The ‘Chotu’ – a robot built by a three-member team of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) – hacked its way to third position, sweeping aside Chinese and German rivals, in the RoboCup Iran Open 2014’s @Home League.
The competition, held in Tehran from April 9 to April 11, drew more than 2,000 students from 22 countries who contested in four major domains, each with a number of leagues and sub-leagues.
The Pakistani team, Karachi Chotu, comprised three students, Imran Hemani, Safeer Hussain and Nabeel Zahid Rajput, under the supervision of IBA Artificial Intelligence Lab head Dr Sajjad Haider. This was the first time that the team qualified for the competition’s @Home League, which aims to develop service and assistive robot technology with high relevance for future personal domestic applications.
Of all the five teams that qualified from among 11 registrants in the league, the two Iranian teams bagged the first and second positions, followed by the Pakistani team that outplayed its Chinese and German counterparts.
“Our greatest feeling was to see the Pakistani flag hoisted in the competition among flags of other countries that are much more advanced in robotics and technology in general,” Hemani told The Express Tribune. “The essence of our achievement is that Pakistan has a lot of potential to excel in the fields of robotics if the government and other institutions help students with finances and research in this field.”
Unlike many other countries where developing the robots as a hobby, sport or educational endeavour has been evolving since the mid 90s, the development in robot technology in Pakistan, backed by academic institutions, started only few years back.
“Even securing a third position was a surprise as we did not really go with the goal of winning,” Rajput admitted. “Our main aim was to learn as we already knew that the level of technology and development in robotics is much advanced in other countries as compared to Pakistan.”
Hussain explained that the competition in this specific league consisted of benchmark tests that the robots had to solve in a given scenario of a basic home environment. The focus lied in the research areas of human-robot interaction and cooperation, computer vision, navigation, object recognition and manipulation among others, he added.
Since last year in November, the Karachi Chotus have been working on a TurtleBot — a low-cost, personal robot kit with open-source software – as their final year project for degree qualification at the IBA computer science faculty.
With a webcam-style add-on peripheral, or Kinect, installed on top of it to do the visuals, the robot uses robot operating System (ROS), which is one of the industry standard platforms for research in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Aiming at functionalities in a smart robot for home and office use, the Chotu can learn a previously unfamiliar map and then moves from one place to another as commanded. For instance, Hussain said, it can follow a person or intended route while detecting and recognising faces, objects and speech commands.
The IBA team believed that Pakistan will eventually be able to participate and win in the RoboCup, annual international robotics competition, if the students receive continued support for research and participation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2014.