Friday, 25 June 2010

Robocup - The Other World Cup, kicked off

Robotic Organisation; Drunken Head and Sober Robot

When I read stats that Singapore's annual tourist numbers is similar to Malaysia, and about 3 times that of Indonesia, I found it a little surprising. I had problem trying to arrange an itinerary for Andy when he came to Singapore for a weekend. In fact, we ended up taken him out of the country for a day to keep him busy (Diary Entry "Johor Bahru" dated 5 Oct 2009).

I was only surprise because when I thought of tourism, I had the preconceived notion of thinking only one type of tourism, i.e. sightseeing, and that isn't much of that in Singapore. But there are many types of tourism. Medical tourism, for example, where Korea, Thailand, China and Singapore (to the lesser extent) are thriving. People go to these places because their medical regulations are much less stringent than in the West. In cases where patients in the West run out of options, or desperate, they came to these countries to seek medical care as a last resort. Stem cell medicine is one such example. In the West, it's still conducting clinical trials, and it won't be another decade or so before it's approved for treatment. Such treatments are being practised in those countries right now. In other cases where the medical procedures are much less cutting edge, in fact, quite proven, but its low costs in some Asian countries lure face saving people from the West. Routine plastic surgery is one such example. China is having great expectation for its medical industry in the future. Very Great expectation.

This is a global trend in the economic structural changes in labour allocations. Decades ago where low labour costs are applied only to low labour skills. Companies in the West make use of the labour cost in unskilled or at best semi-skilled labour force in the underdeveloped/developing/emerging economies. These days the labour force in the emerging economies are becoming more and more skilled and knowledge based, with software and biotech researchers in India to highly skilled medical practitioners in Korea, Thailand and China.

Singapore isn't one such medical tourist destination, but medical research in Singapore is quite advanced. The UK medical researcher Alan Coleman who cloned Dolly the sheep came to Singapore to do research (but had since left Singapore).

One of the Singapore top tourism (which explain its high total inbound tourist numbers, at least partly) is the hosting of international events ranging from International Air Show, F1 Grand Prix, Youth Olympic Game to APEC (Singapore is its HQ), and many international conferences, symposiums, etc. FYI, Youth Olympics is being held this year in August for the first time. The only reason it hasn't held the main Summer Olympics is because she's simply doesn't have the financial clout. Singapore is chosen for international event organiser because it many assets: political neutrality, political and social stability, comprehensive infrastructures, well developed hospitality industry, centrally located geography in SE Asia, an experienced organiser of international events, an international transport hub, and last but not least, its high percentage of English speaking population (about 70%, the highest in Asia bar none). Oh, did I forget to mention clean, green and low crime.
Well, I guess it isn't a secret that Singapore is an orderly society, probably one of the most orderly in Asia, second maybe only to Japan. That orderliness and efficient organisation skills already become apparent the minute you landed and got into the airport. You can quite easily get through the airport in less than 20 minutes.

Due to this central location and thus serves as transportation hub, many tourists use it as stop-over (or lay-over - a more risque term that Yanks prefer).

The one international event that got me excited is "Robocup - The Other World Cup". This is the tag line for the sport event. I was thrilled (as thrilled as a jaded traveller can get) not because it's a 'sport', because it isn't a sport. I love the novelty. Robots playing soccer, what's there not to like? I have never known about this, let alone watching it. When I saw the ads while I was riding MRT on the weekend, it grabbed my full attention. I'm there! Try to stop me.

I was there the first day, but it did stop me with a bad case of flu for the next 3 days. I had to be confined to bed. I think a sad face is called for :-(


Many countries participate in this competition ranging from Thailand, Iran, Mexico, India, HK, China to, of course, the host country. It goes without saying that the usual suspects of the developed economies of Japan, Germany, USA, etc would also be there.

The first day (when my flu just reared its ugly head) I watched some Junior Robot Dance competition. These kids, like most kids, like stuffed toys. Except that their toys were stuffed with hard, clunky metallic robots instead of the usual soft, fluffy cottons.

This is the China South-West Team for the Junior Dance Competition.

Notice the two tigers (dressed in gold and blue) doing a split. Other robots in this team also did other pretty impressive wrap moves even for a human (one of the move was involving spins on its mechanical stomach). These moves are the more impressive for robots (one day, the reverse is true).

This team won an award for The Best Dance Choreography. Well deserved with those fancy, funky, groovy moves.

This is the Aussie Team called Robo Rockers for the Junior Dance Competition.

This is the Sweden Team (Don't know if they called themselves the Blues Brothers) for the Junior Dance Competition.

This is a Robocup Middle Size Robot League Competition playing in a 18x12m indoor field.

Kicking the ball from the sideline.

Action around the goal area.

A goal is scored by the blue team!

Blue and red teams fighting to gain control of the ball.

This is a Junior Robot Competition field, where the robots are very large compare to the field.

Humanoid Robot League Competition is very popular, for good reason. It's very packed. Photographing it was a hard task. This is the Final. I missed all the Quarter's and Semi's because of my flu. Both the red and blue teams in the final for the Humanoid Robot League were Germans. The German robots aren't the best looking, but the best technically.

A Humanoid Robot goalie. Noticed its right 'hand', it's different from other players. It's designed to block the ball. Noticed the head band, too. Very serious business.

Notice one of the Humanoid Robot has fallen to the ground. It happened frequently with their wobbly gaits (not too dissimilar from a toddler). Here's the main difference between watching a game of Humanoid robot and Human soccer. When a human soccer player falls, it's followed by a gasp or a hush from the audience. When a humanoid robot falls, audience would bust into a roar of laughter. It's quite funny to see them fall. Apart from the laughter, the animated response from the audience is as authentic as a real soccer game: cheering, clapping, and shouting. The audience anticipation is very energetic. I guess Singaporeans, like most Asians, love a soccer game. Be it metallic or flesh.

This is a competition between human and Middle Size Robot League. The human are, I guess, officials of the Robocup. This is not simply the officials having fun, winding down after the serious competitions. Not entirely. The mission statement of the Robocup is:
By 2050, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win the game, complying with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.


Don't know how ambitious that statement is. Since we're a fair way from 2050, and as far as technology is concerned, 40 years is light years away. So we don't expect the robots are going to win this game this year. Not yet. This reminds me of playing chess on the computer. In the mid-or late 80's when the computer chess first appeared on the PC, I remembered how slow the computer played, and how easily I was able to beat it. I guess this is in a similar state of affair with the robot soccer players to date. But in 1997 IBM Deep Blue beat the World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov (But he accused IBM for cheating). The point is, 10 years earlier, you couldn't imagine asking a world chess champion to play against a machine at all.

A handicap is given to the robot to level the playing field.
This soccer player is wise enough to wrap himself in padding to protect himself. This is the handicap I'm talking about - the human are very nervous around the robots. You wouldn't want to run or ram into the metallic robots while playing. If you do, it's a handicap in a different sense of the word.

Can't wait until a day when the robots beat human. We can't lose because if the robots won, we triumphed in our technological progress (the brain is quicker than the foot). Don't know if I live to see the day.

The Futuristic Life of Mine
My body would have died off by then, but my head would be kept alive by immersing in a jar of formaldehyde sitting on a robotic body. My brain will send electrical signals that control its movement. When I sneeze, I'll tell it to wipe my jar dry. This way, I'll be drinking alcohol all day as well (CH2O is alcohol. I just need to top it up regularly to avoid suffocation). 2 birds with 1 stone. Finger crossed (I won't have fingers then, but my robotic arms will cross it for me).
"Exterminate! Exterminate!" The robots chanted in unison.
Some body call Dr. Who, quick!
Oh! What a delicious dilemma!
Glug, glug...

"Number 5, Can we go to liquor store?", I said.
"Yes Master," My body robot replies in a feminine voice that resembles my dearly departed wife, whom had died a long time ago. I can't even remember when. Sometimes in the 24th century, I guess. She's called Number 5 because she's the 5th robot body I've replaced.
"I'm thinking of replacing this formaldehyde with Merlot" I said.
"Merlot will obscure your vision, Master," Number 5 said.
"I don't care. I'm sick of drinking formaldehyde. Besides, reds will help me to see the world in rose coloured. Sick of it!" I fumed, "Look at my face. Don't I look sick? Merlot will make my face flushed with healthy colour."
As I admire myself from the distorted reflection from the glass jar due to the refraction of the formaldehyde, I look not too bad at all for a 305 years old man. My complexion easily let me pass myself as a very young and spunky 125 years old, gives or takes 20 years.
"Yes, Master." She replied.
"And stop calling me Master." I grunted, "Call me Maestro!"
"Yes, Maestro." Number 5 uttered it in an Italian accent.
"Very funny. Number 5. Very funny." I said.
"Wouldn't you prefer a nice bottle of Italian Chianti? It is also a red wine." Number 5 said, still in an Italian accent. The S.O.B.
"You should be a comedian. Number 5. But keep your day job. When you put the jar on my bed table at night. You can go out and work as a stand-up in a night club, How would you like that? I'll even ask Jerry Seinfeld to lend you his head for the job," I said in a sarcastic tone. "How about it, eh?" I said in an Italian voice with what I imagine is a typical Italian gesture with my robot arms. Number 5's arms are still under my control.
Number 5 always knows when to shut up.
And so we merrily moving into a liquor store on a travellator that moving at a speed of 45 km/hr.

As the formaldehyde is draining from my jar, I gasped, "Quickly, I'm suffocating! Quick!!!!"
Glug, glug.....glug, glug....
glug, glug....
I choked as I gasped for Merlot.
"Easy. Maestro. Easy" She steadied the glass jar with her - or should I say my - hands.
After a few gulps, a feeling of relaxation washed over me, "I'll try Chianti next time. The store owner recommends 2288 vintage. It costs 200 ounces of gold per litre of Merlot, but life's too short to be on the cheap all the time. I'll just have to give up smoking for 6 months to make up the shortfall."
I can't stay mad at her, this rust bucket, in oil or in grease, in bug or bug-free mode, till death do us part.
We live happily ever after. Until her batteries are dead.
Glug, glug...clink, clink...glug, glug........clink, clink, glug........
Ummmm..."you feel good, Number 5"...glug glug....

P.S. The Futuristic Life of Mine was written under the influence of alcohol (may have been Merlot), and by a hand that's not entirely under my control.

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