Team HULKs of Hamburg University of Technology is a student-run robot soccer team that placed in The RoboCup Standard Platform League (SPL) and set its sights on victory in the World Championship. All teams start with identical robots, so the competition is won by the team that prepares the best software for their robots to handle complex game situations. This equips the robots with the ability to respond accordingly to external stimuli in the game environment. Maike Meier, who is part of TEAM HULKs as she studies computer science and engineering, told us about how Teamwork Projects gave them the tools they needed to organize the entire project, from coding to marketing.

“We love how Teamwork Projects helps us get humans and robots to work together to teach coding skills and encourage some friendly competition.”

The Challenge

When Team HULKs takes the field, they have spent months preparing five robots — four players robots and a goaltender — for a match against other schools’ robots in real time. This project combines the skill of several doctoral students who have chosen this as an extracurricular activity in addition to their regular coursework. Coordinating students who have limited time and are competing against other long-standing, well-resourced programs was an uphill struggle for Team HULKs. Maike found it difficult to organize tasks, plan coding development, and ensure productive communication. Funding Team HULKs is a pressing need because the robots are so expensive. While they’re only the size of a small child, the technology required to allow them to kick and act autonomously makes their cost quite beyond the budgets of the average graduate student who’s interested in a side project. So, Maike was spending a lot of time trying to raise funds and contact potential donors.

“It takes a lot of time and planning just to secure all of the funds we need for the basics, let alone travel to the yearly RoboCup. The world championships can be anywhere. In the last years we had to travel to Brazil, China, and Japan. Not that it wouldn’t be fun, it’s just above the budget of any student. We needed to have every financial detail in place.”

Solution

For Maike, the marketing piece is important for the team’s success, but also to help support her exploration of project management skills and strategies as part of her degree in computer science. She chose her role on Team HULKs’s marketing team so she could get a better sense of the project as a whole, not just the coding aspect. Right away, she saw that Teamwork Projects helped the entire team not only break their workload into specific tasks, but allowed them manage subtasks and due dates so they didn’t run into roadblocks or lose a lot of time with missed deadlines. Every single aspect of the project, from coding deadlines to event planning, is now accessed in one central location, no matter what team people work with.

“This new ability to help us manage tasks, set subtasks, and watch progress with the developers really helps everyone stay connected. We never wonder what our other team members are working on.”

Task reminders give busy students a little nudge before important deadlines, and tasks and subtasks help make the next steps perfectly clear. Since all-hands meetings are relatively rare, given that Team HULKs is made up of busy volunteers, assignments can be made and documents shared even if people can’t make it to every meeting. With the reporting tools in Teamwork Projects, Maike can get a status update on her phone or computer and see on a single screen which parts of the project are on track and which may be in danger of coming off the rails. From the same platform, she can check in with key team members before a deadline or rally the support needed for an important fundraising event.

“Teamwork gives me the tools to see every part of the process, which helps us all make better decisions.”

Benefits

The tools in Teamwork Projects have helped make it possible for a newer group like Team HULKs to face off against some of the teams with more established teams and dedicated funding. While teams at other universities had support within classes, Team HULKs had to build everything from the ground up, and Projects kept their efforts focused.

“The tools in Teamwork Projects made it possible for us to start a project like this and keep it going without a structured class or degree program. We could see the next steps and maintain good progress.”

As the team has progressed in skill and project development, the ease with communication and task navigation through Teamwork Projects has built more confidence in creating solutions that make their robot more effective in the arena. Essentially, they’ve been able to create a structure that makes their work more efficient. As the marketing point person with an eye toward project management issues, Maike is seeing how great tools can reduce pressure in the process to help everyone work together — even when the outcome is soccer, not a product.

“Advances in technology, like this software that can help us develop the autonomy of robots can lead to any kind of new innovations, but isn’t learning great when it can be fun, too?”