RoboCupJunior is a project-oriented educational initiative that sponsors local, regional and international robotic events for young students up through age 19. (For the participation in the International events, there is a lower age limit. Please check the league rules.) It is designed to introduce RoboCup to primary and secondary school children, as well as undergraduates who do not have the resources to get involved in the senior leagues of RoboCup. The focus of RCJ is on education.
RCJ stands apart from other robotics programs for young students for several reasons. First, RCJ is focused more on education than competition. Second, the RCJ challenges remain the same from one year to the next, providing a scaffolded learning environment in which students can develop more sophisticated solutions as they grow and expand their knowledge. Third, the RCJ challenges -- soccer, rescue and dance -- are familiar; spectators can watch and understand what they are observing, without needing explanations of complicated rules. Fourth, RCJ delves more deeply into computer science and programming due to its emphasis on autonomous robots. Fifth, RCJ sits at the entry-level of the international RoboCup initiative, which is strongly committed to education and involvement of young people in technology.
RCJ's parent, RoboCup, is an international effort whose purpose is to foster Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics research by providing a standard problem where a wide range of technologies can be integrated and examined. As well, the initiative serves as a basis for project-oriented education at all levels. The ultimate goal of RoboCup is that by the middle of the 21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall play (and win!) a soccer game against the (human) world champions.
RoboCupJunior offers several challenges, each emphasizing cooperative, problem-solving and task-achievement aspects. In the soccer challenge, 2-on-2 teams of autonomous mobile robots play games in a highly dynamic environment, tracking a special light-emitting ball in an enclosed field landmarked in shades of gray. The rescue challenge engages robots to identify victims quickly and accurately within re-created disaster scenarios, varying in complexity from line-following on a flat surface to negotiating paths through obstacles on uneven terrain. The robot dance challenge encourages creativity, bringing one or more robots together with music, dressed in costume and moving in harmony.
For children, the RCJ initiative provides an exciting introduction to the field of robotics, a new way to develop technical abilities through hands-on experience with electronics, hardware and software, and a highly motivating opportunity to learn about teamwork while sharing technology with friends. In contrast to the one-child-one-computer scenario frequently seen today, RoboCupJunior provides a unique opportunity for participants with a variety of interests and strengths to work together as a team to achieve a common goal.
RCJ is targeted for primary and secondary school students. There is no fixed minimum age, but primary students are expected to be able to read (and hence write programs for their robots) on their own, without significant help from adult mentors. Students over age 19 are not allowed on RCJ teams. The division between the primary and secondary age categories is 14 years old:
- Teams with all student members age 14 and under are considered primary.
- Teams where any student member over age 14 must be secondary.
More than twenty years ago, the birth of personal computers spawned a new era in the age of technology, and educational applications began to infiltrate classrooms. At the same time, Seymour Papert linked technology with Jean Piaget's constructivist theory of education to produce LOGO (or "turtle geometry"), a simple programming language that allows young students to learn geometry through computer-based exploration. Papert published these ideas in his book Mindstorms and introduced the notion of constructionism which states that children learn best when they are actively involved in building something that is meaningful to themselves.
Meantime, Howard Gardner put forth his "theory of multiple intelligences", which describes each human mind as a unique combination of talents expressed across a wide range of cognitive spheres. His book Frames of Mind has been extremely influential in the field of education and has helped drive the trend in classrooms towards teamwork and projects that encourage and motivate different children with different needs.
RoboCupJunior aims at bringing together many of these ideas, promoting project-oriented, team-based education, giving children with a variety of interests and abilities an opportunity to pick their own challenges while contributing to the progress of the whole.
RoboCupJunior began in 1998, with a demonstration at RoboCup-98 in Paris. The following year, RoboCup-99 in Stockholm exhibited the first interactive RoboCupJunior workshops. At RCJ-2000 in Melbourne, over 100 children participated from 25 schools around Australia, as well as from Germany and the USA. Students entered one of three challenges: soccer, line-following sumo and dance. In addition, over 500 local school children toured the RoboCup venue and learned about the initiative.
RCJ-2001 was held in Seattle, USA, where 25 teams from four countries (USA, Australia, Germany, UK) entered soccer, rescue and dance challenges. A workshop was held following the tournament, where researchers shared their ideas and progress in educational robotics.
RCJ-2002 was held in Fukuoka, Japan, where 59 teams from 12 countries participated.
RCJ-2003 was held in Padova, Italy in July 2003, where 57 teams from 15 countries participated.
RCJ-2004 was held in Lisbon, Portugal in July 2004, where 162 teams from 18 countries participated.
RCJ-2005 was held in Osaka, Japan in July 2005, where 163 teams from 18 countries participated.
RCJ-2006 was held in Bremen, Germany, in June 2006, where 240 teams from 22 countries participated.
RCJ-2007 was held in Atlanta, USA, in July 2007, where 154 teams from 23 countries participated.
RCJ-2008 was held in Suzhou, China, in July 2008, where 201 teams from 20 countries participated.
RCJ-2009 was held in Graz, Austria, in June-July 2009, where over 200 teams from 25 countries participated.
RCJ-2010 was held in Singapore, in June 2010, where 289 teams from 26 countries participated.
RCJ-2011 will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in July 2011, where about 280 teams from 29 countries are planing to participate.