If you tuned into the U.S. Women’s National Team Send-Off Series or social coverage surrounding these games, you may have noticed a new member of the starting lineup sporting wheels instead of cleats. After two years of development we’re excited to help VW introduce CHAMP to the U.S. Soccer community – a true extension of what it means to Drive Bigger.
What was the inspiration behind CHAMP?
What does it mean to Drive Bigger, you ask? It’s doing something greater than yourself and with a purpose. It’s a driving principle for Volkswagen and the brand is grounded in the concept of embracing initiatives that support the greater good of people and communities. Throughout the Volkswagen and U.S. Soccer partnership, it’s been important for us to connect to causes that matter and fully embrace this mantra.
One of VW’s most impactful programs with U.S. Soccer is called the “player honoree program” – an initiative that provides children the opportunity to walk out with U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team players for the national anthem. This is a highly desirable and incredibly memorable experience for both the children and, in many cases, the players. Just ask Tobin Heath, who, seen here, is partnered with a young female player anxious to meet the WNT star.
However, many children aren’t afforded the opportunity to walk out with their soccer heroes on match day. With Drive Bigger in mind, our team wanted to find a way to make this experience available to children who may be facing challenging circumstances or hardships – providing access and inclusivity to the sport by way of Volkswagen’s incredible asset.
How did Volkswagen’s CHAMP come to life?
We set out to expand the player honoree program through the use of telepresence technology by way of a physical robot. When we started our robotics research in July 2019, telepresence was just a blip on the radar (pre-COVID!).
After conversations with several potential engineers, we partnered with robotics company, OhmniLabs, out of the Silicon Valley. At the time, they had perfected their indoor bot for use in hospitals and schools, but had never tackled a custom outdoor bot project.
They were eager to help bring our vision to life and the rest was history. With CHAMP the telepresence robot as a vessel, VW is now providing children the mobility to fully participate in the honoree experience, just as any other kid would on match day.
Diving into more of the development of CHAMP, my favorite part of the process was landing on a design. The initial sketches of the bot were inspired by the sleek features of Volkswagen’s electric vehicle models (ID.4 and other EV’s in Europe) and also making sure the body of the bot had a human-like aesthetic to replicate a physical honoree walking out onto the field. In the images below, you’ll see a quick snapshot of where we began and where we finished.
My next favorite part? Coming up with a name. After hours spent vetting dozens of names, “CHAMP” was an overwhelming favorite among our staff and everyone else we polled. CHAMP is truly the “Champion” on behalf of the individuals it serves, so there isn’t a better name for an asset that provides mobility for someone in need.
Finally, seeing all of the video updates from our partners at OhmniLabs of the prototype builds, 3D printing, RF control systems, LED inclusion, assembly process, testing, etc., was truly awesome to be a part of.
What is CHAMP’s role?
As you may have seen a few weeks ago, the Volkswagen team put together an introductory piece that communicates what CHAMP is, and how the bot will be utilized throughout the year as an honoree. CHAMP was first introduced to Alex Morgan and our first honoree participant, Luna Perrone – highlighted in the video.
Luna was diagnosed with, Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer in October of 2020. She has persevered by keeping active and continuing to play the sport she loves while going through extensive treatments. Whether it’s juggling a ball or doing calisthenics, Luna is constantly finding creative ways to sharpen her skills while in the hospital for chemotherapy. She also cites Alex Morgan as her personal hero and inspiration during her recovery.
We shared Luna’s story with Alex and showed her a few of Luna’s Instagram videos playing soccer in the hospital hallways. The one thing that stuck with our team was Alex’s reaction to the videos – saying something to the effect of, “While Luna looks up to me as an inspiration, she is a true fighter, a warrior, and she’s someone I’m inspired by.”
Our plan is to continue to connect children with their favorite players and share their incredible stories through VW-produced content as a source of hope and encouragement for those dealing with similar hardships. In 2021, you can expect CHAMP at eight (8) U.S. Soccer matches throughout the rest of the year, as well as various other opportunities currently in development.
We are absolutely thrilled to see CHAMP in action after two years of planning and even more excited to bring unique opportunities to kids who need it most. Here are some photos from the U.S. Women’s National Team’s Olympics Send-Off Series with our first “virtual” honorees, Luna Perrone and Chisi Obasi.
Be sure to keep an eye out for CHAMP both on and off the field throughout the rest of 2021, and beyond!