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The 1st International Robot Olympics was held on 27th to 28th September 1990 at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. The Event was conceived by Dr Mowforth of the Turing Institute, Glasgow as a British 'Robotics Weekend' on the lines of a weekend event held the previous year at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However perhaps because Glasgow was City of Culture 1990 the scale of the event changed and it grew to a major international meeting.
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The First International Robot Olympics is being organised and hosted by the Turing Institute on the 27th and 28th September 1990. The event is part of Glasgow's European city of culture programme and is being held in the sports complex at the University of Strath-clyde. Primary sponsorship for the event has come from the NatWest bank, the Scottish Development Agency and the IEEE. Robots from the United States, Japan, Canada, Europe and the Soviet Union will be arriving in Glasgow for the event which will be initiated with the carrying of the Olympic flame. At 9.00am on the 27th September, Trolleyman (a two wheeled balancing robot rather like a golf trolley) will carry the Olympic torch through the streets of Glasgow to the sports complex at the University of Strathclyde. This will be followed by a robot parade and a press conference. In the afternoon, the robot "athletes" will be on display in parallel with a masterclass seminar titled "The future of intelligent robots". This masterclass will include talks by leading specialists from around the world focusing on current problems with advanced robots. One of the speakers, Professor Ruzena Bajcsy from the University of Pennsylvania, will be concentrating on problems associated with active vision. Here, it will be argued that one of the primary bottlenecks for producing new generations of robots concerns the issue of generating useful perceptions from sensors.
On the Friday, the main events will start at 10.00am. Each robot will be given time to show their capabilities. More importantly, prior to the event, the organisers will look at the details of the contestants and whenever commonly claimed capabilities are found, competitions will be devised. We expect that there will be junior events, competition races (two legs, four legs, wheels and tracks), collision avoidance tasks, wall climbing competitions, speech communication skills and swimming events (in the University pool).
In addition to all event winners and runners up getting Olympic medals, there will be an overall Olympic champion. The champion will be selected by a team of judges. The criteria that they use will be devised and scored on the basis of three issues:
(i) The quality of the hardware (engineering and electronics).
(ii) The sophistication of the behaviour.
There will also be prizes for devices or pieces of technology which show good commercial potential, young competitor awards and design awards. The event will finish at around 5.00pm on the Friday.
It is expected that the Robot Olympics will be held every two years alternating between Glasgow and other sites around the world.
Peter Mowforth, The Turing Institute, email: email@example.com
|1st International Robot Olympics by David Buckley||top|
However a French t.v. journalist confided that he had asked around among the other reporters and they all agreed that they were somewhat disappointed at the level of technology. (He thought the Shadow walker was the most interesting looking entry.) He was also disappointed that there were no French entries. Nevertheless this view can not have been the only one since Philipe Dufay reporting on the Olympics in the Figaro colour magazine remarks; "It is high time to finish drilling the Channel Tunnel: our neighbours have now too many secrets..."
As was to be expected the level of technology varied with the level of funding, but irrespective of cost, most designs were first used over ten years ago. The University entries had obviously had considerable funds expended to produce nicely-finished engineering presentations. With few exceptions, however, the level of performance did not match their appearance. The entries from amateurs and schools were, on the whole, developed with minimal expense, some deliberately, others from necessity. Their engineering tended to be more primitive, but showed several neat methods of solving design problems.
Most entries suffered from being moved to Glasgow, and perhaps more effort should have been applied to improving reliability. (Perhaps an additional day should have been allowed for setting up, free from Press involvement.)
The event was held (as might be expected) in a sports hall but it was well disguised with the traditional exhibition carpet and equipped with numerous tables and chairs. The carpet later proved to be exceedingly troublesome to most of the robots; the small ones got stuck in the pile, larger ones navigating by ded-reckoning can only have been confused by the pile induced drift (much as a rug on a carpet seems to have a mind of its own migrating purposely in some inconvenient direction) and the largest wheeled machines appeared to have been designed to run on nothing less than reinforced concrete. Virtually every robot at the Olympics required electricity, for itself and/or its controlling computer, money spent on the carpet could well have been put to better use in providing an adequate electricity supply. Sports halls are not noted for this need and many competitors seemed to have difficulty with the number of sockets provided and a few complained of computer malfunction attributed to an unreliable supply.
Little prior thought seemed to have been given to the actual competition events themselves. In traditional athletics the first past the post is invariably the winner but with today's robots of limited versatility the outcome is not quite so clear cut especially when competitors did not know what was to be tested until after they arrived! This lack of adaptability ought to have been foreseen and had some bearing on the events and on the selection of judges for the events.
It was interesting to compare the differing attitudes of the teams. Half, in charge of robots which didn't look so much designed as assembled in the University workshop from parts chosen at random from a machinery catalogue were apparently bored to death by the whole affair. Whilst the others in charge of machines, working or not, which they had either built themselves or been closely involved in the building of (for example Paul Channon of Cardiff) were enthusiastically demonstrating, discussing or repairing them. This latter half were definitely involved in the sharper end of the technology.
Suitability of Events
The competitions were really too difficult for real robots, and conditions did not adequately take account of their limitations. Although providing some comic relief, they did not serve the real purpose of pushing development forward. For example, in the walking race there was no handicapping for size, which left a four foot high machine having to 'run' as far as a machine one foot high.
The Shadow Group biped walker while being low cost is using a form of air powered muscles which Professor Kato of Washida University Japan has been unable to make work successfully. However the walker although complete has yet to be demonstrated under control.
MIT were represented by two small hexapod walkers one working the other not yet finished. These really were state of the art machines. The subsumption software on the former allowed incredibly fluid walking even over some telephone directories! The latter had eight microcontrollers on board, one to each leg with one co-ordinating those six, while the eighth was used for picture analysis from an onboard miniature (one half inch cube) t.v. camera and range finder.
Arthur Collie From Portsmouth Polytechnic along with a team from Russia were demonstrating wall climbing robots. The Russian machines were very primitive and seemed not to draw on knowledge of previous wall climbers over the last twenty years. Arthur Collie's machines on the other hand were novel robust and worked well, the largest using suction pads on the end of its legs was able to step over small irregularities on its way up the wall. Its robustness was inadvertent demonstrated when after falling about ten feet to the floor due to someone turning off its supply it was immediately without any repairs being necessary put back to climbing the wall.
Other walking machines can be ignored as either not working or based on ancient designs, e.g.. Penelope an eight legged machine from the University of Edinburgh was an implementation of a design from the late sixties.
Two of the nicest mobiles were commercial items from Real World Interfaces in the USA, they have been available for about the last five years, unfortunately the people from the University of Salford seemed to be using them as radio controlled toys. Tagg's early mobiles built round Atari ST computers have in the past bumbled around but at the Olympics for some reason were strangely silent.
Dr Goodhead of Warwick University was demonstrating a fast highly manoeuvrable omni-directional robot base with a novel drive arrangement using inclined wheels to overcome power steer, but it was one of those that kept trying to tear-up the carpet. However in all fairness it is being developed for factories and warehouses.
The much vaunted Trolleyman from the NEL was not working (despite the fake t.v. shots on Tomorrows World) and was hidden away in a corner!
In front of the Shadow Group stand a machine called Jon's Jalopy which looked like it had been designed by the proverbial Roland Emmett actually hid a video camera and range finder linked by an umbilical to an Acorn Archimedes computer which was using the video picture information to guide the vehicle to a pre-designated object.
Several smaller robots were about (many on the Shadow Group stand). Most of them were very rudimentary autonomous vehicles with perhaps only one or two sensors. Dave Bisset, from the University of Kent, put in two small buggies which won a silver and a gold medal. One vehicle Icarus built to a 1963 design by D Buckley contained as its brain only a photocell a transistor and a relay yet won a Silver medal! Most of them would have been state of the art 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. Yet they should not be dismissed; some of them embody Neural Net type control architectures which is again, after being out of favour for too long, showing promise of giving robustness to control strategies for mobile robots.
However Yamabico aside non of these machines are anywhere near being a self contained autonomous robot which knows where it has been and to where it is going.
Dr Todd of Edinburgh University had a large wheeled robot which was designed to open a special test door which once the problems caused by transport were sorted out it did. The handle had though to be in exactly the right place.
It is important to realise that despite the tones to the contrary from one or two prominent researchers in the field Britain has a lot of catching up to do. On the whole British universities are about ten years behind the wavefront and this is not going to be changed overnight.
Fortunately there does seem to be a growing awareness amongst our researchers that it is not possible to build advanced research robots 'on paper', and that actual working hardware is vital for understanding of the problems involved. This awareness must be nurtured.
|Impression of Olympics by Richard Greenhill||top|
|Impression of Olympics by Richard Moyle||top|