Azevedo the ITAndroids: Humanoid Robot Soccer Design Team
Judy Warner: How long has the ITAndroids team been in existence, and how did it get started?
Arthur Azevedo: The ITAndroids team was created in 2005 by Jackson Matsura. Back then he was a masters student, now he is a professor in the electronics department. Two undergraduate students and another master’s student joined the team. They won the Latin America RoboCup (LARC) 2D Soccer Simulation that year. They quickly became one of the Latin American top teams and competed in the RoboCup from 2006 to 2008, and then the team split off.
The ITAndroids team was recreated in 2011 and was able to compete in the 2012 Robocup in the 2D Soccer Simulation League. The team got 10th place. In the same year, the team got three trophies in 2012 LARC: 1st place on 2D Soccer Simulation, 1st place on 3D Soccer Simulation and 3rd place on Humanoid Robot Racing (HRR). Also this year, the team started recruiting and training new members and has grown rapidly ever since. ITAndroids won LARC’s 2D Soccer Simulation 4 times.
In 2012, the team started designing its own hardware in the Very Small Size League. In 2017, we qualified to compete in the KidSize Humanoid League at the 2017 Robocup. This same year we also got a 1st and 2nd place in LARC HRR, competing with a commercial robot (Darwin-OP2) and an in-house designed and built robot called Chape. We are also starting to design a robot to compete in the Small Size League, and plan to have a full team ready for the 2018 LARC.
Warner: Sounds like a long and very successful journey! How many total students are on your team, and how many are on the electrical sub-team and design boards?
Azevedo: On our team, there are about 60 students, divided among different projects of robots. As we have three types of physical robots (Very Small Size, Small Size, and Humanoid), we have three groups of electrical designers devoted to the specific design of their robots. In the Humanoid electrical design group, there are four members, composed by students in their 1st, 2nd and 4th year, and have the help of an experienced engineer-mentor. The group has projects consisting of concepts of specification requirements, design, testing and manufacturing boards and supporting the robot assembling and integration.
Warner: Can you tell us more about the types of robots you make?
Azevedo: The ITAndroids team takes part in five competition categories, two of them are simulated and three of them are physical.
Soccer Simulation 2D: This category doesn’t have hardware development, focusing purely on the strategy of autonomous robots in a football match. This year's projects include a major refactoring of the code, fixing bugs and making it more legible, and migration to the team’s patterns. There was also an implementation of a dynamic role assignment strategy to the agents.
Soccer Simulation 3D: This category follows the challenges of the previous one, added to the simulation of three-dimensional humanoid robots, requiring the implementation of the robot's movements. This year's projects mainly focused on the optimization of the parameters for the movements and the navigation of the robots, as well as clustering tools for these optimizations and a more efficient method of testing the robots.
Humanoid: Consists of the development of a physical humanoid robot and implementation of all the techniques featured in Soccer Simulation 3D in a real robot.
Our team had a significant expansion of its knowledge in hardware due to the manufacturing of our humanoid model, affectionately named Chape, based on an imported Darwin-OP robot that we have used since last year. The hardware project was large in scope both on the mechanical side, with the machining and printing of almost all the robots, as well as the electrical hardware that was designed with the use of Altium Designer®. The software development team also worked very hard to make many improvements in the robot's movements and vision.
The robots were all finished in just one semester, ensuring the team’s participation in the Robocup competition in June.
Very Small Size (VSS): Consists of a team of three different robots with a cubic format that plays a football match. Since the team made new robots, with enhanced processing board and motors, Altium was used for the hardware design. The software helped with the team's strategy, and we made a simulator to help with tests.
Small Size: Can be considered an extension of the previous category, with a bigger team and robots that have a more complex mechanical structure. As a new category, the project has been in its development phase all year, contributing to another significant growth of our hardware capabilities. Once again, Altium had an important role in our project. Custom software had to be developed too, which was a challenging project.
Warner: You compete in RoboCup competitions. Can you tell our readers about your experience in these events?
Azevedo: Competing in Robocup was an amazing opportunity because we could put our designs on the "field" and see them function and perform. The interaction with teams from all over the world was very exciting. It was a rich learning and teaching experience. Each conversation with team members from universities of every continent dramatically improved our skills. Robocup brings maturity to the team, robustness to the system and increases networking.
Warner: It sounds like they were exciting and very memorable experiences. What types of boards are needed to power your robots, and how did you learn to design them?
Azevedo: The Chape Humanoid robot was conceived to have a certain degree of modularity and easy maintenance. The electrical architecture requires different types of boards sharing the roles of power condition and distribution, sensing and actuator control, low-level data communication, health monitoring, usability and debug & maintenance.
The architecture is composed of 2 boards: The PWB is the power manager which is a smart board that has a dedicated power control algorithm. The regulated voltage bus is generated in PWB. The high power unregulated voltage bus is created from the management of power sources such as a battery and an external power supply.
The CMB is the heart of the low-level physical layer. It is the control of the monitoring boards that controls the servos, interprets the data from its embedded inertial module, takes safety action based on reading of internal temperature, commands the cooling fan, controls the LEDs and a buzzer for advice and makes the distribution of unregulated high power voltage bus. The communication with the High Processing Main Computer is a NUC i5 from Intel which performs the data exchange that allows the walking, running and kicking. The communication with nuc is a USB2.0 and impedance matching of a differential data pair. An I2C bus integrates the remaining boards composed of LEDs, buzzer and buttons to enable interaction with the robot.
In regards to how the team members learn to design boards, the process begins with a short course focused on electronic design, in which the principles of design are studied. The senior students bring their expertise to the group which is facilitated by a volunteer engineering mentor. The students dedicate time to obtain knowledge from regular classes, faculty, and through the internet.
Warner: Please discuss the roles of mentors for your team.
Azevedo: Since the team consists mostly of undergraduate students, many times we don’t have either enough experience or maturity to meet the team's needs. However, we can count on our mentors any time we need.
Altogether we have four mentors: two for electronics (Miguel Angelo Sampaio and José Roberto Colombo Jr.), one for mechanical (Daniela Vacarini de Faria) and one advising professor in software and control (Marcos Ricardo Omena de Albuquerque Máximo).
The electronic mentors did a great job on the Chape and VSS electronics schematic and PCB layout design, as well as in passing on knowledge to the new members. The mechanical mentor was critical to the Chape robot project, both in the CAD project and for manufacturing. They also offered some support to the Small Size League team. The professor has been dedicating his time and efforts to the success of the project. He gives intensive support to all disciplines and has also developed the humanoid robots walking algorithm as his Ph.D. thesis. Annually, the mentors offer classes to the team members for the sake of the team’s technical sustainability.
Warner: What is the team working on this academic year?
Azevedo: 2017 was a year of very significant growth for ITAndroids. From the administrative to the technical aspects of our team, there was plenty of work for all of us. Besides the work of every sub-team, we took part in two main events: the International Robocup competition and the Latin American Robocup (LARC), and one smaller event focused in the IEEE Very Small Size (VSS) modality. The efforts of our team in these competitions resulted in a total of 5 trophies.
Academically, we always encourage our associate students in the scientific researches, resulting in 6 articles published.
Warner: Well, congratulations Arthur on a very successful year, and a passionate group of students, professors, and mentors that have made your team such a success! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share the work and accomplishments of ITAndroids.
Arthur: Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about our team.