An International Drone Exposition, featuring seminar sessions from some of the top Japanese and international leaders in the development and application of drone technology, is scheduled for May 20, 21, and 22nd at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center east of Tokyo.
Staged as a part of the larger Techno-Frontier event, the drone exhibitions and seminars will share the facility with other technology based events including Mechatronics, 3D Printing, Battery technology, Wireless, and others.
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.
Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo, Japan is evaluating the use of an Aldebaran NAO humanoid robot to provide information and assistance to branch customers.
Since the robot can recognize and parse verbal questions as well as speaking a number of languages, they hope that by using the robots the bank will be able to provide a high level of consistent customer support. During the evaluation the questions and responses have deliberately been limited to basic items like describing the location of ATMs; information on opening a new account, and similar common customer
Later, assuming that the bank decides to deploy the robot assistant system throughout their network of hundreds of branches in Japan, the question/response database will be expanded based on actual customer interactions.
In this video, the robot is switched from Japanese to English. When it is asked about ATMs in the branch, it recognizes the question and explains where the ATMs are located. Then it is asked about the process of opening a new account. The robot explains that the new account process requires explaining quite a few detailed items and suggests that the customer bring someone along that can understand and speak Japanese.
In addition to the improved customer service and satisfaction, the bank will also benefit from a public image indicating that it is adopting the latest state-of-the-art technology. This can be a major plus for Japanese banks that are traditionally perceived to be old-fashioned and reserved, an image that can be a negative factor in attracting younger new customers.
On Monday, April 13th, the Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ bank unveiled a new robot information assistant that listens to customers questions and provides helpful guidance and advice.
The robot, essentially an Aldebaran NAO humanoid with some custom datafiles and programming, is the first experiment and based on the trial results the bank plans on introducing the robot in hundreds of their branches throughout the country.
As they collect data on customer reactions to the new robot, typical inquiries, and the like, the bank in conjunction with Aldebaran will make adjustments and improvements to the system.
NAO isn't intended to replace human bank staff. Quite the contrary. Bank management seems to using the robot as a combination customer service and marketing tool providing a higher level of customer support and consistency while presenting the bank as a user of the latest technology.
Several of the customers attracted to the robot asked about the meaning of the NAO name. Consistently, at least while I was there, they assumed that the robot was a Japanese design and were mildly surprised to find out it comes from France. One of them even told us with a straight face that NAO must stand for “Nihon Automated Otoko" (Japan Automated Man).
Related links: NAO robot: intelligent and friendly companion | Aldebaran #robotsdreams
More information at Robots Dreams
While the basic concept underlying the ROBO-ONE initiative is to promote humanoid robot entertainment along with education. over the years many competitors have tried to design robots that take advantage of the rule.
Currently, each robot is carefully inspected as part of the event check-in process to insure that they comply with all the regulations including height, weight. balance, arm reach, design, and a number of other factors.
The two robots featured in this video, Garoo and Chrome Kid, have partcipated for many years and typically capture some of the top awards including the ROBO-ONE Championship multiple times.
Everyone knows how crazy the Japanese are about humanoid robots, but it's hard to really appreciate how extreme the mania is unless you can go behind the scenes and experience it first hand. In mid-March we were lucky enough to have access to all the pit areas for the 10th bi-annual ROBO-ONE Light competition.
Keep in mind that this is just one of the many humanoid competitions that take place regularly in Japan. There are regional competitions across the nation, some colleges and universities stage regular competitions, and some robot companies like KONDO hold competitions as well. It’s hard to get a good estimate of how many people are actively involved in the sport, and learning experience, nationwide. We can only judge from the large crowds of participants and audience that turn out in force for events like this.
Moreover, each one of those robots represents an investment of typically USD$1,500 or more plus countless hours of assembly, testing, motion creation, modifications/improvements, and practice. It’s not unusual for a fan dedicated to the sport to invest USD$10,000 or more constantly evolving and improving their robot over a period of many years.
Competitors come from all walks of life, age groups, and genders. While some of the participants are professional engineers, many are students, housewives, and even truck drivers. The one thing they have in common is a passion for robotics.
Related links: ROBO-ONE 10 #robotsdreams
More information at Robots-Dreams.com