Just rapped up my absolute favorite US robot competition (RoboGames), walked back to the hotel, and logged on to find that my absolute favorite Japanese robot competition - Wonderful Robot Carnival - has scheduled the 10th event for Sunday, July 14th, from 12:00-18:30 in the Akihabara area.
The Wonderful Robot Carnival features a whole series of different challenges, everything from a 2 meter dash, bottle traction (pulling a storage box full of water bottles, dice shoot, ROBO-ONE style battles, and much more.
One of the most interesting aspects of the competition is that all robots compete in all the challenges, whether they are good at it or not. The over all champion and top positions are determined by the highest overall point score, which evens out things quite a bit.
Related links: Wonderful Robot Carnival (Japanese)
I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical when I first ran across the Fritz Robotic Head Kickstarter project. The concept was good, and it was easy to understand, but I had to question how engaging it would actually turn out to be for kids and other people that come into contact with the robot puppet head.
It turns out that I shouldn't have been concerned. Fritz's creators trotted him out for the Robotics Exhibition at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum last weekend, and he was a big hit.
I hope they'll repeat the experiment. For example, RoboGames 2013, coming up later this week in San Mateo, California would be an awesome location for Fritz to get more exposure, especially with all the families with kids that turn out.
Franck Calzada is a real robot wizard, especially with the NAO humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics. He keeps on surprising me, always pleasantly, with new functionality, features, and extensions of other available routines.
This time he has his NAO executing an enhanced version of the word recognition handwriting functionality that I saw Taylor Veltrop demonstrate at the Paris Hackathon last year. Building on the original concept, Franck added speech to text word recognition, and the reverse, enabling the robot to grok and print almost any word. He's also improved the robot performance making it look much more professional.
The only minor fault I could find with Franck's implementation is the stroke order. NAO prints the characters in a very odd sequence, very different from actual handwriting - at least the handwriting of most people I know.
I can't wait to see what Franck comes up with next.
Related links: NAO Writer - NAO Robot writes any word - YouTube
3D printing makes it incredibly easy to crank out new parts on a whim.
For example, I'm about to make the trek to California for RoboGames and want to use a Contour ROAM2 HD action camera to capture some of the action - especially ComBots with the massive steel robots trying to inflict mortal damage on each other. I have the camera and have access to all areas of the venue. What I don't have is three hands. I always carry my Canon 5D Mark II for the still images and some video, and I have a light Nikon bridge camera for competition videos. The challenge was to find some way to operate the Contour that was basically hands-free.
After considering, and disqualifying, several approaches, I finally decided to use my bicycle helmet. I tried the stock Contour helmet mounts, but didn't like the way they felt - primarily because the camera sticks off to one side and is heavy enough that it is noticeable, and irritating.
It only took a few minutes to take some measurements of the top of my helmet and design a short plug to slip inside one of the air vents. Printing a test part to check the fit took a bit longer, of course.
Surprisingly enough, the test part fit perfectly without any modifications. The next step is to add the top flange for the camera. The mount is a snug fit, so I plan on securing it with some tape or velcro because I want it to be easily removable.
We'll see how it works this coming weekend when it is put into real use at RoboGames 2013.
RT Corp's Neko-Tencho 1.2 meter tall cat robot practices drawing a sword in preparation for this weekend's Robot Battle at Ganryujima.
Of course it's only a plastic toy sword, but it's still pretty impressive.
Related links: 20,130,414 Iwao flow Island Hotel Hikaru Practice - YouTube
I have to chuckle a bit every time someone asks me "Where are the robots we were promised?" Unlike the personal jetpacks that were also promised, robots are already here, all around us, if we take the time to look. They are embedded in the design of our refridgerators, washing machines, cars, trains, airplanes, and numerous other devices that make modern life possible while being almost invisible.
Of course we can debate over the definition of a 'robot', whether or not it should be limited to only being used to describe a humanoid or quasi-clone of humans. Frankly, I don't find that debate of much practical use nor interest. Today's automobiles don't share much of their physical form with the horseless carriages that they replaced.
In a similar fashion, I don't expect that the robots of the future will take on humanoid form, unless there is some unique advantage to be gained. Why should they? Only to make their human owners feel more at ease and to avoid the Uncanny Valley effect? Perhaps, but younger generations that have grown up with robots all around them will be less and less likely to feel anything strange or fearful.
In the meantime, robots, and our growing dependency on them to survive, will continue to proliferate with wild abandon.
Keep your eyes open...
Related links: Robot show（ロボットショーⅡ） - YouTube