The notion that one day robots will take over the world does not faze the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) team, who qualified for the robot football World Cup, the 2016 RoboCup, for the third time in a row.
NUST, which managed to qualify for the last two events but could not participate because of not being able to afford the expensive robots, are the only team from South Asia to have qualified for the international tournament.
They will be among the world’s top 27 universities, specialising in the field of robotics, to battle for the title in the Standard Platform League which will begin on June 30 in Germany.
Ifrah Wali, gold medallist in skiing in the 2011 South Asian Winter Games and part of the NUST team, is completely overawed by the prospect of having robots play football.
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“I feel this is bigger than skiing,” Ifrah told The Express Tribune. “Robots will change everything in the future; in fact they are the future. Maybe one day they would take over the field of skiing too.”
The objective of the RoboCup is to have fully autonomous humanoid robot football players by 2050 and win a game, complying with official FIFA rules, against the human World Cup winners of that time.
The tournament has been taking place since 1997, while NUST began working on the RoboCup project in 2011.
Dr Yasar Ayaz, the research advisor for the 10-member team, believes it is a matter of pride for the nation that NUST managed to qualify for the event for the third time — NUST is the only team from South Asia to feature in the tournament.
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“I am extremely proud of the team; in fact the whole nation should be because it is a unique achievement,” said Ayaz, who made his first humanoid robot in 2003.
Ayaz revealed that the project took four years to complete after he introduced the idea of working on the RoboCup project in 2011 and also talked about the difficulties the team faced.
“One standard robot would cost Rs1.8m, thus it became impossible for us to arrange six robots [a requirement for the RoboCup]. However, with time we managed to get them and I am happy to say that we are now ready to compete in the RoboCup,” he added.
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Selection criteria and obstacles
The RoboCup Federation has some extremely strict criteria which need to be met before a team qualifies for the World Cup, according to Ayaz.
“The federation would take a look at the videos of our robots playing football, then they would have a video conference with us and command the robots to perform a certain move. This way they would see how the robots behave and play,” he revealed.
While all this is extremely impressive, the NUST team faces a dilemma that is more difficult than qualifying for the RoboCup — arranging funds to travel to Germany.
As is normally the case, the government of Pakistan is least interested in helping budding sportspersons, while the Information Technology ministry looked the other way when approached. Hence, the only way to move forward is to seek private sponsors.
“We need at least four to five team members to go and work with the robots at the RoboCup, so it’s the money that is an issue at the moment,” said Ayaz.
Meanwhile, Ifrah revealed that the team needs at least Rs2 million for the travelling and lodging expenses of four members. However, if the money is not arranged by the end of this month, Ifrah might not be able to travel with the team.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2016.
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