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This article was published 9/8/2012 (3336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE Summer Olympics may be winding to a close over the weekend, but for Jimmy and Jennifer robot, the games are about to begin.
The robots are the creations of three University of Manitoba students and a professor, who are training for their shot at the podium at the annual robot Olympics in Bristol, U.K.
The event, known as the FIRA (Federation of International Robot-soccer Association) Robo World Cup (being held Aug. 20 to 25) attracts competitors from all over the world.
The U of M has been competing for the last 10 years in robot-style sports, where the challenge is to have one robot with different programs do everything from weightlifting to playing basketball on its own.
"The diversity of the skills just means our robots are better-rounded and, ultimately, going to lead to more useful robots in future," said the team's leader, Chris Iverach-Brereton, a second-year master's student in computer science.
Jimmy and Jennifer robot, who each stand about 30 centimetres tall, are planning to compete in five events. Jimmy is the main athlete, while Jennifer is the backup. Jennifer became world famous as the hockey-playing robot earlier this year.
With a little more than a week before the games begin, the team is putting the finishing touches on their robot programs in their university lab.
"It's always a scramble at the end, especially this year because we only have three people on the team," said Iverach-Brereton.
Along with Iverach-Brereton, teammates Diana Carrier, a second-year undergrad in computer science, and Simon Barber-Dueck, a third-year computer science undergrad, have been programming the DARwIn-OP robots. Computer science professor Jacky Baltes will also join the team in the U.K., but is currently on sabbatical in Taiwan.
It's a game of precision, said Barber-Dueck, who's programming the weightlifting and basketball events.
"Working with the basketball is getting all the little things to work," he said. "There were just a lot of little tiny details you have to get just right in order for it to grab the ball."
The point of the games, of course, is to challenge the robots to perfect everyday skills people take for granted, such as kicking a soccer ball, shifting our centre of gravity when we're lifting weights or following a marked course in a marathon.
"The skill set involves the same skill set we use in everyday life," said John Anderson, a professor of computer science who helps supervise the lab and has participated in many robot Olympics. "All those skills come together here."
WEIGHTLIFTING: Kneeling down on the green mat before sizing up the barbell loaded with CDs, Jimmy grabs the makeshift barbell. He stands up and walks forward with it at waist height for 50 centimetres. He then lifts it above his head and continues to walk forward another 50 centimetres.
SPRINT: Decked in his University of Manitoba jersey, Jimmy robot sprints forward three metres before reversing and running three metres backwards. Its longest stride? Two centimetres. Hardly Usain Bolt, but it's a start.
MARATHON: The robot runs along a 84-metre course (1/500 of a real marathon). The robot stays on track using a camera between its bright, blue eyes to follow a coloured line on the floor.
BASKETBALL DUNKING: Jimmy starts off with an orange ping-pong ball on a blue pedestal. "Like tee ball," computer science student Chris Iverach-Brereton describes. The robot picks out the orange ball using its camera and slowly grabs it in its claw-like hand. It then searches for the bright, red net or a red plastic cup in this case. Slowly, the robot moves toward the cup and drops in the ball.
SOCCER: While in past years Iverach-Brereton said it was simply a robot shootout, now there's a team event, where the robot plays soccer with other randomly selected robots. Jennifer the robot has been training for this event, picking out the orange tennis ball before kicking it toward the red goal markers.