Pandemic gold: UBC Thunderbots celebrate victory at RoboCup

Robots have ‘taken over’ the victories that UBC has to celebrate this summer.

Despite challenges present due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UBC Thunderbots placed first in the Small Size League Lower Tournament at RoboCup earlier this summer. The Ubyssey sat down with the team captain to chat about how to go from “prohibition-era UBC” to gold.

Training for success

Following their first ever win in 2019, the most recent competition until this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Thunderbots defended their title at RoboCup. This victory follows what UBC Thunderbots Captain Chantal Sousa described as the “super incredible” commitment of her team.

“I think one of the things that really shocked me was just the amount of work that we were still able to get done,” she said, regarding the progress her team made despite the pandemic restrictions.

Though the majority of their work was delivered online, rather than the usual in-person meetings, there was still a strong team atmosphere. According to Sousa, the team remained consistent in their weekly team meetings to ensure the whole team, which consisted of about 60 students, remained on track for the competition.

“There wasn’t a moment where there wasn’t a few members ... working on stuff,” she said. But it wasn’t all a grind — she explained that they regularly hosted online team socials and events to maintain team engagement and morale.

“We also tried to implement more online social ... things because obviously you lack a lot of that social engagement when you’re working from home alone,” she said. Sousa explained that the team socials extended beyond technical updates, “so that it felt like they were hanging out with friends as well.”

Going for gold

This year’s competition was unique given how the remote nature of the event affected the composition of the robots. Sousa explained that the league created a “very accurate physics-driven” simulation to host all of the games, meaning they were competing using artificial intelligence.

“The league worked really hard on trying to differentiate ourselves from the simulation league this year, and I think they did a really good job,” said Sousa.

In order to make the game as realistic as possible, teams had to submit information such as the acceleration rate and weight of the robots, so that they could function within the simulation. The simulation even incorporated glitches that would have been anticipated in real gameplay.

For Sousa, this win further established the reputation of UBC Thunderbots in the league.

“It just felt really good to solidify the fact that we really did deserve that first win,” she said. “We didn’t let up — the competition got stronger but so did we. And so we were able to persevere and maintain our position, which is really positive for us as we’re looking to progress into the higher division in the next year or two.”

In light of this victory, Sousa encouraged anyone interested in robotics to join UBC Thunderbots as they near recruiting season. She stressed that you do not have to be an engineer to join the team — just to be willing to learn and stay committed.

Applications are currently available on their website.

Sousa explained that it was “really rewarding” to see her team pull through despite the challenges of a COVID-19 year.

“I think in that sense it was really rewarding to see that, despite a COVID year we’re still able to come together,” said Sousa. “And it’s a different kind of happiness, but nonetheless, rewarding that we were able to pull through together and kind of like reaffirm our position within the organization and ... the RoboCup community.”

With two RoboCup wins, the future looks bright for UBC Thunderbots.