## Sunday, October 16, 2016

### IROS 2016: Robot Magic! Part 2 - Competition Time

I took what I could for sleep, hopping out of bed by 4:30am and doing final preparations before heading to the conference centre. Upon arrival there was minimal time to prepare. I setup my Robot (I'm sorry, I mean Clara), and sat back to enjoy the first 2 performances.

Team One: Qiron Robotics -- Mind Reading

Team Leader: Rodrigo Da Silva Guerra

The Trick: A volunteer is called up and asked to select a number between 0-9, and then perform some algebraic manipulation on it as commanded by the Robot. I was impressed by the speech synthesis, with a clear friendly voice engaging the audience. After the participant selects a number (without telling the robot), they are requested to map that number to a character in the alphabet. A=1, B=2, C=3... etc. The next stage, is to select a Country that begins with that letter, and then pick an animal that begins with the next letter in the alphabet. For example if my letter was "C" I could say Canada, and then I must pick an animal starting with a D, such as Donkey. After the volunteer makes their selection, the robot prompts them to write down their country/animal on paper and show the audience... To everyones' surprise, the robot was able to read the participants' mind!

Team Two: Seed Robotics
The Magician: Standard Darwin OP1 Robot with custom grippers by Seed Robotics.
The Trick: This was a quick and impressive demonstration, where the Darwin took a magic rope, grabbed hold of it, stretches out the rope between it's hands, and then extends it's arms to reveal the rope has now become a solid pole. Likewise to undo the trick, the robot grabs hold of the rod and with motion gestures it returns the rod back into a rope. It's obvious the trick lies in the rope; but hey that's what magic is all about. The impressive part is how the robot is able to maneuver the rope and pass it through it's hands without gripping too hard. This is a difficult problem in robotics; in fact there is a full competition across the room from us, that is dedicated to robotic gripping.

Team Three: Snobots THAT'S ME!
Autonomous Agents Lab, University of Manitoba
The Magician: Clara! A Darwin OP2 robot.
The Trick: (click image to enlarge)

Team Four: Taipei Snipers
National Taiwan Normal University
The Magician: Suited-up Darwin OP2 robot.
The Trick: Similar to the mind reading trick by Qiron Robotics, a volunteer makes an initial selection of a card from a table of card and is guided through a series of questions by the robot until the final card is guessed. The magic was in the form of a "lie detector" where upon the volunteer picking a card, footage of them is shown on screen with their face being detected by the robots camera. The goal is to have the robot convince said volunteer that it can detect their lying. The visual aid is accompanied by dynamic personality settings of the robot. This means the phrases uttered by the robot vary between friendly/aggressive depending on set personality parameters. I especially appreciated this trick due to the computer vision techniques they used. We both used contouring to detect the card; but this team further did contouring on the suit/shape to improve classification accuracy, alongside a R,G,B histogram for coloured cards (queen/jack/king).

Team Five: HURO
Mokpo National University
The Magician: Charles. Custom humanoid robot by Mokpo National University
The Trick: I felt like this trick was a magic show in itself, fantastic work by this team. Starting off with a brief dance show featuring Charles (robot) and one of the team members, the show turns to trick #1: cup trick. This involves the robot taking 2 cups from the magician, having water put in said cups, and then doing brief gesturing to reveal that upon flipping the cups, the water vanished! The trick continues on to some coin magic, with various quick trick demos taking places as friendly music plays in the background. Midway through the performance is a slight interlude where the magician questions his own ability, and is encouraged by Charles to "CHEER UP!" in which another dance sequence begins. You'd think the trick is over by now? It's not. Parts 3 and 4 consist of coin oriented tricks where the magician demonstrates his skills and is mentored by the robot in front of the audience. By the end, the magician has gained confidence in himself to never give up and realizes the potential in Charles to be a robot magician. This trick is essentially an uplifting story performed live for the audience.

 Korean lunch
All of the teams finished and we went out for a wonderful lunch provided by the IROS competition technical committee. I was still in awe at the fact that my vision processing worked flawlessly during the live performance. I spent hours ensuring everything was done correctly -- seeing it come to life in front of an audience has been ever so satisfying.

We we able to head back to the hotel by mid afternoon where I quickly caught up on missed lecture material from back at home. Tomorrow is awards day, and a final performance to demo the winning teams to a larger audience!

IROS Day 3: Awards Day
I arrived following breakfast to do a final performance, and had the pleasure of spotting Jacky maneuvering through the halls with his ~2ft tall magic hat. It was now nearly a foot taller with a promotional sign extending from the top advertising robot magic @11AM!!! DOME C! 4 of the teams performed again with even better quality demonstrations than yesterday.
Becoming familiar with the other teams and their tricks is fun, because you start to recognize the flow of their presentation and the little things they do differently each time. Thankfully -- yet again -- the snobots hit the ball home with another solid presentation: 100% card classification accuracy, minimal speech hiccups, and good audience enjoyment! It's time now to head to the awards ceremony.

These places are amazing. It's my second time attending such a conference ceremony (first was Robocup 2016 here ). I sat at 0-range to the Taipei Snipers and enjoyed eating the lunch provided while watching awards being given out.
Competition awards time... Drum roll please pounding keyboard with fists.
THIRD PLACE: TAIPEI SNIPERS

SECOND PLACE: Snobots (THAT'S US!)

FIRST PLACE: As expected and deserved, first place goes to team HURO, for their fantastic interactive magic show!

First place received a Darwin OP2 robot valued at $9600 from Seed Robotics (one of the teams that competed!) Second place (snobots) received a RH4D Ares Hand values at$1000 from Seed Robotics!

Later in the day I was invited to give a talk at the Winning Competitors session held in the DCC grand ballroom. It was a wonderful experience having the chance to talk in front of an academic audience, presenting the project I've been working on and ideas I have. I realize now that this project, despite being only a couple of months, feels as if it's my child. It is close to me, and I have this urge to defend my ideas; but the beauty of research is that my ideas are often foolish and can be improved by others... so I share this child (hypothetically) with the community, and let others work on it... (ok lets just forget about the child analogy ok?). Research is enjoyable, that's what I'm getting at. I feel at home with the academic community.

Conclusion and Acknowledgements
Firstly congratulations to all of the teams. It has been a pleasure meeting you all and catching up with friends from Taiwan, Robot Magic has been an intriguing, and entertaining research problem and made for a great project.
Many thanks to Prof. Jacky Baltes for his guidance and mentor-ship (refer to the last 4 months of my life), along with Prof. John Anderson and Dr. Meng Cheng Lau who were supervisors of this project.

Thanks to Robotis for being one of the sponsors of our travel grant
Thanks again to Seed Robotics for providing a significant donation to the winning teams, specifically the RH4D Ares Hand won by Snobots!

I'd also like to thank the coordinators, chairmen, academics, and other members of the community who made the competition setting possible at IROS and provided a welcoming and engaging environment for research.

It's been a great time. I look forward to following up on this project at the poster competition held at the University of Manitoba later this month, and hopefully my first research paper can come from this as well!