It seems as though robots can do almost anything these days - They can be waiters, teachers and even astronauts. However, judging from the results of the just completed robotic marathon in Japan, neither Usain Bolt nor 95-year-old Ida Keeling, have much to worry about - Yet!
Organized by Japanese Robot manufacturer, Vstone, the four-day long Robo Mara Full, which began on February 24th, attracted five battery-charged contestants that ranged from 30cm to 40cm in height.
Their mission? To complete 422, 100 meter laps for a total distance of 26.2 miles. And, the only help that was allowed from their human support team, was assistance in changing their battery or helping them cool down, if their motors overheated.
Things looked quite encouraging at the start line. Resembling fine-tuned athletes, the robots all looked confident as they waited for the big showdown. However, as soon as the buzzer rang, one of the robots suffered from stage fright and froze right on the spot. Another, confidently crossed the start line, only to fall flat on his face. But, like true sportsmen, they didn't let these minor setbacks deter them. They simply overcame their fears and stumbled on!
While it was a painfully slow 54 hours 57 minutes and 50.26 seconds before the winner, Robivie PC crossed the finish line, it was a great victory for his creators, Vstone, especially since his teammate Robovie PC Lite, followed right after.
The secret to their success was not healthy food or copious amounts of Gatorade but, being allowed to autonomously navigate the track using line tracking. The other teams, which included two student teams from the University of Osaka, guided their robots with game-controller like remotes, a strategy that did not work as well.
At the end of the four-day period, none of the other competitors managed to complete the entire 422 laps. The A-team from the Osaka Institute of Technology, could do only 200 laps or half the distance, while the robot created by the Osaka Labor Association ran a mere 100 laps. As for the 5th contestant? He just couldn't get it going and had to retire, shortly after the race began.
While the race was entertaining, the main reason behind the whole endeavor was a little more serious - It was meant to test the endurance and autonomous navigation capabilities of robots. The Japanese government hopes that some day, these humanoid robots will become capable enough, to be able to take care of the elderly. While there is certainly a lot of work that still needs to be done, the marathon was definitely a big step forward, towards achieving that goal.
Resources: cba.ca, dailymail.co.uk, guardian.co.uk, iprogammer.info