As a kind of robotic 'stretch goal' intended to motivate ROBO-ONE builders to really apply their skills and test the limits of their ability, each of the major ROBO-ONE competitions has one or two special theme challenges.
For ROBO-ONE 12, held recently in Takamatsu, Japan, the most interesting theme challenge was to have your robot 'play catch'. As usual, the results were mixed, with some builders doing really well - excellent actually (see below), some doing not so well, and some that felt that the challenge was beyond them at this point.
The ROBO-ONE organizing committee tends to keep the theme challenge definitions and rules fairly vague. In one respect, they don't want to discourage anyone from attempting the challenge. Quite the opposite, the really want everyone to try. In another respect, they are inviting the participants to surprise and delight the judges with their creativity. Often a robot receives a high score based in large extent by its 'wow' or 'wonderful' factor, even if it doesn't strictly conform to convention.
This challenge turned out to be more difficult than most people imagined when it was first announced. Many builders designed fairly complex articulated hands and fingers, but had trouble connecting with the ball. Other players used much simpler approaches, like having their robot form a basket with its arms to catch the ball.
Chrome Kid had a really elegant hand design
that only required one servo to operate.
He could even wear a small baseball glove
(see video below)
In the end, the biggest single problem factor turned out to be human. With thousand of dollars in prize money, and an audience of avid fans numbering more than several thousand, not to mention all the digital and video cameras recording their every move. many of the human operators 'dropped the ball', or tossed it over the head of their robot. It was very understandable, and frankly, we wouldn't have had the guts to get up in front of the crowds and cameras at all. So we really respect all those that tried, whether they succeeded, or not.
In total, around 78 builders and their robots passed the pre-screening and attempted the first day's judged 2 minute autonomous Demonstration competition. Scores ranged from a high of 443 points (King Kizer) down to 111. With 8 robots already pre-seeded for the second day because they won one of the affiliated competitions earlier, that only left 24 open slots for the top scorers.
Here's a video sampler showing some of the robots playing catch during the first day's Demonstrations.