Pepper takes gold
UTS Unleashed! is the world champion for robot interaction and collaboration with people in realistic situations.
If a week is a long time in politics… it’s a very long time in robotics!
One week out from RoboCup’s first Sydney event, the UTS Unleashed! team hit a problem so severe members wondered if they could even make it to the starting line.
“We had problems with the robot’s navigation system; it just kept bumping into things,” said undergraduate programmer, Suwen Leong. “However, the team rallied and endured really intense days, some with 3am finishes, to get us back in contention.”
Those long hours paid off, with UTS awarded the gold medal for the Social Robot Standard Platform League (SSPL) at this year’s RoboCup held in Sydney. It follows the team’s silver finish at the 2018 competition in Montreal.
UTS Unleashed! is led by Distinguished Professor Mary-Anne Williams, and consists of a core team of social robotics researchers who have worked together for several years. It competes in the @Home league, which is focused on human-robot interactions. The competition involves challenges that require a high degree of social interaction and adaptive behaviours in different social situations. It’s the perfect arena to test the skills of The Magic Lab at UTS.
We are looking for ways social robots can operate with not just the intelligence to optimise and perform physical tasks but to work with humans in reliable and enjoyable ways.
Professor Mary-Anne Williams
The Magic Lab
At RoboCup 2019, UTS was one of six teams exploring technologies to program a humanoid Pepper robot, supplied by Softbank Robotics. Social robots are designed to show human social characteristics such as emotional expression, to conduct dialogue, to use and respond to natural human cues such as pointing, and to develop ‘social competencies’ - that elusive ability to intuitively respond to what other people are communicating through both verbal and non-verbal activity.
Over four days UTS Unleashed! achieved high scores across all activities in the @Home league designed to test these characteristics:
- Party Host: demonstrating hospitality by meeting and greeting guests and making introductions
- Housekeeper: helping to clean up and take out rubbish
- Restaurant: operating in an unfamiliar environment with unknown people. Unleashed! achieved the highest ever point score – 800 – for tasks which included successfully taking and fulfilling orders from three people.
“With our research focus on developing safe and secure robots for human-centric environments, we are looking for ways social robots can operate with not just the intelligence to optimise and perform physical tasks but to work with humans in reliable and enjoyable ways,” said Professor Williams.
Robots also need resilience to perform when needed.
“We need robots that can keep operating in the home even when there are networks outages or other issues beyond the ability of the average person to fix. So we need to apply our technical expertise and ensure that a robot can keep running even if it's being repaired remotely.”
While RoboCup is about fun and games, it’s also a teaching and learning experience. The event wraps up with a symposium where teams share their research, learn from students at other world-leading universities, and benchmark their creative social robot behaviours to new complex and challenging engineering and IT problems.
The artificial intelligence developed by UTS Unleashed! for this competition was the culmination of a three-year project. Next up for the Magic Lab - a collaboration with the Southwest Sydney local health district on various robotics applications, with prototyping to begin in late 2019.
[Woman sitting at a table interacting with a humanoid robot (Pepper). There is a crowd of onlookers standing around watching the interaction. There is ambient crowd noise.]
Robot Pepper: Good morning. I will be taking your order today. Have you decided what you want to order?
Woman: Lemonade and noodles.
Robot Pepper: OK, this is what I got: lemonade, noodles. Is that all correct?
Woman: [smiling] Yes. Yes
Robot Pepper: Sure, give me a sec.
[Woman laughs. Robot Pepper turns around to move away. Cut to Robot Pepper with arms positioned in front next to man]
Robot Pepper: Please place the tray on my arms, then put the lemonade and noodles on the tray. Let me know when you're done by saying "Ready".
[Man places a tray on Pepper's outstretched arms, a can of drink and a packet of noodles]
Man: Ready [man takes a step back]
Robot Pepper: I will deliver this lemonade and noodles to the customer. Going to the customer.
[Pepper rotates around and makes her way back to the woman slowly].
Robot Pepper: Here is your order, please take your order. May I leave?
[Woman reaches out to get the can of drink then a packet of noodles and places them on the table she is sitting at]
[Onlooking crowd applauds. Pepper bows her head and begins to rotate her body away from the woman to leave.]
The Magic Lab at UTS is Australia’s leading social robotics centre, utilising an interdisciplinary approach to designing and developing complex artificial intelligence software that helps robots communicate with humans, navigate and map new environments, sense and recognise objects and faces, and perform adaptive behaviours in different human-centric situations.