The world’s biggest football tournament begins on November 20 in Qatar, and Cornell Engineering is collaborating with the all-girl Afghan Dreamers robotics team in an effort to harness this energy – and inspire young people to dream big, in both football and STEM learning.
Afghan dreamers work with Cornell Robotics Cup (CCR) to develop a football video game inspired by the events of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The tournament will conclude on December 18th.
The star of ‘Finger Soccer’ is an artificial intelligence designed by the dreamers themselves, and implemented in the game with the help of Cornell Cup Robotics. The plans are for “World Cup Dreams” to be available as a free download on an associated website.
“wWe are truly honored to be part of the girls’ empowerment experience, and to help spread their message and their story is part of it,” David Schneider, MS ’05, Ph.D. ’07 Professor of Practice in Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering and CCR faculty advisor. “I think it really fits with Cornell’s broader mission of ‘doing as much good as possible.'”
Students at CCR, a project team in Cornell Systems Engineering, have been working with Afghan Dreamers, which was founded in 2017 by the Digital Citizen Fund, for more than a year. Many girls have been displaced from their homeland Afghanistan, to Qatar and other countries in the region, in 2021 after the Taliban takeover and the withdrawal of the US military.
Earlier this year, CCR invited Afghan Dreamers to Feature development for C1C0 (pronounced KEE-ko), a robot inspired by R2D2 and spokesperson for the Cornell team. Their latest collaboration resulted in the video game.
“That was part of the draw to the project for me,” said CCR member Corbin Stickley ’24, a computer science major and co-developer of the game. “I do this as part of the Cornell Cup Robotics team, but I immediately thought the project was for a really good cause. I thought that made it more worthwhile and more interesting, so I was excited to give the girls the chance to apply an AI that I designed.”
The CCR team developed the game using the Unity game engine and the assets of the Unity Asset Store and finalboss Games. The game features five players – called “pudders” because of their shape – per side, with the idea of maneuvering your players towards the opposing goal and shooting the puck past the defense. There is no goalkeeper. The team that scores the most goals in three minutes is the winner.
Players can compete against any of the 32 World Cup teams, as well as the Afghan Dreamers, who are uniquely powered by an AI they’ve designed.
“It was amazing working with the girls,” Schneider said. “It definitely reflects a real-world scenario, where we have different development groups in different parts of the world, different countries with different cultures, and how we actually work together on a project.”
sTikli said the contribution of the Afghan Dreamers includes improving the play for their team. Primary Improvement: If the opponent gets the ball behind the five dreamers, one of the pucks will retract between the ball and the goal, to prevent a potential shot.
“This is a very unique feature; it’s really hard to get around that sometimes,” Stickley said. “I found it somewhat difficult to beat their AI when I was playing Test against.”
“I really like the fact that the Afghan dreamers have been able to implement their own AI in the game,” said Aditi Vishwanath 24, a computer science major and member of the Business and Communications sub-team at CCR. “And their AI is a drastic improvement from the actual AI over the original.”
Schneider hopes their story will resonate with young people around the world, particularly in less fortunate countries.
“We hope this will be empowering for young girls,” Schneider said. “There could be a little girl in Cambodia who could download this game for free on the phone. She could read the little publicity about dreamers and maybe, just maybe, be a little more inspired to dream about what she could achieve too.”
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