Robots have barely learned how to walk, but Vstone is already pushing them to run. The Japanese robot research and manufacturing firm has announced it is putting together the world's first marathon for our mechanical offspring. The Robot Challenge will have bipedal bots racing around a 100m track for 422 laps either remotely controlled or operating completely autonomously by following a painted line. As you can see in the video below, the contest is unlikely to feature sprinting or even jogging competitors. This race will go to the strong and steady robot that can survive the repeated wear and tear on its servos. Fast or slow, the Robot Challenge marathon marks a step in the evolution of amateur level contests - we know you can make fun or fierce artificial humanoids, now show us a bot that has the staying power to really serve the human race.
Along with their announcement for the Robot Challenge, Vstone released the following concept video. It's very short, just enough footage to give developers an idea of what they'd need to work on. Note that this demo track is far from being 100 meters long.
The robot shown in the demo is Vstone's own Robovie-PC, developed in cooperation with ATR. Robovie-PC is a robot that's also a computer, hence the name. It features a 1.6 GHz processor, twenty degrees of freedom, and a 1.3 megapixel camera in its head. That latest sensor is likely how the bot is able to stay on track during its test run. Retailing for around $4500, Robovie-PC probably represents a typical investment expected for contestants in the Robot Challenge. You don't have to be a major research institution to afford such a setup, but you can't exactly be a first-time competitor either.
On the 42.2 km (26.2 mile) journey, it's expected that many robots will have break downs. Vstone allows for you to replace damaged parts (though not the entire robot) and will use the total time (travel plus maintenance) as the competing score. Sort of like robot NASCAR.
In a world where the majority of amateur robot competitions involve bots pushing each other in 'wrestling matches' or kicking balls in soccer matches, Robot Challenge could be something pretty novel. You're not trying to create a new fighting skill, or fancy new athletic maneuvers, you're just trying to get your robot to walk for miles without breaking down. Maybe that's more mundane than we're used to, but if you think about it, it's really more exciting than most of the other contests out there. After all, if we really want robots to come work in our homes and do our dirty work, it will be reliability that is the top concern. All major robot research firms perform these types of endurance trials, it's high time they got the same attention in amateur-level robot competitions.
Robot Challenge is pretty awe-inspiring when you think that every stride the bipeds take could bring us one step closer to creating practical humanoid robots. I'm going to keep that in mind as I cue up the theme of Chariots of Fire and watch the Robovie-PC's practice run again.
[image and video credits: Vstone]