Afghan Dreamers and Cornell Cup Robotics launch World Cup Dreams

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The world’s biggest soccer tournament begins Nov. 20 in Qatar, and Cornell Engineering is partnering with female robotics team Afghan Dreamers to harness that energy and inspire young people to dream big, both in football and in STEM learning.

The Afghan Dreamers worked with Cornell Cup Robotics (CCR) to develop a football video game inspired by the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments in Qatar. The tournament will end on December 18.

The star of this “finger soccer” game is an artificial intelligence designed by the Dreamers themselves and implemented into the game with the help of Cornell Cup Robotics. The game “World Cup Dreams” is expected to be available for free download on an associated website.

“WWe are truly honored to be part of the girls’ empowerment experience, and helping to spread their message and story is part of that,” said David SchneiderMS ’05, Ph.D. ’07, Professor of Practice in Systems Engineering at the College of Engineering and CCR Academic Advisor. “I think it really fits into Cornell’s larger mission of ‘doing the greater good’.”

Students from CCR, a Cornell Systems Engineering project team, have been working with the Afghan Dreamers, founded in 2017 by the Digital Citizen Fund, for more than a year. Many girls have been displaced from their native Afghanistan to Qatar and other countries in the region in 2021 following the Taliban takeover and the withdrawal of the US military.

Earlier this year, the CCR invited the Afghan Dreamers to develop a feature for C1C0 (pronounced KEE-ko), an R2D2-inspired robot and the official spokesperson for Team Cornell. Their last collaboration resulted in the video game.

“That was part of the appeal of the project for me,” said Corbin Stickley ’24, CCR member, computer scientist and co-developer of the game. “I’m doing it 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 interesting and even more interesting, so i was excited to give the girls the opportunity to implement an AI that they designed.

The CCR team developed the game using the Unity game engine and Unity Asset Store and Finalboss Games resources. The game features five players – called “pucks” because of their shape – on each side, the idea being to maneuver your players towards the opposing goal and fire the ball past the defence. There is no goalie; the team that scores the most in three minutes is the winner.

Players can compete against any of the 32 World Cup teams, as well as the Afghan Dreamers team, which is solely powered by the artificial intelligence they designed.

“It’s been great working with the girls,” Schneider said. “And 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.”

Stickley said the Afghan Dreamers’ contribution involves improved play for their own team. The key improvement: If the opponent puts the ball behind the five pucks of the Dreamers, one of the pucks will fall between the ball and the goal, to block a potential shot.

“It’s a pretty unique feature; it’s actually really hard to get around that sometimes,” Stickley said. “I found it quite difficult to beat their AI when I was testing against it.”

“I really like that the Afghan Dreamers were able to have their own AI implemented in-game,” said Aditi Vishwanath ’24, a computer science student and member of CCR’s business and communications sub-team. “And their AI is a drastic improvement over the actual asset AI.”

Schneider hopes their story will resonate with young people around the world, especially in less-advantaged countries.

“We hope it could empower young girls,” Schneider said. “There might be a young girl in Cambodia who could download this game for free on a phone. She could read the little blurb about the Dreamers and maybe, just maybe, be a little more inspired to dream about what she could make happen too.

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