Remember how much fun it was to play street games with your friends as a kid? One of our personal favorites was called 'kick the can.' Our parents didn't have the money to buy regular equipment, and there weren't any sports facilities in the part of town where we lived. But, we made up our own games with the junk we had on hand, and had a blast doing it. In a similar fashion, when a bunch of Robo-One robot competitors got together at RT in Tokyo recently, it was only natural for them to start playing a similar game with their robots.
Most people know the Japanese Robo-One competitions because of the robot fights in the ring. What they usually don't realise is that there are many other competitions, both in Robo-One and in other robot events like Robo-Fight and Robo-Gong, here in Japan.
Some of the events feature trials of a robots ability to slide down a rope/bar; navigate an obstacle course; walk up and down stairs; open then walk through and close a door; pickup and throw a ball at a target; and even to act out a skit.
But all of that takes a lot of preparation, and usually some special equipment or a lot of space. So, how about a simple game that can be played with almost no equipment, by anyone with a robot, with or without other players? Here's one of the simple games that the Robo-One competitors play to test and improve their skill.
The basic game layout is a 1 meter by 1 meter square. The other evening at RT they were using square pieces of the Robo-One ring flooring, but you could improvise with materials you have available. They take 8 styrofoam plastic coffee cups, invert them, mark numbers on the top, then arrange them on the playing field.
The simpliest layout is a clockwise sequence that looks like this-
You place your robot in the center of the field, and start it moving when the clock starts. As quickly as possible, without falling out of the playing field, you try to kick or knock each one of the 'cans' off the field. It looks simple, but because the cans are placed close to the edge, it can be much more difficult than it seems at first glance. Often the robot's momentum will be high enough that it follows one of the cans out of the ring and falls face first on the floor.
Once you master the simple layout, it's time to try something a bit more difficult. Here's the layout that got the biggest workout during Sunday evening's get-together:
This time the robot has to change direction quite a few times as it criss crosses the playing field trying to line up on the next can in sequence. Like the simple layout, this more complex layout turned out to be a challenge. Even the most experienced robot operators had difficulty completing it on their first attempt.
Each robot operator developed their own unique solution
to completing the challenge in the shortest possible time.
It was really interesting to see how their strategies evolved. For example, they would try approaching a can head on only to fall off the playing field. On their next attempt they would approach the can at an angle, or hit it with an arm instead of the robot's leg, or they would stand next to it then shuffle sideways to knock it out of bounds.
Here's what the action looked like as they played the game last Sunday:
As you can tell from the video, and from the laughter, everyone really got into the competition and had a lot of fun.
What do we really like about this type of game?
- It's low cost and doesn't require special equipment, preparation, or a lot of space.
- Any one can play - you could do this with a Mindstorms robot, a Boe-Bot, or micromouse, or even an R/C car.
- Since the race is against the clock, you don't even need other players around when you practice.
- It's non-destructive (don't try it on a table top though)
- And, you can tell your spouse or friends with a straight face that you aren't really having as much fun as it seems - you're working very hard to hone your robot skills.
Why not try it?
Setup a playing field and 'cans', and have a go at it. Send us a video of your best time. If there's enough interest, we might even put together a contest with different categories and maybe even some prizes.
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