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Robotics Technology

Soccerbots Learn How To Fall Gracefully 105

wjousts writes "Up until now, most work with humanoid robotics has focused on keeping them upright and balanced, but in the real world, falling down is inevitable. So now researcher in Chile are looking at teaching their Soccerbots how to fall down gracefully to minimize damage and allow for a quick recovery. According to a New Scientist article, 'They found that one of the main ways to minimise damage is for the robot to fold its legs underneath it. Among other things, that means the robot is much less likely to hit its head on the ground. Another good strategy is to use a fall sequence consisting of several movements, so the falling body has several points of contact with the ground, spreading the energy of the impact over a large number of joints, rather than taking it all in one disastrous crunch.'"
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Soccerbots Learn How To Fall Gracefully

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  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:37PM (#28035095)

    You've obviously never seen soccer.

    The bot will tap into the bot with the ball, then proceed to spin at full speed until it lets some smoke out of the IC. Look around to see if anyone saw it and continue playing.

    • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:34AM (#28035859) Journal

      Fall gracefully, as in like a 3rd rate theatre actor playing Hamlet that staggers about for 5 minutes and gets up 3 more times to exaggerate the death.

      Not Fail gracefully, as in take out a bank or two but still get $100 million in severance while everyone who worked for you is turfed out on the street without even their entitelments.

    • Like all fans of dreadful puns everywhere, I'm looking forward to the day we first see a robot yellow carded for simulation [wikipedia.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:38PM (#28035103)

    They can take a dive, just like real soccer players!

  • This is great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:38PM (#28035111) Homepage Journal
    Every soccer player knows that the most important skill is knowing when and how to fall.
  • The essense of Judo (Score:5, Informative)

    by diskofish ( 1037768 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:43PM (#28035151)
    As a Judo practitioner, I can tell you that learning how to fall correctly is the key to not getting hurt. The article describes exactly what a breakfall is. In Judo, you collapse your legs and roll. It would make sense that they program a robot to do the same thing.
    • by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:54PM (#28035243) Homepage

      You can also slam the ground with your limbs, transferring the momentum to your torso and reducing the impact on it and on your head. I'm surprised they haven't experimented with that move yet.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I'm partial to the "flail uncontrollably and try taking as many people out with you as you possibly can" move. People do make great cushions, after all.
        • I read that as 'Customers do make great cushions, after all.' I think I've worked in support for far too long...

      • by Quothz ( 683368 )

        You can also slam the ground with your limbs, transferring the momentum to your torso and reducing the impact on it and on your head. I'm surprised they haven't experimented with that move yet.

        Or you could build robots that don't have a head. Or put delicate components elsewhere. (That's not t'say this research won't be useful, for example in medical applications. I'm just sayin'.)

      • by Panzor ( 1372841 )

        That would probably cause more damage to the limbs than it saves the torso. Who knows?

        • by cailith1970 ( 1325195 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:54PM (#28035609)
          He means what is known as a break fall [wikipedia.org] where you do exactly what he says. It's one method of preventing injury from a throw or a fall in martial arts.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            As a martial artist experienced in Hap Ki Do, I'd like to point out that even in a break fall you roll. Just slapping the ground won't prevent injury, and just rolling well likely have you roll over. Slapping the ground stops the roll, in addition to taking the impact & spreading it. You tuck your head to keep it from hitting at all, not slap the ground to reduce that impact.
            The roll decreases the rate at which the impact energy enters your body, the slap distributes the energy & helps prevent har
            • But if you're not rolling - say you get dumped on your back or side - then you need to take a lot of the energy out of the impact.

              As far as the 'causing more injury to the limbs than the torso' goes: I have done thousands of breakfalls, the majority landing on one side, and a lot of them pretty damn hard. My arms are fine, my head hasn't hit the floor in ages, and I don't get the wind knocked out of me that often. I know that if I throw someone hard and they don't breakfall properly (which is a combinatio

    • by armanox ( 826486 )
      As a karate and aikido practitioner, I agree. Perhaps we could mod them into Randori bots?
      • that might be difficult, considering a common rule is that you may not have any metal or hard objects (hard plastic knee braces, etc)
      • by ashitaka ( 27544 )

        Slashdotters don't need any Randori bots as their mothers do the randori for them.

        "Domo arigatou mama roboto"

    • As a fellow Judo practitioner and also a former soccer player, I can attest there's one very important difference between breakfalls in the two sports: in soccer people fall over, clutch their legs, and howl in pain until the penalty whistle is blown. Then they stand up and are fine.

      Actually, it was shit like that that made me stop playing soccer.

    • ... is to fall in such a way as to get the other guy a yellow or even red card. Maybe even get yourself a penalty kick. Er and yeah, not get hurt. But that red card is more important.

    • I think they teach a similar fall in the Army's jump school. You land on your feet, take another impact on the side of your knee, another on your thigh, and a fourth on the shoulder. It spreads the damage around, hopefully reducing it.

      Of course, if your parachute fails, it's very hard to do, and there's probably not much point to it.

    • So, you're saying that if they fail as soccer bots, we could train them as robotic ninjas? The world just got 20 times more awesome than it was.
  • *Ahem* (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    FOOTBALL bot, ya bloody Yanks! :P

    But seriously, I want one of these on my side come the next soccer riot.
    • Well this came from a researcher in Chile so there is hope for North America in the long term. Maybe soccer will follow the Spanish language north?

      "They play football for keeps in South America" - Arthur C Clarke.
      • by Miseph ( 979059 )

        I hope not, the South Americans all juggle and rainbow kick like pussies. You never see Brazilian fullbacks palming their opponents' faces or sharpening their cleat spikes into tendon shredding razor talons.

        Anyway, given how confrontational our sports leagues tend to be, I'd imagine that English style soccer (sorry, but we already have an inappropriately named football, that ship has sailed) has a much better shot of making it here.

    • by Abreu ( 173023 )


  • This technology sounds like it would be very beneficial when we see wider use of assisted movement robotics for humans.
  • Diving (Score:2, Funny)

    by KliX ( 164895 )

    South americans teaching their bots how to dive - whatever next? :)

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:55PM (#28035251)
    Spectatorbots will learn how to riot peacefully without burning down the stadium, trampling each other, and/or throwing garbage at everyone else.
    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      And then they'll come up with saboteur-bots whose purpose is to cause a disruption and do as much damage to other bots as possible.

      Not to mention unruly-fan-bots. Where would we be if our robots couldn't take on those essential roles also?

  • by actionbastard ( 1206160 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:57PM (#28035273)
    Soccerbot3000: I've fallen and I can't get up!
    I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.
    • Soccerbot3000: I've fallen and I can't get up!

      So to solve it we just give all of them those lifealert button things?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are they called Football Bots in other parts of the world?

  • Next step (Score:4, Funny)

    by EvilToiletPaper ( 1226390 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:34PM (#28035519)
    Hooligan bots automatically turn batteries down at the end of a match to emulate incoherence and inebriation..
    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      No. At the end of the match they _stop_ drinking alcohol to make themselves incoherent.

  • PLF (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:41PM (#28035541) Homepage Journal

    Another good strategy is to use a fall sequence consisting of several movements, so the falling body has several points of contact with the ground, spreading the energy of the impact over a large number of joints, rather than taking it all in one disastrous crunch.

    Get your head out of your fourth point of contact [wikipedia.org] and send 'em to Airborne School. All the way, Airborne!


  • by sokoban ( 142301 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:45PM (#28035563) Homepage

    Welcome the downfall of our graceful robotic overlords.

  • Gives a Matlab Simulation a whole new meaning.

    (I'm guessing mainly the referees here will get that one... :-P)

  • by dmomo ( 256005 )

    Just over the thing with Nerf. If it's going to win at Soccer, getting up quickly is more important.

    If the goal is to win "this" match... self preservation is important.

    If the goal is to give the robot a long life with happiness, stop the Soccer lessons and teach them robot sex.

  • I have been spending the last decade learning how best to push robots! Robot, take me to your leaner.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:28AM (#28035821)

    Everyone knows drunks can fall over and not hurt themselves far better than sober people.

    • by Spad ( 470073 )

      Well of course; you're far too focused on not spilling your pint to tense up as you fall, so you're less likely to seriously hurt yourself.

  • In aikido, we call falling in that way "ukemi".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe they wouldn't fall so much if the Soccerbot moms didn't push them so hard...

  • All they needed to know the "tricks" in the summary was to watch Saturday Night Live during the years Chevy Chase was on. I've known how to safely prat-fall for a long time.
    • Or go to any acting college's first-year movement course. Safely falling is taught there too, using the fall sequence implied in the article, and without the big slap of martial arts that would be freaking disturbing to see and hear on stage.
  • by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @04:05AM (#28036779) Homepage

    As a Dad, it would seem to me that robots learning how to fall is a prerequisite for learning how to walk. Children around 12 months old spend a lot of time learning how to fall gracefully, so that they have the confidence to actually take steps and walk without fear of damaging themselves.

    I recall a video some years back of a number of Japanese engineers racing towards a walking robot that was about to fall, for fear of it breaking. Somewhere in the back of my head I wondered if they ever took the time to observe humans learning to walk.

  • Booze is the answer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @04:32AM (#28036875)

    Many sports - skiing for example - are best enjoyed in a 'relaxed' state. When I started to ski, I used to hurt myself in the inevitable, regular falls. A sympathetic fellow-novice provided support in the form of regular shots of decent whisky from the largest hip-flask I'd ever seen.

    Pretty soon I was collapsing gracefully into the snow with no difficulty or pain / damage.

    Put some 200-proof in the 'bots hydraulics and it'll be fine...

    • Before anyone takes this recommendation seriously, I would like to point out that there are several ways that this particular activity (combining booze with skiing) can get you killed:
      1. (The obvious) Skiing involves high speeds and several people have gotten seriously hurt or killed even when there is no alcohol involved. Skiing while drunk is probably about as safe (for you and others) as driving while drunk.
      2. If you are a novice skiier on vacation somewhere at high altitude, you will experience altitude
  • by getuid() ( 1305889 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @04:59AM (#28037007) Homepage

    ...people often hit against the floor with their arms and legs in the very moment of ground impact.

    The reasoning behind this is "momentum conservation". Basically, the momentum of the whole body is split in the momentum of the torso+head (i.e. most vital parts) and the momentum of the extremities. While during the fall all parts of the body move downwards with approximately the same speed, in the moment of impact the falling person hits his arms/legs against the ground, this way giving them extra momentum downwards. By the laws of physics (specifically momentum conservation), this momentum has to come from somewhere. And that "somewhere" is torso+head, i.e. vital parts of the body get slower -- the slower, the harder one hits his arms/legs against the ground.

    This basically saves from internal organ injuries at the expense of the outer extremities, which, in general, are more robust and less critical to survival.

    There are three problems that should be solved with robots, if something similar is to be tried:

    1) The extremities. Robots need outer extremities, and they should be rather massive -- the more massive, the more momentum they can generate.

    2) The joints. Joints to outer extremities should unlock immediately in the moment of inpact in order not to transfer the vibrations of impact from the extremites through the joints to the rest.

    3) Useful energy dissipation mechanisms in the extremities. The whole idea is not only that the robot "survives", but that it actually can continue playing after falling. Therefore the extremity is to be built in such a way, that it has some kind of soft, massive buffer, that can get deformed repeatedly on impact without braking (think of "sand sack", for example).

    The more I think about it: why not anchor 3-4 sand weights to the robot's outer shell, and "shoot" them against the ground during the impact? Also make them automatically retractable at some point (maybe version 2.0? :-) by having strings attached to them, so that the robot can reuse them minutes later...

    • Useful energy dissipation mechanisms in the extremities.

      ...actually, this ought to work pretty tight:

      - equip the robots with a water tank (say 10-20% of their weight) under high pressure. The water tank should be inside the robot, somewhere central (for equal distribution of weight).

      - make a belt containing 5-10 small orrifices distribuited equally around the robot, that have direct link to the water tank and can be opened/closed electronically somewhere above "waist high" (mayber upper third).

      - equip the robot with g

  • I did that for a few month when I was younger. The test I had to take in order to get a yellow beginners belt consisted mainly of slamming yourself into the ground. All we basically did was fall down and roll around on the floor. Then again, I know so much more about child molesters now ...
  • So not only do we have premier league footballers falling over at the slightest hint of getting a penalty we'll now have robots doing the same ;) but then they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

    Will we also have Vinny Jones soccerbots who learn just how to kick the opposition robot so it goes off injured without themselves being sent off?

  • Parachute Landing Fall. Humans have been doing that regularly for the past 60 years or so.

    So send the robot to Jump School at Fort Benning; I'm sure they'll be glad to oblige. Just so it can do pushups ... thousands and thousands of pushups. That's a necessary prerequisite, you see.

    Toad, Airborne Toad

  • by harl ( 84412 )

    "Another good strategy is to use a fall sequence consisting of several movements, so the falling body has several points of contact with the ground, spreading the energy of the impact over a large number of joints, rather than taking it all in one disastrous crunch."

    This is called a parachute landing fall. The military and the skydiving community have been teaching it for decades.

  • Uh... real soccer players know how to fall. If another soccer player comes too close, drop, grab your knee and scream. Soccerbots will never be able to do that. No emo chips.
  • I won't be truly impressed until they learn how to bribe the referees.
  • Call me when they teach robot footballers to head butt.
  • Nao's are fragile (Score:3, Informative)

    by CAPSLOCK2000 ( 27149 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @04:45PM (#28045521) Homepage

    I've worked with NAO robots, and while they are very sophisticated, they are also very fragile. Especially the fingers will break at the slightest provocation.

    When working with these robots you constantly have to hold them to prevent them from falling. As the robots are rather heavy and have quite powerfull engines you arms tend to get tired from working with them. Fortunately there is a decent simulator.

    We've considered to buy some inflatable swimming armbands and put them on our robots to protect them from falling.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley