There are many reasons I love Japan but one of the biggest is definitely their penchant for making robots fight to the death. At the 22nd Annual All Japan Robot-Sumo Tournament custom-built bots battled to be king of the ring. While these machines didn’t weigh as much as their human counterparts (each competitor was less than 3 kg) they did battle in the same sacred Sumo hall as Japan’s top competitors: the Ryogoku Kokugikan. With speed and might, the robot Sumo wrestlers aimed to push each other out of the ring and the results could be really incredible. Watch the videos below to see how quickly the wheeled robots shove one another to victory. Build these things a little bigger and I don’t think there would be a human who could stand up to them.
The Robot-Sumo Tournament has two divisions: automated and remote controlled. The automated competitions have robots that detect each other using infrared and ultrasonic sensors and then maneuver to provide the best opportunities to push each other out of the ring. Things start off slow as the bots feel each other out, and then a quick push secures a win.
In RC matches, human operators take the reins and guide their robots in much faster paced bouts. You can see a typical RC collision in the video below. Ironically, the RC matches are fairly automated as well. Because of the high speed needed to win, operators have incorporated many automatic responses into their designs so that their machines can react fast enough to counter the other robot. As such the human operator is more of a coach than a driver.
Robot competitions always impress me with their longevity as well as their skill. The All-Japan Robot Sumo Tournament has been around since 1989. Micromouse, which has robots solving mazes, has been around since the 1950s. In all these decades of amateur and professional competitive robotics, there has been a stream of fine-tuning improvements as well as some truly innovative leaps forward. As robot research continues to create more sophisticated and cheaper parts available for amateurs to buy we’re going to see better and better bots in these tournaments. In turn I hope that the skills and dedication used in these competitions will help inspire more people to enter the field of robotics professionally. Today you conquer the Sumo ring, tomorrow the world (of robotics)!