Artificial Intelligence at the Top of a Professional Sport

The lights dim and the music swells as an elite competitor in a silk robe passes through a cheering crowd to take the ring. It’s a blueprint familiar to boxing, only this pugilist won’t be throwing punches.

OpenAI created an AI bot that has beaten the best players in the world at this year’s International championship. The International is an esports competition held annually for Dota 2, one of the most competitive multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games.

Each match of the International consists of two 5-player teams competing against each other for 35-45 minutes. In layman’s terms, it is an online version of capture the flag. While the premise may sound simple, it is actually one of the most complicated and detailed competitive games out there. The top teams are required to practice together daily, but this level of play is nothing new to them. To reach a professional level, individual players would practice obscenely late, go to sleep, and then repeat the process. For years. So how long did the AI bot have to prepare for this competition compared to these seasoned pros? A couple of months.

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Welcome to the Drone Wars

DroneClash” is a competition to be held on December 4th (save the date!) in a hangar at Valkenburg airfield in the Netherlands. The game? Teams try to destroy each others’ quadcopters, navigate through a “Hallway of Doom, Death, and Destruction”, and finally enter a final phase of the game where they try to defend their “queen” drone while taking out those of their opponents.

This sounds like crazy and reckless fun. Surprisingly, it’s being sponsored by the Technical University of Delft’s Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) lab. The goal is to enable a future of responsible drone use by having the ability “to take them out if necessary”.

Drone development has grown hugely in recent years, and you can see the anti-drone industry growing too. Ideally, these developments keep each other in check and result in a safe and responsible incorporation of drones in our daily lives. We are organising DroneClash to generate new ideas in order to encourage this process.

We do have to ask ourselves why anyone would want to use another quadcopter to take out illegally operated quadcopters — there must be a million more effective means from a policing standpoint.  On the other hand, if we were re-shooting “Hackers” right now, and looking for a futuristic sport, we would swap out rollerblading for drone combat. Registration opens this week. Gentlebots, start your engines.

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Taking First Place at IMAV 2016 Drone Competition

The IMAV (International Micro Air Vehicle) conference and competition is a yearly flying robotics competition hosted by a different University every year. AKAMAV – a university student group at TU Braunschweig in Germany – have written up a fascinating and detailed account of what it was like to compete (and take first place) in 2016’s eleven-mission event hosted by the Beijing Institute of Technology.

AKAMAV’s debrief of IMAV 2016 is well-written and insightful. It covers not only the five outdoor and six indoor missions, but also details what it was like to prepare for and compete in such an intensive event. In their words, “If you share even a remote interest in flying robots and don’t mind the occasional spectacular crash, this place was Disney Land on steroids.”

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A Robot In A Day

While building a robot (nearly) from scratch isn’t easy, it needn’t be a lengthy process.  Is it possible to build a bot in a single day? With some musical motivation (a 10 hour loop of the A-Team theme song), [Tyler Bletsch] answers with a resounding ‘yes’ in the shape of his little yellow robot that he built for a local robotics competition.

Designing and fabricating on the fly, [Bletsch] used Sketchup to design the chassis, and OpenSCAD to model the wheels while the former was being 3D printed. Anticipating some structural weakness, he designed another version that could bolt to wood if the original failed, but the addition of some metal support rods provided enough stability. Mouse pad material gave the wheels ample traction. An Arduino with the L298 control module receives input via an HC-06 Bluetooth board. Eight AA batteries provide 12V of power to two Nextrox mini 12V motors with an integrated voltmeter to measure battery life.

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Nessie, the Educational Robot

At the Lifelong Learning Robotics Laboratory at the Erasmo Da Rotterdam in Italy, robots are (not surprisingly) used to teach all of the fundamentals of robotics. [Alessandro Rossetti] and the students at the lab have been at it for years now, and have finally finished their fifth generation of a robot called Nessie. The big idea is to help teach fundamentals of programming and electronics by building something that actually uses these principles.

The robot is largely 3D printed and uses an FPGA to interact with the physical world through a set of motors and sensors. The robot also uses a Raspberry Pi to hold the robot’s framework. The robot manages the sensors in hardware with readers attached to the CPU AXI bus. The CPU reads their values from memory space, though, so the robot is reported to be quite quick.

The lab is hoping to take their robot to a robotics competition in Bari, Italy. We hope that they perform well there, since we are big fans of any robot that’s designed to teach anyone about robotics and programming. After all, there are robots that help teach STEM in Africa, robots that teach teen girls about robots, and robots that teach everyone.

Where 3000MPG+ Cars Come To Compete: The Ecomarathon

Every year teams from around the world come together for the Ecomarathon, an event (ironically put on by Shell) that tasks teams from high schools and universities with creating energy-efficient electric, gas, and hybrid vehicles. This year’s competition was held in Detroit, so I headed over to check it out.

vehicle-blurThe event has two categories that vehicles compete in: prototype vehicles that compete for the highest fuel efficiency and “urban concept” vehicles that are more focused on normal driving environments and look slightly closer to street-legal vehicles. Cars in both categories can be fully electric or powered by gas, diesel, compressed natural gas, or other alternative fuels. Vehicles drive around a 0.9 mile track that weaves through downtown Detroit and the efficiency of each vehicle is measured as they complete a fixed number of laps around the track.

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A SEGA Dreamcast Controller With a Built-in Screen

[Fibbef] was hard at work on a project for a build-off competition when he accidentally fried the circuit board. Not one to give up easily, he opted to start a new project with only two days left in the competition. He managed to modify a SEGA Dreamcast controller to hold a color screen in that short amount of time.

The Dreamcast controller’s shape is somewhat conducive to this type of mod. It already has a small window to ensure the view of the visual memory card is not obstructed. Unfortunately [Fibbef’s] screen was a bit too large for this window. That meant he would have to expand the controller and the circuit board.

After taking the controller apart, he desoldered the memory card connectors. He then cut the circuit board cleanly in half vertically. He had to re-wire all of the traces back together by hand. It turned out initially that he had messed something up and accidentally fried the right half of the controller. To fix it, he cut a second controller in half and soldered the two boards together.

With some more horizontal space to work with on the PCB side of things, [Fibbef] now needed to expand the controller’s housing. He cut the controller into several pieces, making sure to keep the start button centered for aesthetics. He then used duct tape to hold popsicle sticks in place to make up for the missing pieces of the case. All of the sticks were then covered with a thick layer of ABS cement to make for a more rigid enclosure. All of this ended up being covered in Bondo, a common trick in video game console mods. It was then sanded smooth and painted with black primer to make for a surprisingly nice finish.

The screen itself still needed a way to get power and a video signal. [Fibbef] built an adapter box to take both of these signals and pass them to the controller via a single cable. The box as a USB-A connector for power input, and a composite connector for video. There’s also a USB-B connector for the output signals. [Fibbef] uses a standard printer USB cable to send power and video signals to the controller. The end result looks great and serves to make the Dreamcast slightly more portable. Check out the demo video below to see it in action. Continue reading “A SEGA Dreamcast Controller With a Built-in Screen”