Four years ago, when Robo-One competitions were just getting started, people were amazed just by the fact that the robots could walk. In the beginning the rules were kept deliberately open and relatively lax. Then, as the robots walking, fighting, and even running abilities improved there have been corresponding changes to the rules.
For example, for the primary Robo-One competitions, the foot size ratios have been tightened a couple of times already.
Each time the rule change has caused extreme difficulty for the participants, forcing them to improve their technology and to creatively find ways for their robots to retain balance with smaller and smaller footprints. Somehow they have managed to comply, and the net result was that the overall performance level has improved considerably.
We should make it clear that generally speaking, we are against arbitrary rules, and would like to see robot competition rules that are as open and forgiving as possible. The more 'rules' that are imposed, the more difficult it becomes for people to understand, for referees and judges to apply them fairly, and the more likely it is that participants will become discouraged.
That being said, it appears that participants come to the competitions with very different perspectives and expectations. Some of them view the contests as being a great test of humanoid robot technology, while others view it as a 'robot battle' to be won by almost any technique. The latter participants seem to focus their efforts on the 'winning', even if that involves stretching the rules quite a bit to design robots with very non-humanoid attributes.
Just in the past week we've seen several really striking examples of this approach. For example, at the Robo-One Grand Prix event held in Korea last week, the winning robot named Gadget-1 was equipped with expanding arms that effectively doubled its reach. This allows the robot to squat down, maintain a low center of gravity and stability while keeping it's opponents at what is approxiamately twice arms length.
Is there anything 'wrong' with that approach? Honestly, we have to admit that there probably isn't anything inherently 'wrong' with designing a robot in that fashion.
At the same time, we have to wonder about the underlying 'intent'. Is it enough just to win the competition, or should the contests adhere to some higher goal or standard? Also, how fair is it to other contestants? Does it encourage and motivate them, or discourage and demotivate them. What does it prove?
Another, more extreme example that we saw compete in Osaka during the Robo-Fight 3 ORC events last Friday, was QT7.
This really interesting robot creation tipped the scales at close to 10 kg. In operation it would position itself fairly close to the center of the ring, then start spinning it's upper body and arms extremely rapidly making it almost impossible for any opponent to come close enough to knock it off balance.
Was it a 'humanoid'? Well, it did have two 'feet', and it could walk. It would have been impossible to disqualify from the competition based on the current rules since it met all the guidelines. However, it was clear to everyone, except perhaps to the robot's designer, that it didn't come close to the unstated intent of the competition.
The event organizers, much to their credit, allowed QT7 to compete, but had to quickly improvise some special rules on the spot to handicap the robot and create a more level playing field for all the contestants.
We've already heard rumors floating around that the Robo-One committee is considering some significant rule changes that will probably take effect with next year's competitions. As much as we are against additional rules and restrictions, is seems like they are necessary to insure the long term health and viability of robo-sports like Robo-One, Robo-Fight, and Robo-Gong.
Korean robot 'Gadget' defeats Japanese robot 'Dynamizer' via AVING News Network