Monday evening, March 4 , 2002. It is the week of truth. On Friday the first match of the Philips Cyber Football Team is scheduled. A few years earlier Ton and Thom paid a visit to the University of Amsterdam. They saw a demonstration of the Clockwork Orange Midsize League RoboCup team (pdf).
They were impressed, but they were also convinced: we can do better! This led to the establishment of the Philips Cyber Football Team. For a long time in the basement of the SAQ building in Eindhoven, the Netherlands (nowadays Natlab Cinema / theater) the team discussed about what the robots should be able to do, from the most wildest ideas to wooden setups in gardens. Everything to create a robot that was better than what was playing in the RoboCup Midsize League. (see also: Technische voetballers mag ik aan u voorstellen (Dutch))
The robot had 4 driving units, each consisting of a motor for driving and a smaller motor for turning the wheel (a total of 4 large motors and 4 small motors). And of course, it had to be a lot smarter. (see also: Technisch voetballen hoe werkt dat (Dutch))
To prevent unlimited development, the strategy was limited to: what is the minimum that we need to be able to play football. We had to be able to shoot fast. So far other teams rolled the ball into the goal. A construction with a large spring that could best be compared to the launching mechanism of a pinball machine, became the weapon of our robots (see also: Hoe schiet je zo hard mogelijk (een model) (Dutch)). To be able to dribble well and shoot hard, the ball had to stay close to the robot. A construction with a rotating wheel was designed for this; after 20 years the concept of this construction is still the standard for the MSL robots.
After a few months, an empty space was found in SAQ (het well-known Klokgebouw in Eindhoven) and a prototype was made for testing. In parallel hundreds of parts were manufactured, so that a team of 4 robots could be built. Full of confidence, an appointment was made with Clockwork Orange Team to play a match. The selected date was Friday 8 March 2002. From 1997 to 2002 the field was a 10 x 5 meter box with a high border around it (this can be clearly seen in the highlights-video of the 2000 World Cup final). Due to rule changes, the new field had the same dimensions, but had a strip of 1 meter around it, before there was a border. So it was important to keep the ball inside the lines. A part of the team took to lead to build a field for the game. An empty large space enough for a field was found on one of the top floors of the clock building. There was also some space for a few spectators. Even the Dutch children's television program Klokhuis came by to record the game.
At Monday evening (4 March), the Clockwork orange team arrived. They smiled when they saw our prototype performing the ball-picking skill. The wooden 2nd floor where the camera was located moved visibly shaking as the robot drove. When they asked where the rest of the robots were, somebody pointed to a mountain of metal parts lying in a corner. Don't worry, we will play Friday. The team worked till late that night.
Tuesday after work we continued with building the robots. On Wednesday, the building tempo was increased. Also during the day team assembled, soldered and programming. There was also a demo on the program of a colleague. At the end of the demo, the robot saw a reflection of the ball in the white boarding. The robot hit the boarding at high speed. The border broke at two places, the robot suddenly saw the correct ball and drove away, due to the collision the the batteries were no longer correctly placed, the failed out the robot. This was the first time that the robot showed any sign of robustness.
A start was made with the integration of the behavior software, beginning with the start signal every time a new a piece of behavior was added. The team moved on Wednesday evening to the field, everything still had to be brought to the klok gebouw, such as tools, electronics, computers, power supplies. The aluminum covers for the robots were constructed. The assembly of the robots was at maximum speed..
Thursday during the day and evening were spent to finalize the robots. The cameras were calibrated. The motion of the new robots was tuned.
It was about 01:00 when we were busy with a robot to pick up the ball and turn around the ball until the blue or yellow goal came in the center of the camera (robot could only look forward). Then the robot drove towards the goal, to finally shoot at the goal.
While we have been very busy, the Clockwork Orange had a very relaxed week until then, suddenly put their goalie in the goal. The exercise was started again, the robot picked up the ball, saw the goal and shoot. It was a hard shot, the Clockwork Orange keeper move, but it was an avoidance move. Ball taken out of goal, new attempt, again a goal. After a few repetitions, the sleeves were also rolled up at Clockwork Orange poached to find and fix their keeper's bug. It was around 5pm when both teams stopped. It was already Friday morning.
In the afternoon the first game was scheduled. The covers were sprayed black on Thursday evening, they still need some drying time. The audience, family, colleagues and a camera crew were waiting near the field. The pressure went up. The start of the match was delayed by an hour: the covers were not dry enough.
Then the players were put on the field. It was the moment they were together on a field for the very first time. A team of 4 robotic gladiators ready for battle… The kickoff signal! For the first time, 4 robots started moving at the same time. The ball is seen, two robots simultaneously sprint towards the ball. Only at a late moment does one robot hold back and the other robot grabs the ball, missed the first chance. We are dominant on the field, not effective. But if we controlled the ball, they could not score. An entertaining match followed. The first and only goal came deep in the second half. We win 1-0.
Twenty years later, many matches later, some person from the team from the first match are still active in the team. The team name has changed from Philips Cyber Football Team into VDL Robotsports. There was a small break, but we managed to restart the team in 2012. There is still the ambition to become world champion and to have fun with technology, but above all the urge to innovate. The third generation of robots will make its entrance on the field this year. After that, work will be done with full enthusiasm on the fourth generation of robots, in which a new direction will be taken.