Hobby robot companies here in Japan have really been cranking up the pace with numerous new events and promotions focused on rapidly growing public awareness and participation.
Several years ago, when we first started becoming actively involved in the Japan hobby robot scene, the pace was much more laid back and relaxed. With one or two major events every three months or so, there was plenty of time to prepare and strategize.
Now it's not uncommon for there to be a significant humanoid robot event of some sort taking place almost every weekend somewhere in Japan, even during major Japanese holiday seasons.
Although last week was the traditional Japanese 'Golden Week' set of holidays, where almost everyone takes a weeks vacation to visit family or travel overseas, there were several big robot events scheduled.
KondoCup Robot Soccer
For example, in Akihabara, the KondoCup Robot Soccer competition proved so popular that the organizers had to split the schedule over two days (April 29/30th) just to accommodate the large number of teams and spectators. It's not just young engineers/hobbyists either.
The teams included members of all genders, ages and from a wide range of occupations. Kondo has even established a separate "O-50" classification with teams where all the operators are 50 years old or over.
This isn't a one-off event or casual commitment on the part of the manufacturers. Kondo has been staging the robot soccer matches roughly every other month since last Fall. The next event is scheduled for early June as a part of the KHR 3rd Anniversary celebration, also in the Akihabara district of Tokyo.
Kyosho MANOI Humanoid Athlete Cup
Not to be outdone, Kyosho, manufacturer of the MANOI AT01 and PF01 humanoid robot kits, has been staging a series of "official score" events throughout Japan. It provides their customers with a great opportunity to meet and compete with other owners in the same geographic area, while sharing information and winning some prizes. It also insures that there will be a large number of competitors ready for the 2007 Kyosho Athlete Humanoid Cup competition - their premier event of the year.
The next Kyosho regional event, the 3rd in the series, will be held on June 10th at the Tokyo Technology Communication vocational facility just a few minutes walk from Takadanobaba JR station. Participation is open to any MANOI (AT01 or PF01) owner, and admission is free for spectators. Check the Kyosho homepage for detailed competition regulations and time schedules.
Robo-Fight and Robo-Gong
Next Saturday (May 12th), the Robot Force organization in Osaka will be holding Robo-Fight 5 competition, a major event with over 90 entries already confirmed. With so many competitors, the organizers typically setup simultaneous bouts in multiple rings - usually two or three - and the action is non-stop from morning until evening, with a very short break for lunch and to catch your breath.
The Robo-Fight events are typically held every six months with regular Robo-Gong competitions held during the intervening months. While Robo-Gong follows a similar format, it also includes robot performances, skits, and music. Robot Force makes a point of keeping the competitions open to entries at all skill levels from absolute beginner to skilled professional. So, you will frequently see entries being controlled by PC cables rather than a remote control. And, sometimes a small, 5 servo robot might end up trying to fight with a huge 20+ DOF creation, which can be absolutely hilarious.
The Robot Force events are so dynamic that it's almost impossible for a reporter or photographer to do them justice. Invariably, we'll be trying our best to get some good video footage of one bout when suddenly the crowd surrounding the second ring lets out a gasp. We look over only to catch the last split second of a great match move, but before we can reposition the camera, the crowd around the third ring goes bananas... It's totally exhausting, but one of our absolute favorite competition series.
And the list goes on...
The event list just goes on, and on - and keeps getting longer and longer. If the current pace keeps up, we're going to have to either pick and choose among multiple events on the same day, or seriously clone ourselves.