Team SQPReL, a joint team formed of members of the L-CAS (University of Lincoln), the LabRoCoCo (University of Rome “Sapienza”), and the Fundacion Cartif, accomplished a good 3rd place in the RoboCup@HOME Social Standard Platform League (@HOME-SSPL). RoboCup is the world’s largest robotic competition, looking at a proud history of 20 years, starting from one league of football-playing robots, to now also cover many application areas of robots, such as rescue, logistics, and also service robots in people’s homes (RoboCup@Home).
In the @HOME-SSPL league, all teams use the very same hardware platform, (a SoftBank Pepper robot) to compete on software level in a number of tasks, all motivated by typical tasks robot could help with in people’s homes in the future. The team’s robot had to host a cocktail party, act as a waiter in a restaurant, follow verbal commands given by a human, be a tour guide, and help with bringing the shopping from the car to the kitchen. It needs to understand verbal commands (in a very noisy environment, as there are hundreds of visitors in such a competition), (re-)identify humans, and always navigate safely in a home-like environment.
The SPQReL team gathered points in almost all tasks, a remarkable achievement given the challenges of the platform Pepper, which – as a consumer product – lacks the quality and richness in sensing capabilities normally found in robots engaged in these tasks today. With just about 3 weeks of preparation work, the distributed team accomplished a level of functionality that allowed them to compete successfully on a world-leading level. The team’s focus was on robust navigation with software released to the community, and on flexible task design and execution, as well as the integration of various sensing capability to see and understand the interacting humans. In the so-called open challenge, we presented a novel way to create plans for our robot using the Blockly Visual programming language. Rather than just gathering points and “hacking” their way to match the scoring system, SPQReL was driven by the esteem to showcase truly autonomous and intelligent robotic behaviour, that informs their research also for the future and to gather datasets and experience that lay the foundation for scientific studies to come.
The team is now very exhausted, but also proud, to have achieved this phenomenal result, given that the robot only arrived 4 weeks ago in Lincoln, and despite such short preparation time, it was able to engage in all the tasks. The team missed the final only by very few points and indeed sees the accomplished 3rd place as motivation to follow up this first-time appearance at the competition with the ambition to perform even better in the future.