History is in the making in Japan, as humanoid robots compete to see who will be the first to run a full length marathon (26.2 miles/42.2km). You can watch the whole thing live on UStream, even taking a glance through the eyes of one of the competitors! Organized by Vstone, makers of the Robovie line of small scale robots, the "Robomara Full" or Robot Challenge will take place over three days from February 24th through the 27th in Osaka. Five teams of humans will compete to keep their robots walking over the grueling event, switching out servos and batteries (but not the entire robot) as needed. In order to win a bot must complete 422 laps of a 100 meter course outlined on the 11th floor of Osaka's ATC building. The Robomara Full coincides with the Tokyo Marathon, one of the world's largest such events for humans. Will robots prove themselves the equal to their meat-based creators? Um...probably not. But it could still be really cool to watch. Check out the preliminary run in the video below, followed by live feeds from the event on UStream. (The "through the eyes" feed is at the bottom.) Every waddling step these bots take is another move towards a future full of reliable robotics.
When I first reviewed the Robomara Full I erroneously believed this to be an open competition. That's a mistake on my part and reflects too much reliance on Google translate (curse you emergent technology, why can't you be flawless!). Here's the list of five competing teams: Center for Robotics, Vstone, Job Creation, Osaka Institute of Technology A, Osaka Institute of Technology B. Clearly this is not a game for amateurs. Perhaps Vstone has plans to expand this event into an open competition, but for the moment it's strictly professionals trying to tackle the full length marathon.
Which is understandable. 42.2 kilometers is a long way for a little robot. There's a reason why this competition is taking three days instead of three hours. Not only do the bots walk slowly, they will face the need for regular repairs, debugging sessions, and general trouble shooting. The need for such maintenance highlights what this event should be all about: proving that robots can go the distance. As I've stated before, long term reliability and robustness is a big part of robotics engineering. If you can't get your machine to run a marathon, how will it manage to take care of grandma day in and day out? Even promotional contests like this one are a good sign that we're considering the long term utility of the bots we build.
Vstone's Robomara Full reveals both the present state and the future hopes of robotics. We've got little tip toeing competitors now, but one day we'll have sprinting super stars. This is just another step in that direction.
The Robot Challenge/Robomara Full live video streams can be found on the UStream site here. I've embedded one of the track cameras and the first person robot camera for you below. Enjoy!
[image credit: Vstone]