Sodarace: humans vs machine intelligence

Sodarace Anyone with internet access can build a robot at the Sodarace website.

Dr Peter McOwan, Queen Mary, University of London.
Mr Edward Burton, Soda Ltd.

Anyone with internet access can build a robot at the Sodarace website and compete in a virtual Olympic Games against robots built by Artificial Intelligence (AI). The collaborative project with digital art, learning and play specialists Soda, and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), represents an entirely new concept in bringing together the AI research community and the public.

'Sodarace with its humans vs machine narrative, pulls the public from school kids to adults, into discovering more about AI research, maths, physics, engineering and computer science', says Peter McOwan, head of the team that created Sodarace. The most elementary physics, Newtonian Dynamics and Hooke's Law are behind the complex racing robots of Sodarace. 'But the real strength of the project is that it gives tools for exploration, rather than set rules', says Peter.

At a very simple programme, the BAFTA award-winning Sodaconstructor, is used to draw interlinking 'lines' or springs between either fixed or moveable points. Some of these 'lines' can then be designated to work like 'muscles', creating movement by pushing and pulling against the fixed or movable points. Variables such as gravity or level of friction can be set to alter the way the robot moves. Amazingly these simple instructions lead to the emergence of complex moving robots. Once a robot is created it can compete against others online, either human-made or built by AI, using sets of instructions or rules called computer algorithms.