Sunday, June 29, 2008

2010 FIFA World Cup and Total Solar Eclipse

Who's bright idea was it to hold the final of the 2010 world cup during a total solar eclipse? Whoever it was, well thank-you very much for immediately losing several thousand viewers just right there.

Yes, the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup takes place on 11 July. A quick Google of that date tells me that there's going to be a total solar eclipse that day. To make matters worse it's likely to fall smack bang in the middle of the match with the peak at 21:33 SAST!

So tell me now, is this pure coincidence or was it planned? Amazing if they had planned it like that, hilarious if coincidental.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Robots Have Landed

This morning we got an email from our team members in Germany telling us they have received our Aldebaran Nao robots. Plans changed slightly when we realised how late we would be receiving them. The German's will take the robots with them to China and we will take our two back with us from there. Hopefully by the end of the year we will have a full set of four to ourselves.

Here are our babies:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Google Code Jam

Google Code Jam is back!! After a couple years of running off the TopCoder platform they took time out to build their own platform. Wow, it looks exciting! More than $80,000 in cash prizes, top 500 to compete at their nearest Google office (which for us in SA equates to a wonderful trip to Europe :-D) and 100 finalists gathering in the famous Mountain View office to shoot it out for the grand prize of $10,000.

Google sure have put a lot of time and effort into Code Jam and the results were evident in the beta contest (yes I know, Google call everything beta!) they ran a couple months ago. They have made the problems all data problems which opens things up greatly such as allowing you to use any programming language whatsoever. All you do is submit your program's output, like you do with the IPSC if you competed in that one.

The qualification round is on 17 July. It goes on for a full 24 hours with the sole purpose being to discard those who are just faffing around and get sweet bugerall. Getting a single problem correct will be sufficient to progress to the main knock-out rounds, which you will have the choice of several days and times. There are a total of three online knock-out rounds (excluding qualifiers) before the two on-site events. So it's big, and serious stuff.

You can register at:

And if you're from South Africa, tell me that you've registered and I will add you to our local standings. Watch this space for more competitions from Google, local South African ones in particular! I was recently awarded the position of Google Student Ambassador at UCT, so I have inside knowledge. ;-P

Refining Masters Topic

One thing I have come to learn very quickly is that what they say about masters (and research in general) being a continuous refinement of your research topic cannot be more true. If you had told me two months ago that my topic would be thinned down to what it is today I simply would not have believed you!

When I first approached my supervisor, Anet, about joining the RoboCup team I saw it as just that, an opportunity to help in putting together an intelligent system for a robotic soccer team to compete in RoboCup. And I was going to be doing the vision and localisation. My oh my, how that vision (excuse the pun) has changed.

First of all, I am no longer doing any vision-related work so my reliance on Patrick Marais as co-supervisor has fallen away. I dropped it because, to do anything novel to any degree (while masters does not require this, they try get it from you here) I had to concentrate on a narrower topic, which in my case was localisation.

Then lets look at RoboCup. Well the initial aim was to ship a prototype for the RoboCup tournament in July. If I was to have done that though, I simply would have had insufficient time to do enough reading and that would result in me wasting a lot of time essentially being a code monkey hacking away at something that would certainly not be novel and, given more time to read up on and design, would be fairly trivial. Then there's also the major problem that we simply have not yet received any robots yet!!! This just makes development of anything on the robots a lot harder and frankly I'd rather wait until we get them before doing any hacking as we might realise things we cannot know without seeing the robots. Then there's the fact that one of our team members in Austria, Christof Rath, is already working on basic localisation for July.

So we've realised that we don't get much (any?) credit from RoboCup directly. The traditional (for want of a less offensive term) folks of this world don't see RoboCup as being real research so we have to target it as a more general solution for robotics in general and tag RoboCup as simply a testbed. It's a very neat testbed though, as everything is already laid out so there's a lot less of this topic refinement I'm talking about in this post. Most masters projects typically start out weakly defined with huge scope and can even change completely over the course of the project. We simply don't have that problem, which is great as we can focus from much earlier on.

Another area of refinement, one which I briefly touched on above, is that of supervisors. Anet Potgieter was always my main supervisor from the get go as she started the local RoboCup initiative. Anet's research field is agents (subset of AI). She's so busy though: over 20 graduate students, 10 honours students and the director of a company!! Then we needed a co-supervisor in mechanical engineering: I chose Stephen Marais who's doing his PhD in SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping: a problem more difficult than localisation on its own) and he's been great as he's always in and his office is right in our lab, even though he's really on sabbatical. Then I started out with Patrick Marais as the computer vision guru at UCT, but since I dropped that part I no longer have him as co-supervisor. Then finally, just a week ago I approached one of our newer lecturers Hanh Le and she jumped at the opportunity to co-supervise me. She's viscuous, but in a positive way. She refuses to accept students unless she knows they are top students and looks far ahead, much further than most other supervisors do. Still early to comment too much, but to give you an idea she gave me a wad of papers 15 cm tall at our second meeting! And for completeness, my second reader is Edwin Blake.

So anyway, the reason I started out with this post was that I am at the final stages of writing up my research proposal. It's done, just needs to go through final checks. The deadline is six months after starting, I've almost got it out after two so I'm already ahead of schedule. :-D The aim is to have my proposal presentation on Wednesday 2 July so if you're in the area and would like to attend (if you're not a UCT student you should ask before coming as attendance might be restricted, I'm not 100% sure), watch my blog for further details. The aim is to put my presentation together with that of Andre Scholtz who's doing the collaborative intelligence for RoboCup.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

iPhone in South Africa > R7,000

After reading that we will be getting the iPhone on 20 July and then following Steve Jobs' keynote at the WWDC last night on what's new in the iPhone 3G I rushed to find out more. I want one dammit!

I got my dad to phone around and eventually he got hold of someone at Vodacom with some answers. He said that they were only offering the iPhone on their top-end contract of R800 per month, still with a pay-in. That comes to a total of R19,200 plus pay-in!! The person said that this contract was only for phones over R7,000.

Guess who's importing his iPhone 3G?