In just a few short years, ROBO-ONE has evolved from a small 'geek' robot event into a true World-Class competition that draws active participation, large crowds of fans, and major media coverage including network television. The ROBO-ONE event held September 16/17th in Nagai, Japan was the 10th major competition. By our own estimate there were well over a 1,000 people in the audience for the major bouts. That's quite an accomplishment considering that the venue was in a very rural area roughly 4 hours by train from Tokyo.
Matt Bauer, the creator of Rook's Pawn, flew over to Japan with his team specifically to compete in the ROBO-ONE 10 event. Rook's Pawn had done very well, and even captured a silver metal at the ROBO-ONE events at RoboGames 2006 held in San Francisco earlier this summer, so Matt wanted to see how he would do in the Japanese competition, and to learn what it is really all about from the experts.
The Japanese ROBO-ONE competition is a multi-step process. First you have to register your team and robot in the official database and fill out the online entry form. The registration closing date varies a little, but is generally about 3 to 4 weeks before the scheduled competition. At this point all the forms and information are only available in Japanese, though thanks to Duncan - Matt's brother-in-law and business partner - we've been able to provide an excellent English language version of the event regulations (see link in the left sidebar).
The actual competition takes place over two days, usually a Saturday/Sunday. Teams have to check in at the registration desk and are issued badges and assigned a work space in the pit area. The initial screening tests including weighing, height measurement, a check of the foot/sole size.
Then you have to show the officials that your robot can walk ten steps within ten seconds, walk sideways, and get up from both a prone and back position. It sounds simple enough, but can be extremely challenging, especially when you're working under pressure with very limited time. At this event approximately 30% of the entries, including Rook's Pawn failed to pass the screening test.
The officials were very supportive and allowed teams that didn't pass to come back and try again - if they could do it before the screening desk had to close just before 11:00 am. At that point, with a really tight schedule, and lots of people downstairs waiting for the event to start, they had to draw the line.
The robot teams that passed the initial screening then had to give a 2 minute autonomous demonstration in front of a panel of expert judges, and the audience. Only the 32 highest scoring teams qualified to come back on Sunday to battle it out in the ring.
Registered competitors lined up way before the official check in time. With 113 entries that wanted to attempt the initial screening test, and less than two hours to process everyone, time was of the essence.
Rook's Pawn looking hot and ready to go. Matt made a lot of changes and improvements over the earlier Rook's Pawn configuration that won a metal at this year's RoboGames in San Francisco. The body parts and frames have almost all been redesigned and a lot of features added.
Of course, after seeing all the ROBO-ONE designs up close and personal, Matt may decide to redesign Rook's Pawn all over again.
Matt and Duncan operating under really strict time constraints as they rush to pre-qualify the robot. The pressure must have been really intense.
Duncan, Matt, and Rook's Pawn as they wait their turn to go through the initial screening process.
The ROBO-ONE officials were extremely helpful and understanding with all the competitors, including Matt's team. They are all devoted robot fans and know what the participants must be going through. That being said, they still have to make sure that everyone follows the rules to the letter to make sure that the contest is fair and equitable for everyone.
Rook's Pawn being weighed, measured, and having it's foot size checked to make sure it complies with the published regulations.
Matt and Duncan exchange business cards with Nishimura-san, the founder of the ROBO-ONE organization. The party Saturday night was a Who's Who type gathering of the top robot builders in Japan including some of the TEAM OSAKA Robocup members, researchers, university students, and local officials.
Matt, Dr. GIY (creator of Yokozuna Great Shiranui), and Duncan. Dr. GIY was very happy to see participation from the US and told some stories about his adventures at the RoboGames (ROBOlympics) competition in San Francisco a couple of years ago.
Matt, Yuta Sugiura (creator of RETRO), and Duncan. Yuta really hit it off with Duncan once they discovered that they are both college students. His major interest is to develop robotic avatars that can work closely with people in a very supportive and helpful mode.
We asked Matt to share his observations and comments about his ROBO-ONE adventure with everyone. Here's what he had to say:
ROBO-ONE Website (Japanese)