In the halcyon days of our collective youth, the future looked so bright we had to wear shades. We knew we would live in an urban utopia where there would be no pollution or war, and where we would spend our time engaged in higher pursuits. Robots, naturally, would do all the work, from household drudgery to taking the dog for a walk (not to mention picking up the poop). Presidential candidates wouldn't promise a chicken in every pot, they'd campaign to put a robot in every home. Luckily, the Robot Society of America (RSA) is working toward that idyllic future, and this weekend the organization takes a giant step forward with the first-ever international ROBOlympics.
David Calkins, the RSA's president, expects the event to bring together every stripe of robot fanatic under one roof. In fact, he dreamt up the idea when he noticed there wasn't a lot of interaction among different groups in the 'bot community. "I've been doing robot shows since 1998, and I've met all types of robot builder -- from welders and machinists who construct huge combat robots to people who create autonomous sumo androids -- and I realized that none of them ever talked to each other," says Calkins. "So I decided, 'I'm gonna put you all in the same building at the same time, and you're gonna like it!'"
Calkins isn't the only roboticist who wants to share his passion. Four hundred competitors from 11 countries will take part in 33 events; each class of competition boasts prizes, including cash awards of up to $3,400 and gold, silver, or bronze medals that'll really impress the kids down at the arcade. According to Calkins, the elaborate medallions are composed of plated steel and exposed circuit boards covered in blinking yellow, white, or orange LEDs. (Now that's a chick magnet!)
Admission is free-$25
Though cash, bragging rights, the possibility of groupies, and way-cool medals motivate us lesser human forms, the stated goal of the ROBOlympics is to further the field of robotics. As such, there are several events geared toward the malleable, under-18 engineers of tomorrow, like a 120-pound combat bout and a Lego Mindstorm Challenge.
For spectators, the most obvious crowd-pleasers are the combat events. Droids ranging from 1-pound ant-weight automatons to 340-pound behemoths battle each other in the ring. "When they collide, they make big, glorious crash sounds," promises Calkins, who clearly knows what his audience craves. Along with these skirmishes, look for biped races, sumo battles, and -- oh yeah! -- robot soccer. Art robot Mechadon and a few BattleBots will also be in attendance.
"The nice thing with robots is that nobody ever gets hurt," says Calkins. And the robots probably won't feel the agony of defeat, either.