Note: I originally wrote this quick post during the setup days of RoboCup 2016 in Leipzig. It was intened for the (especially first time) participants of RoboCupJunior. In retrospect, it seems that it may be beneficial to the general public, so I am publicly releasing it on my blog.
Should you have any question or feedback, feel free to contact me -- you can find the details at the bottom.
RoboCupJunior is without a doubt a unique event. Thanks to its uniqueness, it might be oftentimes wrong to approach it in the same way as any other science or technology related event/competition.
The aim of this post is to provide a few tips on how to get (and contribute to) the best experience possible while bringing home so much inspiration and enthusiasm, that you will start preparing for the next year right away.
In other words, how to get the most out of it.
Things will go south. And that is how it should be
Let us face it: no matter how much will you try to prepare for every unexpected situation, foresee all possible problems, stress test your robots under all sorts of strange conditions or formally prove that your software is correct and without bugs, some things will still break, or at least will not go exactly as planned. There are just way too many things to keep in mind, way too many combinations/conditions to test and impossibly many things that can go wrong which are outside of your control.
So what should you do about it? Should you just let it be, since you are doomed to fail anyway?
Well, doing nothing surely is an option but certainly not a recommended one.
Although this has most probably never been mentioned explicitly anywhere, one of the goals of RoboCupJunior is to simulate a real life environment you might find yourself in, whether it will be in academia or industry. In both of these settings you cannot by any means be ready for or foresee everything. You can only do your best to affect things you can control and be ready to handle unexpected issues as they arise.
And that is also exactly what you should do when things go south.
Pro tip: DON’T PANIC
Extra pro tip: And carry a towel
Do not (be quick to) blame the organizers
When things break, it is the natural human reaction to find someone to blame. Pretty much in any possible situation you can conclude that the organizers are to blame. That they were unable to provide the right conditions, they were not able to clearly communicate the last minute changes, organization as a whole was just a mess and so on and so forth…
And guess what? In many cases you would be right.
Still, blaming the organizers will only make things worse. Here is why:
All of the organizers are volunteers. They are not paid for the work they do and they many times need to go to great lengths to be able to volunteer a week of their time for the actual competition and a huge amount of time necessary for all the preparations that happen beforehand. Constant blame on their shoulders will only result in them not wanting to volunteer their services again.
Of course, this does not in any way justify any possible wrongdoing of the organizers. It is just a friendly reminder that blaming anyone will not improve anything. If improving the situation is what you are after, keeping a calm head and handling everything in a professional manner is the right course of action to take.
Pro tip: Do not be quick to blame the organizers, as you might easily end up being one of them in the future (true story).
Gather contacts, not contact details
It has become a nice tradition to exchange contact details during or at the end of the competition. This is awesome, as you can keep in touch with the friend you made during the competition and foster future collaboration.
Unfortunately, it many times turns out that getting the contact details is where this process ends. It is understandable -- when you get home from RoboCup, you are full of ideas to try out, sleep deprivation to fix and other very important things to handle. It is easy to forget about all the contact details you managed to gather.
So what do you do about it?
Start the conversation early! Note the word conversation. Sending just “hi” and an emoticon might not be enough.
Pro tip: Coincidental evidence shows that some of the best contacts long time RoboCuppers manage to acquire are from the organizational committees. That might be worth looking into.
Go see the big gals and guys
One of the unique properties of RoboCupJunior is that it usually takes place very close to and in parallel with the "major" RoboCup.
The "major" RoboCup can easily feel like a completely different event compared to RoboCupJunior. It is normally at least three times bigger in terms of attendees and number of leagues. Not only that, it is not uncommon to get a first hand experience from the cutting edge robotics research there.
There is only one way how this praise from the past two paragraphs might end: do check it out! It very well might be that it will be one of the most amazing things you experience during a RoboCup event.
While you do, do not be afraid to interact with the "major" RoboCuppers. Many of them used to be juniors, just as you are right now. Many of them will be extremely tired, just as you are going to be after a few days of the competition. Many of them are extremely shy, just as you might be. But pretty much every single one of them (even the biggest introverts) will gladly discuss the technical details of what they are currently working on (provided they have the time to do so).
Pro tip: If you really want to see the cutting edge of what is happening in robotics, be sure to come to the Symposium. It also has a Junior track (WEROB) and has always been time well spent.
Extra pro tip: By being "junior", you are uniquely positioned to build invaluable contacts with the "senior" RoboCuppers. Just remember the section above, just saying "hi" may not be enough.
Forget the trophies
RoboCupJunior has always been a competition, despite its parent being more of a meeting of world class researchers. This has its advantages (such as healthy rivalry and competition, which drives the development forward) but also disadvantages (too much rivalry, great focus on winning awards/trophies).
Let me make it quick here: forget the trophies. Forget the awards too. You might not like the next few sentences but let us face it: who cares if you win the World Champion title in some league? While we are certainly getting there, RoboCup, let alone RoboCupJunior is not the Champions League. If you require further proof, do try to find out who was the World Champion in the RoboCupJunior’s Soccer category in 2008. The author of this post was not able to find the answer online.
This issue also has another side which is not so pleasant. For many teams getting a trophy/award of some sort is the only way of making it to the next RoboCup and continuing the work they love. If that is the case, doing all you can to bring something home might be reasonable. Just make sure it is not the only thing you do because you are missing way too much.
So if you should not care about the trophies what should you care about? A careful reader of this post can surely answer that question on their own.
Pro tip: If you really need to go after a trophy/award, go after the "Spirit of RoboCupJunior". Following the pro tips in this post should get you one.
That is what this RoboCup thing is all about anyway.
Pro tip: make sure you have fun with others (preferably new friends). Years of empirical research show that this greatly amplifies the final effect.
I would like to thank Jim Riley for reviewing and proofreading this post.