Remote Control Puzzle

We've noticed competitors having some communications problems - "musen trouble" here in Japan - when they try to control their robots in the ring. It's not a huge issue, just irritating, though it must be extremely frustrating if you're right in the heat of battle, desperately punching buttons on your remote while your robot just stands there waiting to be clobbered or knocked out of the ring.

During a competition in Tokyo a few months ago, a husband and wife team ended up passing the remote control back and forth between them about four or five times. Every time the wife held the remote, the robot was totally none responsive. She would pass the control to the husband and the robot immediately started to move.

We weren't playing close enough attention at the time, but our impression was that the wife held the remote basically parallel to the ring surface so the antenna was roughly horizontal. The husband held the same remote at a slight upward angle - perhaps 20-30 degrees above horizontal.

At the ROBO-ONE 10 competition in Nagai a few weeks ago we saw similar things happen. Even Dr. GIY had a problem at one point during a bout. He was kneeling down, slightly back, away from the edge of the ring. At a critical moment his robot stopped responding. Instinctively he leaned forward extending his arms over the edge of the ring to get the remote antenna close to the robots antenna, and the robot started moving again.

It's easy to see that there's some sort of problem occurring - but what? What is really going on here? The basic RC communication technology has been around for a long time. If a RC car had this type of problem during a race it would probably crash or go sailing off the race course. An RC airplane might continue to glide for a while, but if the communications lapse continued for very long the plane would run into some major problems.

  Dr. GIY installing the remote control receiver module in his AT01 robot.

We have a lot of possibilities to test and investigate. The RC technology works really well when the vehicle and the operator are separated by some distance, and they aren't usually in the same geometric plane. With humanoid robot competitions the operator and robot are usually very close together and often the control antenna and robot antenna are geometrically orthogonal to each other.

Does the relative antenna orientation play a role in the problem? What about the short distance between the two antennas? Do the robots that use the antenna 'straws' to hold the antenna vertical really help?

Since Mondai-Noid, our MANOI AT01 is up and fully functional now, we're going to try running some tests this weekend to try and understand what's going on.


One thought on “Remote Control Puzzle

  1. This is an interesting area, especially, as with much in Robotics, we are hijacking other technologies for our own solutions. Maybe as the Robo-one field expands and we seem more products and a larger market we can expect to see control solutions tailored for the market. Having tried proportional radio control on my RN-1 I have certainly seen issues as you’ve described and have to confess I have chosen to address them by removing the Radio Control issue completely and going for a Bluetooth solution with PDA/Tablet PC application control. Not an ideal solution but I have seen less issues with communication breakdowns. Having said all that I have not been competing in competitions so feel sure there are many issues I have not had to face such as bandwidth utilisation and electrical interference from lighting and PA systems. A tricky issue without a doubt

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