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Sunday, October 1, 2017

IROS 2017: 1st Place in Humanoid Application Challenge

non-technical: suitable for any reader

Similarly to last year, the humanoid application challenge has arrived. This year 5th Humanoid Application Challenge will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, right at home! The theme this year was a continuation of Robot Magic, where teams must great a fully embodied autonomous agent capable of performing live magic for an audience.

This year I teamed up Vlad, a computer engineer from the University of Manitoba. Vlad is a hobbyist magician, who has a knack for live performance and presentation. I'll outline the experience we had this year with IROS, and the competition in this post. In a future post I will outline more project details.

Months Leading up to IROS

We began designing the magic show in February 2017. Vlad played a huge role in designing the performance and outlining project vision. We met regularly in evenings and developed on top of my codebase for last year.

By the time the summer arrived, I was doing an internship at Carnegie Mellon University and thus we worked remotely with each other. We had weekly scrum-based meetings where we went through our trello board of tasks and highlighted our weekly plans.


Here is some footage of blob-detection used for detecting the back of a playing card. I worked primarily on computer vision since I didn't have easy access to a DarwIn OP2. I would send videos over of progress and Vlad would test on the real machine.

By mid-August I returned to Canada and it was crunch time. We spent days and nights in the lab perfecting the performance and adding additional features.

PRE-IROS
A week before IROS was the University of Manitoba Home-coming Ceremony. Vlad and I gave a robotics demo at the ceremony by showing the magic trick to Dr. David Barnard, the president of the university. We showed the first, among our 4 magic tricks featured in the show.
Kyle and Vlad showing Robot Magic performance to president of UofM.


Arrival at IROS
Vlad and I landed on Sunday the 24th of September, a couple of days before the competition officially started. We checked into an AirBnB place we rented out and began working on the magic show.


Day One of IROS
We arrived at the competition arena, located downstairs in the Vancouver Convention Center.
Kyle and Vlad at IROS 2017.


Since the majority of our code was prepared, we spent time enhancing the entertainment of the performance.
We also made use of our time to sneak upstairs and attend the company exhibition booth.
 Vlad and I were reached out to by many companies such as Apple, ReThink Robotics, Amazon, iRobot, Honda Research, and more. I was ecstatic to see the prevalence of swarm/multi-robot systems research at the exhibition as this is a future technology that especially peaks my interest.
Here is the Robotis booth at the exhibition. There were about ~30 booths in total.

Merch from IROS 2017.
Some info/merch I gathered from the exhibition center. 

Day Two of IROS
The second day of IROS was a lot more serious for Vlad and I. We arrived at the conference center at the crack of dawn, after working on the presentation most of the night. The day was spent extending the libdarwin Framework to support multi-threading, and thus allow simultaneous actions, speech, and vision. This was actually a feature not yet readily available on the Robotics OP1 or OP2, and our proof-of-concept gained the interest of one of the Robotis developers. They recently implemented this on the OP3 and were interested in our how we approached it on the OP2.

We worked in the main competition area until closing time, and head back to our place to do final preparation. We spent the majority of our day rehearsing the full performance.

Competition Day
The official competition day began after 2 days or practice. Teams started performing at 2pm in front of a panel of 8 judges. SNOBOTS went last (saving the best for last eh?).

One challenge, also apparent last year, was the presence of drones flying nearby as part of the IROS autonomous drone competition. This was a challenge for those of us relying heavily on speech recognition, however luckily Vlad and I were well prepared for this type of scenario.

The performance was live streamed on Facebook, with the top finalist presenting. We performed at around 3:30pm.

After the competition, teams split apart and we wondered around the IROS conference for the evening waiting for results. There were great banquets taking place most of the nights.
IROS 2017 banquet
The beginning of one of the banquets. Several hundred people attend.


Results
The awards ceremony began on the next day at noon. Hundreds of researchers from the conference were in attendance, and the awards ranged from "top paper in topic [X]" to "best startup". IROS has a wide span across both research and industry now.

Then, the competition awards rolled in...

1ST PLACE IROS 2017 International Humanoid Application Challenge! TEAM SNOBOTS. University of Manitoba.
Prize: $13,000 DarwIn OP3 Robot.
Kyle and Vlad team snobots 1st place at IROS 2017 Humanoid Application Challenge.


We were put up on the stage and promptly blinded by cameras. It was really cool seeing photos of us on TV screens around the conference center.

Followup
The next day we performed multiplet times to groups of researchers in the main foyer of the Vancouver Convention Center and got much better footage of the performance.


The remainder of the conference involved attending banquets, biking around vancouver, and running through parks.

Conclusion

Vlad and I worked day and night over the last 8 months preparing for this competition, and we made significant improvements from last year.
Great work to all of the teams, and thanks AALab Robotics Lab University of Manitoba For the support. We'll have a new robot in the lab soon.

I'll write a blog post outlining the technical aspects of the magic show soon. For now, it is time to celebrate.

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