Professor Jong-Hwan Kim, FIRA president

True to World Cup season, ITP spoke with Professor Jong-Hwan Kim, electrical engineering and computer science expert, and president of the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA), the body behind the 2002 FIRA World Cup robo-football play offs.

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By  Kate Concannon Published  May 22, 2002

FIRA|~||~||~|What is robot soccer and what is FIRA all about?
Robot soccer can be portrayed as a war game of advanced robot technology within a confined space. It offers a challenging arena to the younger generation and researchers working with autonomous mobile robotic systems.

This is a highly inter-disciplinary engineering field. One has to be thorough in diverse fields like robotics, artificial intelligence, computer technology, communication, mechatronics, motor control technology, computer vision, intelligent control, software technology for implementing strategies and GUI (Graphic User Interface) and sensor technology to set up a team.

The objective of FIRA is to take the spirit of science and technology to the laymen and the younger generation. FIRA hopes to work towards the establishment of a science and technology world in the years to come.

The first FIRA championship was held in 1996. Describe some of the robots that competed and how they performed.
The first MiroSot was held in November 1996 at KAIST, Korea. The robots were slow and not very robust. There were 23 teams from 9 different countries. The MiroSot’96 winner from Newton Research Labs, USA, featured a high-speed colour vision system. The second place went to the Soty team from KAIST, Korea.

We understand it is FIRA’s goal to host a soccer match one day in which humans play robots — and the robots win! In your opinion, how long before this happens?
With the current rate of advancement in computer technology, artificial muscle and vision systems this may happen within the next 4 to 5 decades.

Currently, many people consider the robot as a mechanical system with intelligence, but it should be also noted that at that time Cyborg will be also quite popular.

What, specifically, are the key robotic or mechatronic challenges that need to be addressed before robots can give humans a good game?
There are many research issues to be looked into. To design a humanoid robot with human level performance is a very challenging task. Humans have versatile abilities in body balancing and running, sensing (vision and auditory), real-time reasoning and decision-making. Imparting such abilities to a mechanical system brings its own challenges.

The power requirement is a crucial issue associated with autonomous robots. Cooperative behaviour needs bi-directional communications, 3D localization, fault-tolerance and coordination. The rigid bodies of the robots must give way for structures that have the flexibility of those of humans.

There’s still a long way to go in the development of artificial muscles with capabilities even equal to that of humans.

||**||Robotic pursuits|~||~||~|Of the robots you have made, which was your favourite and what could it do?
We have developed the humanoid robot that can walk on 2 legs based on the two kinds of prototypes using servomotors developed previously. The newly developed one is using DC motors with encoders. It means that feedback control can be realized using the force sensors attached on the bottom of the feet. It will be shown at HuroSot competition of 2002 FIRA Cup Korea.

Describe your dream robot?
Most robotic researchers dream of a robot with a human level of intelligence and performance. A robot that can assist the disabled and the needy will bring in an era of a healthy co-existence of humans and intelligent machines.

Would you like to own a commercial ‘personal’ robot such as AIBO? What appeal do you think robot-pets have for people?
Currently I have an artificial dog, Rity, in the 3D virtual world, developed in my RIT lab last year. It can decide its behaviour by itself based on its own emotion, motivation, homeostasis and external sensor information. Artificial pets with emotions can provide a soothing feeling to many, especially children, the aged and the disabled.

Who are FIRA’s key sponsors?
This year Samsung, POSCO and Yujin Robotics Co. and some other companies will sponsor the FIRA Championship.

How much have you seen the robotics field develop since FIRA began?
In 1996 the robots were rather slow, and the vision processing ineffective. The coordination among the robots was minimal then. Subsequent years have seen improvements all around. Some of the robots now move faster than 2 m/s (7.2km/h).

The vision processing has improved from 10 frames/s in 1996 to 60 frames/s now — faster than human eyes. Game strategies have also evolved in a big way over the years. With this development, the number of robot venture companies in Korea is increasing.

What is your view for the future of robots in their relation to humans?
The world around us is changing in unprecedented ways and with unimaginable speed. The robot age depicted in science fiction novels and movies will soon become a reality soon. Up till now, most robots installed worldwide have been used in manufacturing processes, but advances in technology enable robots to automate many tasks in non-manufacturing industries, such as agriculture, construction and health care.

It’s anticipated that robotics will be utilized in the 21st century for household applications as well. This will pave the way for advanced robotic technology to dominate in the 21st century. I expect personal robots will enjoy wide popularity in coming decades, much like personal computers today!
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