Bryce Lee is building a firefighter and a soccer player.
The mechanical engineering graduate student is part of the team working on autonomous robots, which may eventually beat humans in a game of soccer and fight fires for the Navy.
CHARLI L — Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence, lightweight — is a 5-foot tall autonomous humanoid robot who was built by graduate and undergraduate students in the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, or RoMeLa.
The robot dominated RoboCup 2011, an international autonomous soccer-playing robot competition that took place in Istanbul, Turkey, in July.
CHARLI H, for heavy, is a more bulky robot designed to walk on sloping and rising grounds, run, jump, kick, open doors and pick up objects. However, CHARLI H, which Lee calls a force-controlled robot, did not compete in RoboCup.
“We are also trying to get (CHARLI H) to fight a fire on a Navy ship, which is something that no one can do right now,” Lee said. “We are working with another lab in mechanical engineering, Dr. Lattimer’s lab, to accomplish that. And really, (we are) just trying to put together one of the most advanced humanoids in the world.”
Although he primarily works with CHARLI H, Lee spent his time with CHARLI L at RoboCup, which he said was an experience like none other.
“My God, we won RoboCup,” he said, adding that the effect didn’t hit him until well into the night.
However, the tournament’s turn out wasn’t always clear to Lee — he said CHARLI L’s early matches were nerve racking because the robot didn’t perform well. Nevertheless, it teetered through the last round and kicked the winning penalty shot.
“When the final kick happened, we knew we were the champions,” Lee said. “That felt great.”
The team also entered DARwIn, a smaller, child-sized autonomous robot, in a RoboCup match for machines of its breadth, where it took home first place.
It took hard work to prepare the robots for the tournament.
Lee, is fond of robotics because it brings together mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as computer science — three principles that mesh to bring robotic results.
But these subjects don’t always mingle properly.
It was a challenge for the teams to get CHARLI L to kick — when it swings its leg forward, it wobbles trying to maintain balance. However, the humans who created it cannot help because of its autonomous nature, meaning they cannot operate it manually or with a remote control.
“The moment we touch him, we are disqualified for that round,” Lee said.
Improvisation can mean the difference between winning and losing, leaving the team members on their toes during competitions.
“I’d say the biggest thing is learning how to trouble shoot problems when they happen” he said. “When you are out in the field, you don’t have all the tools you would in the lab, so you have got to be able to come up with something, make the fix, and make it all work — and do it all in about five minutes.”
Back in the lab, the team has produced some of the most ground-breaking robotics research in the United States. CHARLI L was the first humanoid robot built in the U.S. that is full-sized, untethered and autonomous with four moving limbs and a head.
CHARLI L debuted at the 2010 Singapore RoboCup Tournament winning third for its division. It also made its mark at the 2010 World Science Festival in New York in the 350,000-square-foot Park Central Mall in Hong Kong and on the August cover of Popular Science.
The team will continue to work on CHARLI H and is hoping to make a CHARLI L2, which will be a more upgraded version of the current CHARLI L.