F.n the past eight years, CYRUS has dreamed of winning first place in the international RoboCup. It is the world’s largest artificial intelligence football competition, with thousands of participants from dozens of countries competing for gold medals every year.

But in recent competitions, Dalhousie University’s artificial intelligence robotics team hadn’t come out on top. CYRUS has always competed in the two-dimensional football simulation category; The team finished fourth at RoboCup 2017 in Japan, won second place in Montreal in 2018, but fell back to third place in Australia in 2019.

Last year’s competition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could have been a gap year in favor of CYRUS: The team won gold at this year’s virtual RoboCup in the two-dimensional football simulation, making it the first The Canadian squad will ever win as announced at the end of July.

The team of four beat a number of tough competitors from countries like Japan, China, Germany, Romania, Brazil and Iran. Dalhousie University PhD student Mahtab Sarvmaili, who heads the team together with research assistant Nader Zare, attributes the victory to her supportive superiors and the increased support from the school’s Institute for Big Data Analytics.

“This was the moment when we could put all of our knowledge into practice because we had these resources,” says Sarvmaili, who joined the team in 2017. “I think it was a very good opportunity for us and the feeling was amazing. At the end of the game we all cried. ”

CYRUS was founded in 2012 and started in the RoboCup the following year. Since its inception, the team has participated in several robotics competitions around the world, using a variety of artificial intelligence and machine learning models that can be used for training teams, computer games, and autonomous robots.

A group of university professors founded the RoboCup as early as 1996 and held the first competition in 1997. The annual event hosts a handful of categories, including leagues featuring humanoid robots, smaller machines, and simulated games.

In the two-dimensional simulation league, competitors use teams made up of 11 autonomous software programs called “agents”. Sarvmaili says that each agent will move based on their observations during the game.

It’s something a lot of people might find similar to the popular FIFA soccer video games, but Sarvmaili says it’s a lot harder. This is partly because competitors cannot make changes, control the agents, or affect the game while it is running.

To make matters worse this year, the competition, which took place from June 22nd to 28th, was completely virtual. It’s something that Sarvmaili says felt a little different compared to previous personal RoboCups.

“The difference is the excitement,” she says. “If you were there you would be really excited, stressed; we would be so loud and cheer for our team.

“And personally, the quality – and also the commitment – of the team leader, team members would be much higher than that of the virtual competition.”

But now that CYRUS has a competitive win under their belt, they are viewed by other teams around the world as one of the strongest teams to beat, according to Sarvmaili. She says that in the future they will continue to do their best, improve their algorithm and increase their use of novel machine learning.

She says the goal is to keep improving autonomy and training each agent to act more like real people playing real soccer – something the programmers will learn by watching the games of the best human soccer teams and study players.

For CYRUS, too, the victory at this year’s RoboCup is more than just a success for the team. Sarvmaili says that first place will hopefully increase interest and knowledge about robotics and artificial intelligence in Nova Scotia, especially among younger generations who may want to get involved.

“You can live in Nova Scotia and also play this big tournament and win this robotics tournament too and become the champion,” she says. “I think that would be very interesting for the younger generation because they can learn that they can achieve these great successes.”

The win will also be a stepping stone for CYRUS to work with other teams such as the military, rescue workers and other sports teams to improve efficiency and quality.

The HFX Wanderers professional team (made up of three-dimensional soccer players) is currently in the process of securing funding to work with CYRUS, and both teams have been discussing a collaboration since January. The aim is to hire two master’s students from Dalhousie University who will work with the soccer team for two years.

Matt Fegan, vice president of Wanderer’s football operations, hopes to create a platform for analyzing opponents. To do this, CYRUS reviews the soccer team’s game data to help players improve their performance and prepare for the games.

“One of our challenges as a startup league and startup team is that we don’t have a lot of employees in the back room,” he says. “For me that was an area of ​​efficiency.”

“We could provide Dal’s team with the data and they could come up with reports that would allow our head coach and assistants to quickly see how we can prepare for teams when we play against them.”

When the Wanderers compete across Canada, the team has a tight schedule. That means the team doesn’t have time to play a game, analyze the game, and use that data to improve its performance in the next competition. Additionally, Fegan says data needs to be accessible and readable.

“The challenge is that you can present a Bible full of data,” he says. “But if it’s not so that the players can digest it and people can understand it, then it’s unnecessary. If that only helps them to gain even a five percent lead over our competitors, that will be a win for us. ”