RoboTeam Twente: “You can compare us to an innovative startup” 

It races across the field at eight metres per second, it is 15 centimetres tall, and its hood features five dots to determine its position. Meet Abe, one of the football-playing robots developed by the RoboTeam Twente. 

Together with seven team members, this small robot will compete for the RoboCup in Canada in June of 2018. UT students Jeroen Weener and Nahuel Manterola, along with thirteen fellow students, spent the past months working hard to improve their wheeled robots. As a result, they have lofty expectations for its performance during the world championship. The students not only focus on the technological aspects; they are also busy setting up an organization. The RoboTeam Twente can be compared to a startup in the field of robotics. Novel-T supports the team with a financial contribution and, perhaps even more valuable, advice about entrepreneurship and innovation. 

First match in 2017 

UT student Ewoud Croll had the idea for the RoboTeam two years ago. Together with some enthusiastic fellow students, he convinced the University of Twente of its potential. More than a year later, they travelled to Japan for the world robot football championship. “Our team earned the fourteenth position there, out of a total of twenty participants,” says Jeroen Weener, this year’s team leader. “That is quite an achievement, considering this was the first time that the team built a robot and took part in the competition.” The UT students who make up the RoboTeam Twente this year are building on their predecessors’ technological success. Furthermore, they are working to increase their fame and attract more sponsors and partners. 

Startup in robotics 

“You could compare us to a startup,” Jeroen says. “We are developing an innovative product, take care of everything ourselves, and must also make sure to pass our knowledge and experience on to the next team. That requires quite a few entrepreneurial skills.” The team members are not alone. In addition to an advisory board made up of experienced professionals and last year’s participants, they are assisted by Novel-T’s business developers. “The RoboTeam Twente is a wonderful example of Twente’s innovation in the field of robotics,” says business developer Rogier de Haan. “We think along with the team and help them, for example, to make them better known. They can also come to us with any questions about entrepreneurship.” 

Sponsors help with development 

Besides Novel-T, the team can count on the support of other valuable partners and sponsors. “We work together with several businesses that contribute materials and share their knowledge with us. For example, we could never have afforded our new robot’s state-of-the-art wheels on our own and we are thrilled with the new chip and motor,” Jeroen says. The team is still looking for sponsors to e.g. finance their trip to Canada. Team member and secretary Nahuel Manterola: “The services we offer in return are very valuable for sponsors. Tech companies are eager to find new employees and want to meet new talent as early as possible. We come into contact with a lot of students from many different fields, which is very interesting for these businesses.” 

Making rapid progress 

The remarkable thing about the global robot competitions is that the teams share their innovations. Nahuel: “This is a scientific initiative. You exchange information to speed up innovation. The goal of the organization is to develop a team of robotic players by the year 2050 that can beat real players like Messi and Ronaldo.” It is not yet clear which role the RoboTeam Twente will play in all this. “We expect our innovations to take us quite far this year, but we have to wait for the qualification first. Our division consists of two groups. The twelve best teams play in group A, which is like the Premier League. We will soon find out if we made the cut.” 

Fast and tactical 

Let’s go back to Abe and his team members. The RoboTeam Twente plays in the Small Size League of the RoboCup. On a bright-green pitch that measures twelve by nine metres, eight small robots try to score as many goals as possible with a golf ball. “During the match, the robots do everything on their own,” Nahuel explains. “Cameras mounted above the field register the positions of the robots and the ball. This footage is sent to a computer next to the field. Our software then determines which action the robots should take. Shoot and move, play defensively or cover another robot or the goal. All we do is stand there and watch. We are only allowed to make modifications in between matches.” 

Focus on the attack 

Last year’s team established a strong defence. This year, they are focusing on the attack. “We have three subteams that work on electronics, mechanics, and software. Contrary to other teams, we are working on everything at once in order to improve as many things as possible,” Nahuel says. One of this year’s innovations is that the robot can also shoot the ball diagonally. “We will soon conduct extensive tests to determine how that affects the tactics in the software,” Jeroen explains. “We also focus on the precision of our robot’s movement, better control over the ball and, for example, making the robot easier to repair on the spot. We are implementing a ton of innovations this year.” 

View the innovations in this Dutch video:

Promoting robotics and AI 

The first game of the world championship will be held in Montreal, Canada, on 18 June 2018. Nahuel: “We will go for the first place, of course, although we face off against teams that have been in this game for ten or fifteen years already.” Jeroen adds: “We expect to achieve a significant leap as a result of the many improvements we have made. We want to reach the top in the next few years.” However, that is not Nahuel and Jeroen’s primary concern. “Our main goal is to promote the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence and involve the next generation. That is why we love showing off our robotic football players to young children during events,” Jeroen concludes. 

Are you a UT student and would you like to contribute to the team’s success? Are you an entrepreneur and would you like to support the team and see the robots in action? Go to roboteamtwente.nl for more information. 

If you, like the RoboTeam Twente, have any questions about entrepreneurship and innovation, contact us.

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