A Brief History of RoboCup

In the history of artificial intelligence and robotics, the year 1997 will be remembered as a turning point. In May 1997, IBM Deep Blue defeated the human world champion in chess. Forty years of challenge in the AI community came to a successful conclusion. On July 4, 1997, NASA’s MARS Pathfinder mission made a successful landing and the first autonomous robotics system, Sojourner, was deployed on the surface of Mars. Together with these accomplishments, RoboCup made its first steps toward the development of robotic soccer players which can beat a human World Cup champion team.

The idea of robots playing soccer was first mentioned by Professor Alan Mackworth (University of British Columbia, Canada) in a paper entitled “On Seeing Robots” presented at VI-92, 1992. and later published in a book Computer Vision: System, Theory, and Applications, pages 1-13, World Scientific Press, Singapore, 1993. A series of papers on the Dynamo robot soccer project was published by his group.

Independently, a group of Japanese researchers organized a Workshop on Grand Challenges in Artificial Intelligence in October, 1992 in Tokyo, discussing possible grand challenge problems. This workshop led to a serious discussions of using the game of soccer for promoting science and technology. A series of investigation were carried out, including a technology feasibility study, a social impact assessment, and a financial feasibility study. In addition, rules were drafted, as well as prototype development of soccer robots and simulator systems. As a result of these studies, the researchers concluded that the project was feasible and desirable. In June 1993, a group of researchers, including Minoru Asada, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Hiroaki Kitano, decided to launch a robot competition, tentatively named the Robot J-League (J-League is the name of the newly established Japanese Professional soccer league). Within a month, however, they received overwhelming reactions from researchers outside of Japan, requesting that the initiative be extended as an international joint project. Accordingly, they renamed the project as the Robot World Cup Initiative, “RoboCup” for short.

Concurrent to this discussion, several researchers were already using the game of soccer as a domain for their research. For example, Itsuki Noda, at ElectroTechnical Laboratory (ETL), a government research center in Japan, was conducting multi-agent research using soccer, and started the development of a dedicated simulator for soccer games. This simulator later became the official soccer server of RoboCup. Independently, Professor Minoru Asada’s Lab at Osaka University, and Professor Manuela Veloso and her student Peter Stone at Carnegie Mellon University had been working on soccer playing robots. Without the participation of these early pioneers of the field, RoboCup could not have taken off.

In September 1993, the first public announcement of the initiative was made, and specific regulations were drafted. Accordingly, discussions on organizations and technical issues were held at numerous conferences and workshops, including AAAI-94, JSAI Symposium, and at various robotics society meetings.

Meanwhile, Noda’s team at ETL announced the Soccer Server version 0 (LISP version), the first open system simulator for the soccer domain enabling multi-agent systems research, followed by version 1.0 of Soccer Server (C++ Version) which was distributed via the web. The first public demonstration of this simulator was made at IJCAI-95.

During the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-95) held at Montreal, Canada, August, 1995, the announcement was made to organize the First Robot World Cup Soccer Games and Conferences in conjunction with IJCAI-97 Nagoya. At the same time, the decision was made to organize Pre-RoboCup-96, in order to identify potential problems associated with organizing RoboCup on a large scale. The decision was made to provide two years of preparation and development time, so that initial group of researchers could start robot and simulation team development, as well as giving lead time for their funding schedules.

Pre-RoboCup-96 was held during International Conference on Intelligence Robotics and Systems (IROS-96), Osaka, from November 4 – 8, 1996, with eight teams competing in a simulation league and demonstration of real robot for middle size league. While limited in scale, this competition was the first competition using soccer games for promotion of research and education.

The first official RoboCup games and conference was held in 1997 with great success. Over 40 teams participated (real and simulation combined), and over 5,000 spectators attended.