COVID lockdowns. In 2022, we competed remotely in the technical, and qualified to compete in the full competition last January.”

“This year is the first time that RMIT is competing in the full RoboCup competition in 23 years!”

Dr Wiley explained the robots are programmed by RMIT students.

“Our team consists of undergraduate and postgraduate students studying in programs in the School of Computing Technologies. This was the first competition for all our students.”

“The robots in the RoboCup Standard Platform League are fully autonomous. This means there is no remote control. The robots think and act for themselves, playing a 20-minute game of five vs. five soccer all by themselves.”

“The only human integration is that the game is refereed by humans, using electronic referee wireless signals to send messages to the robots of the referee decisions.”

Given the degree of difficulty in qualifying and competing against the best robotics departments and schools the world has to offer, Wiley is keeping a lid on expectations at the tournament.

“Just building up the robot software to play a game of soccer has been tough!” he said.

“Our goal for 2023 was to field a full team of five robots and score a goal against our opponent, and we have done! Just achieving this at RoboCup in the first year of competition is an enormous effort as some of the top teams have been competing since 2008.”

“This year we narrowly lost 2-1 in the deciding game for qualification into the semi-finals against “Dutch Nao Team” from the Netherlands.”

Wiley, who lectures in Computer Science, is also a researcher in the field of Autonomous Robotics, which has swept into mainstream consciousness this year off the back of the rise in products like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard.

He said that with the increasing prominence of AI, robotics is becoming increasingly important to the functioning of society, and the process involved in creating a team for RoboCup covers a wide variety of robotics skillsets.

“The skill set necessary to get a team of humanoid robots to play soccer includes locomotion, vision, planning and multi-robot coordination. These are the same types of challenges faced by larger robotic systems, such as autonomous cars.”

“While it’s fun to get robots to play soccer, the skills and experiences of RoboCup are applied in robotics more generally.”

“What RoboCup is really good for, is that it helps students to experience the practical side of robotics, in what is truly takes to bring a fully functional piece of technology into reality.”

“Much like human soccer and human sports, the game will start whether you are ready or not. So, your work must be fully functional by game day. There is no option to delay.”

Wiley said the competition aims to mirror human behaviour in soccer as much as possible, but the robots are not quite at the level of human performance yet.

“We try to mirror “human” soccer – I say human because the robots are playing “real” soccer. Though in truth, it’s more like watching six- or seven-year-old children play soccer,” he said

“A few robots swarm after the ball, while a few others hang back in fixed positions. Though we do have a diving goalie, which has saved three goals for us in this year’s competition!”

“We have had an amazing time in Bordeaux. The competition is intense and tough, and the games are really rewarding.”

To watch RMIT’s RoboCup games, subscribe to the SPL RoboCup YouTube channel:

/RMIT University News Release. View in full here.