Nao Maru, the head of the Maru Family team that created King Kizer, the current ROBO-ONE Champion robot, is a firm believer in management planning, and his robot designs really reflect his beliefs. As much as humanly possible, they try to carefully consider everything that could possibly occur during a competition, and have a strategy to deal with it successfully under the pressure of an event.
When we visited the Maru home last December, they were kind enough to share some of the latest improvements incorporated into King Kizer in preparation for the last competition in the 2006 ROBO-ONE Grand Prix series, and let us take some video clips (included below). They asked us, at the time, to keep this information confidential until after the event which took place the first week in January.
While Maru totally enjoys robot building as a hobby and sport, he also takes it very seriously. He believes in the old saying that you should always, "Play to win, or not play at all."
So he, and his family, carefully analyze the results of every competition looking for ways to improve, or to avoid falling into common traps. Sometimes the problem is simple and the solution very straight forward - like bringing along another battery, servo, or cable.
Other problems can be more challenging and call for really creative design approaches. For example, operating a ROBO-ONE robot standing on one side of the competition ring it is often difficult to clearly judge the robot's orientation and distance from the competitor. It's very common to see a robot throw a punch or jump out at its opponent only to miss completely because the other robot wasn't quite where the operator thought.
Of course, the more times you compete, and the more practice you get, the better you become at judging things like that. Still, even the top ROBO-ONE robot operators frequently miss their targets. At the same time, it's very easy to get confused during the heat of battle and mistakenly push the 'right' button when you should be pushing 'left'.
One of the two Sharp distance sensors that provide opponent detection for attacks to each side.
King Kizer already used one Sharp GP2D12 optoelectronic distance sensor installed in the chest area for external control. During the ROBO-ONE demonstration events the robot was programmed to go through a set of motions, then wait until the operator put their hand in front of the sensor before executing the next part of its routine.
By installing the same sensors on both sides of the robot, and changing its programming, the Maru Family was able to creatively solve both problems. The sensors allow King Kizer to know when his opponent is in the target area - even when the operator may not be able to judge. And, at the same time, the robot also knows which side to attack.
Here's how it works:
Through thorough analysis and critical thinking, they were able to design the 'pilot error' factor out of the robots operation while providing the robot with more autonomous operation ability. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.
Maru Family - King Kizer Official Website (Japanese)