Team Berlin was started in 2006, after a three month visit of several of our team members to Stanford University. We worked in the group of Prof. Sebastian Thrun, where we had the rare opportunity of witnessing first hand the development of Stanford’s entry to the Urban Grand Challenge. The members of the Stanford team were very helpful and gracious in providing us information, technical documents, and all needed help in order to start our own team.
At Freie Universität Berlin we have been building autonomous robots since 1998. Over the years, we built several generations of robots which took part in the annual RoboCup (robotic soccer) competitions. Our team, the FU-Fighters, won twice the World Championship in the small-size league (robots up to 18 cm in diameter), and once second place in the middle-size league (autonomous robots up to 50 cm in diameter). We dominated the European competitions over several years, winning five times the European championship.
In 2006 we decided to build larger robots, grounding the development in our experience with fast autonomous robots controlled by laptops, and with their own computer vision. We decided to take part in the Urban Grand Challenge – as the name implies, a new robotic challenge for us. Our decision was based also on a consideration of the areas in which autonomous robots could play a role in the not so distant future. By coincidence, the Berlin police department approached us at about the same time, asking us to develop a security robot for large warehouses and enclosed areas (such as abandoned airports). An autonomous car seemed to be the best solution and seed funding from the university was granted for the project.