Most robot contests award outstanding performance. All the awards and glory goes to the smarter competitors that take advantage of the best, often state-of-the-art technology. Of course, that comes at a price, building champion level robots isn’t cheap. And, more importantly, it leaves out the vast majority of people who are interested in robotics but can’t compete at the top level, or can’t afford the cost of entry.
The answer, at least in Japan, is HEBOCON: The Robot Contest for Dummies! Drawing from the simplicity of Sumo, HEBOCON rules are very simple. Robots play on a flat rectangular field, attempting to push their opponent off the field, or tip them over. The first robot that goes off the field, or falls over, loses. Of course, some robot builders decide that the best strategy is just to stay alive and on the field, hoping that their opponent will fail all by itself, which happens very frequently. It’s the only robot contest that I am aware of that imposes a penalty for the use of high technology.
By deliberately limiting competitors dependence on advanced technology, HEBOCON stimulates creativity forcing builders to do more with less. Many of the robots are built from parts from the 100 Yen (Dollar) stores with a minimum of electronics and controls. Amazing Quick Floor is a good example. It consists of two miniature 4WD car chassis attached to a large piece of cardboard. The principle is simple. Once Amazing Quick Floor starts it zooms across the competition field sweeping its opponent off the opposite side. But, sometimes surprising things happen, no matter how much you plan ahead. As the organizer observed, “Sometimes crappiness trumps strategy.” It’s all part of the fun.
On the way to the competition one contestant misplaced her robot on the train. When she couldn’t find it, she decided to have a beer instead, and emailed a photo of her beer to the judges. Needless to say, that met with wild approval from the audience.
One match pitted Shirokuma (a white bear made from a pet bottle and featured as “the world’s first drinking robot”) versus Pole Dance Robo (a spinning doll pole dancer). Another match featured an X-rated robot that had to be seen to be believed.
Want to start your own local HEBOCON? There’s even an English version of the rulebook here: HEBOCON Rules (PDF).
So, what’s next? This Saturday at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center the organizers plan to hold GIGAHEBOCON! Using the same basic rules, the GIGA event will feature giant versions of the robots. We can’t wait to see what the entrants have come up with. It has to be massive, yet delightful, robot crappiness.