Kondo released the first KHR-1 bipedal robot kit in July, 2004 - so it has been on the market for just about 18 months. In the beginning, it was difficult just to get the robots to stand up and take a few tottering steps. Now they are not only walking, they're doing the 3 meter dash!
The robots first gained broad public attention when the Robo-One competition was established, and even more when the robots were featured fighting head to head on a major Japanese television program.
Some of the early competitions were almost comical, often with one or sometimes both robots falling on their face without managing to hit each other. But, day by day, and competition by competition, the robot experimenters gained more and more expertise and the competitions became much more exciting to watch.
Naturally enough, it's the 'battle robot' aspect that gets the most media coverage. The idea of two robots battling it out in the ring has a lot of gut level appeal, even in Japan. What most casual observers don't see is all the time and effort that has been focused on improving the robot's overall abilities.
Most of the competitions here in Japan include contests like walking up and down a set of small stairs, opening a door then walking through the doorway and closing the door behind, or picking up and tossing a ball at a target. The Osaka based Robo-Pro organization seems to be taking the lead in terms of competitions that are more performance oriented.
One particularly challenging contest is the 3 meter (9.84 feet) sprint. The starting gun goes off, and your robot has to sprint straight down the 3 meter carpeted track and cross the finish line first without falling down. It's much harder than it may seem to the uninitiated.
Left to right: OmniZero 2 vs King Kizer vs Yokozuna Great
All three made it to the finish line
The final contestants in the December Robo-Pro Athlete Contest in Expoland turned in some really impressive times (see video link below) but keep in mind that these three robots are among the best of the current generation.
Another challenging, but not quite as exciting competition is the 5 meter (16.4 feet) sprint. What makes it more difficult is that the track is shaped like an oval and has four mandatory checkpoints. Not only does your robot have to run at its best speed, it has to make the turns and stay on the course.
The 5 meter sprint track layout
Other contests that we'll report on later include a race across uneven terrain and an interesting figure-8 race.
Things are just getting interesting.
3 Meter Sprint Video - wmv file via Robo-Pro
Robo-Pro home page - (Japanese)
Robo-Pro home page - (English) - Note: content is considerably different from the Japanese version