“If one crappy robot and another crappy robot fought each other — what would happen?”
In an era where robots like Nao, Pepper, Sophia and Atlas manage to amaze us with their respective abilities to walk, learn, communicate in different languages, recognize different people and partake in heavy lifting, another suite of robots is hard at work lowering the bar of robotic achievement.
Hebocon is an annual robot competition for the technically ungifted where 31 robots compete in sumo style wrestling matches where the robots try to push their competitors off a board through a combination of pushing, shoving, whirring and sheer persistence. The biggest challenge can be getting robots to move at all, let alone deliver attack moves and self-defence techniques. The World Championship was recently held in Tokyo.
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The word Hebocon derives from the Japanese word Heboi, used to describe something that is technically poor, or low in quality and with this spirit in mind, robots are made with a bizarre array of equipment including fast food wrappers, instant noodle containers, sex toys, wind up toys and Barbie dolls. According to the organisers, “entrants will need compromise and surrender instead of ideas and technical skill.” Robots are actually penalised for having high tech features and assistance from the maker is not unusual in the competition, such as a helping finger to get the robot moving when a motor has failed. It a competition where failures in technical output can be thwarted by strategy and dogged persistence.
The souls of robots that would be considered scrapheap fodder are respected, as winners in each round opt to attach parts of the losing robots to ‘carry on the will’ of those knocked out.
Hong Kong representative Kit da Studio won the NicoTsuku award with his table-flipping robot. (The robot actually flipped itself over when it was trying to flip the desk.) Overall winner, Ricky Chan, built a robot called the “Robot-Controlled Controller Robot,” which consists of two components – a controller that looks like a tiger robot, and a robot that looks like a controller.
Since the first competition held in 2014 in Tokyo, Hebocon has spread over 25 countries and over 60 competitions has been hosted. In the latest International contest in August, participants hailed from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, France and Hungary. It’s easy to mock the Hebocon awards for comedy effect alone, but the reality is that they bring robotics (albeit in it’s most primitive form) to those who either lack technical ability or might be creatively or technically blocked. As the creators encourage:
” Go into a toy store and buy one of those moving toy dogs, rip off its exterior, and stick some cardboard on there, and you’d be looking at your original robot. Get some pieces of wood, sharpen them, and give your robot some horns: your robot’s attacking ability has just sky-rocketed. You might even get more creative and install a motorized weapon onto your robot. Didn’t quite work
out? That’s Okay! That is what we call Heboi. Grab that faulty robot of yours, and participate in a Hebocon competition!”
With sponsors like Arduino and Maker Faire and a cult following, it brings a sort of robotics to the masses.