Robots play football to test wireless network load capabilities

Far from the days of remote control battles on national TV, engineers now use soccer-playing robots to test wireless network loads across varying frequencies.

Readers of a certain era will fondly remember the TV show Robot Wars and its battle of artificial intelligence concept. Now, one university is taking things a step forward by developing a robot football team to to test various types of network load, as well as router strength and access points on the varying frequency bands.

Eindhoven University of Technology’s Tech United Eindhoven team is a robotic team that competes in the Robot World Cup Initiative (RoboCup). It is an international research and education initiative to foster artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent robotics research.

The team is managed by a multidisciplinary staff that had to develop and integrate both the robot hardware and software. Team members, include a mixture of scientific and support staff, as well as students from various Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) departments, including Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science and Physics.

How robots are testing Wi-Fi network load

While most humans shout and wave, the robots communicate through Wi-Fi.  Through wireless communication they can establish inter-team cooperation and receive referee commands.  No external intervention by humans is allowed, except for substitutions.

Through Tech United Eindhoven, the team is experimenting with different network capabilities to see what works best for such a large-scale infrastructure. The researchers are using AirCheck, a technology pioneered by Fluke Networks, to troubleshoot difficulties arising from the various different complex wireless local area network (WLAN) structures.

Team leader Roel Merry explained to SearchNetworkingUK how the experiment came about and what he hopes to gain from it.

“The RoboCup tournament involves competitions in several leagues. Each league has its own network and frequency bands for the competitions. However, many of the participating teams also have their own access point for development and test purposes. In the past games have been severely affected or even postponed by overloaded network load or interfering access points of other leagues.

“For the quality and organisation of the tournament it is important that the network keeps running smoothly. The Fluke Networks AirCheck helps in determining the quality of the connection and to localise possible interfering access points. It has been proven to be a great help during the previous World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey [where the team finished second overall].”

The football (soccer) tournament has been created purely for autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence. It has its own federation, its own leagues, its own star players, an adjusted version of the FIFA soccer rules and more than a passing resemblance to the world’s most popular team sport.

However, a robot soccer game also provides a dynamic environment in which every second is different and the robot team needs to cooperate to meet that aim.

“This makes the project suitable for both research and educational purposes,” says Merry, whose team is one of about 30 mid-size teams worldwide usually from major Universities, from as far afield as Japan, China, Australia, Iran, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Austria.

In the mid-size league two teams of five robots of no more than 50 x 50 x 80 cm in size play fully autonomous on an 18 x 12 metre indoor field. Each robot is equipped with sensors and an on-board computer to allow it to analyse the current game situation and successfully play soccer.

Merry adds: “You can imagine that with the robots of all teams and several routers, the network easily gets very crowded and without functioning Wi-Fi, not only is there no communication between the players but also between the electronic referee and the players, which could cause the game to be stopped.”

To combat this, the university team is using a handheld device - The AirCheck Wi-Fi tester – to allow network professionals to quickly verify and troubleshoot 802.11 a/b/g/n networks. Frontline engineers can instantly identify any client, device or access point on a wireless network. It integrates all Wi-Fi technologies plus interference detection, channel scanning, and connectivity tests, identifying security settings for each wireless network access point: Open, WEP, WPA,WPA2, and/or 802.1x.

“With AirCheck we can easily check the load on the network and identify which sources are present that should not be and which are using the most bandwidth,” explains Merry. “During the World Cup in Istanbul and the German Open event we used AirCheck to monitor the load on the network and the number and strength of the different routers or access points on the frequency band. The research has been intriguing and there is still plenty to come,” he teases.

Carolyn Carter, portable network tools product manager, Fluke Networks, concludes: "The ability to solve both network and application problems is crucial for today’s network engineers. That need, combined with critical staff levels in many organisations, means tools that integrate multiple functions and automate the collection of performance data will be key to greater efficiency and less downtime."

Read more on Network routing and switching

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