All the international robotics community's attention recently seems to be focused on developing robots capable of playing soccer. That's fine and good, but given the current state of the art the robot soccer competitions seem to lack the enthusiasm, energy, speed, and excitement of a good old fashioned knock-down, drag-out, quarterback and linebacker American Football - a robot game the Japanese have been playing for years, complete with kick-offs, touchdowns, and even cheerleaders!
First, let’s take a look at some videoclips from the 2005 All Japan Robot American Football Tournament held last November here in Tokyo. The video and photos were provided by the All Japan Robot Sumo Tournament Office that also serves as the organizer for the football competitions.
The teams are made up of students from member schools in the National Association of Principals of Technical Senior High Schools (Zenkoukyo) with one team representing each participating prefecture (roughly equivalent to a US state.) Each team prepares five robot "players" with four active on the football field during a scrimmage, and one sitting on the bench as a reserve.
Each half is three minutes with a total of six minutes per game. In the case of a tie (including the extremely rare situation where neither team scores a goal), the game goes into overtime and continues until one of the teams scores a point.
The robot player size is limited to 20 cm by 20 cm and a maximum weight of 3 kilograms - roughly the same as the 3 kg. robot sumo bots. All the robots are required to use a special radio control system specified by the organizers to make sure there is consistent operation without interference or communication problems.
The football field is 700 cm long with 100 cm end-zones at both ends of the field. There's a low protective fence (5 cm.) around the perimeter of the field to keep the ball, and the robots in action.
The football is made of rubber (sorry - no pigskins), is 16-19 cm. long with a section diameter from 9-12cm, and weighs between 160-220 grams.
Detailed specifications on the material used to construct a regulation robot football field are available on the website in Japanese.
The tournament is staged towards the end of November each year in the Tokyo area. Last Fall (2005), the event took place on Sunday, November 27th at Tokyo Fashion Town in the Ariake area, but the exact date and venue may change from year to year, so be sure to check the website for details in advance if you plan on attending. There is no charge for admission to the general public. The organizers do ask that visitors be careful not to obstruct the view of others, and if you plan on using a camera with a tripod it should be kept below eye level.
As usual in all Japanese robot competitions, there are rules against anything that uses fire, flammable materials, sprays fluids, soils the playing field, or deliberately does damage to the opposing team. It's also against the rules for a robot to hide the football. And, according to the 23rd article in the official tournament regulations, "The statement of an objection: Nobody can state an objection to a judgment of a referee." It may be 'Robot American Football', but it's definitely played in a delightful and respectful Japanese fashion.
Robot American Football Official Website (Japanese)