Escape Tax Day with International RoboGames 2011

A spark of excitement is building on Twitter. Breathless post have begun appearing on Facebook and in internet forums. Electronics retailers and hardware manufacturers have noticed an uptick in business while some neighbors are wondering about the howls of triumph or outrage emerging from labs, fabs and garages. The season of RoboGames is upon us.

“We’re really excited about the number of countries participating this year,” says Simone Davalos, on of the organizers. “RoboGames has become an international juggernaut of robotics sports. We’re thrilled so many people come to the SF Bay Area with so much new technology, innovation and even art. Even after 8 years of doing this, I still find it breathtaking – the extent of human ingenuity that comes ou in the ‘bots. This year, we’ve got over 600 contestants competing in almost 70 events. We’re proud to have over 10 different events for humanoids alone (such as kung fu, acrobatics, soccer, mech warfare and foot races.)”

RoboGames 2010
A Combat Robot from RoboGames 2010

Of course, there’s also the bashing, crashing, smoke and explosions that emanate from the combat robots most spectators come to see. The giant bots, which can take months to build, fight behind bullet proof panels in a 100,000 pound custom-built arena in hopes of experiencing the thrill of victory. Losers are usually carted home in buckets.

“This year will be bigger than ever – including a new TV deal with  the Discovery Network,” Davalos excitedly adds. “People buying tickets for the live show may end up seeing themselves on TV when it airs on the Science Channel. RoboGames has also secured the Mythbusters’ Grant Imahara to host the live event, and adoring fans might finally get their chance to meet him for the price of a ticket.”

RoboGames aren’t all about aggression. The event also features robots that make art, artists that make robots, and just about every other kind of robot imaginable. Contestants come from Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, across Europe and other far-flung places like California’s Bay Area. Nick Donaldson of the United Kingdom (UK) whose bot Ziggy has won a gold medal every year since the RoboGames started, will be returning to try to keep his golden streak going.

“Ziggy is undefeated in the hexapod challenge, and I don’t think the contestants this year are up to the challenge,” said Donaldson, throwing down the proverbial gauntlet. “I’ve also got lots of new robots in some of the other categories that I hope will end up on the medal platform as well.”

Davalos points out that RoboGames is an open competition, welcoming anyone to compete in the grand tradition of amateur athletics. RoboGames contestants don’t have to be affiliated with a company, school or other formal organizations and can use any parts they can cobble together. The event attempts to broaden the potential for new robotics technology by casting a wide net for participants, from the single American tinkering alone in his garage to a group of German third graders building one pound robots.

Speaking of third graders, this year features an expansion of the RoboGames academic symposium, curated by academic chair Heather Knight of Carnegie Mellon University, JPL and Paper presentations from leading academic institutions on present works-in-progress and past research. On the RoboGames Presentation Stage, see speaker such as Eric Singer (Internationally acclaimed musical robot artist of lemurbots) and Evan Ackerman of the IEEE Automaton robot blog. From Google Robotics, Ryan Hickman will speak about cloud computing and the sumo events the Google is sponsoring – with a $5,000 total prize.

Long vaunted as a nexus for the commingling of robotics disciplines, RoboGames tries to connect businesses, researchers, technologists, revolutionaries and audiences over a vibrant three-day weekend April 15 – 18, 2011.  Friday is “Learning Groups Get in Free Day”, which is an opportunity for schools, scout troops and others to RSVP for a fun, free admission for students day at RoboGames. Tickets normally run $15-25 per person. RoboGames are being held at the San Mateo County Expo Center in San Mateo, CA.

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