Five robots walking along the red and blue lines of a track on an immaculate floor, but no one waving at them: it couldn’t be a kids playground. In fact, it was the first Robot marathon, held last Thursday in west Japan.
Five miniature robots, each less than 50cm tall, have been “running” for more than 50 hours –the winner clocked 54 hours, 57 minutes, 50.26 seconds – to complete a 26 miles marathon. Instead of a city route, the electrical athletes have competed on a 100-metre track in the Osaka’s Asia-Pacific trade centre. It took them 422 laps to finish the race: irrelevant details, as they are battery charged and can’t feel tired, neither bored.
Organized by the Japanese robot maker Vstone to prove the machine’s durability and manoeuvrability, the “Robo Mara Full” was transmitted on streaming from a camera installed in the head of a racer. Nice idea, but the advertising breaks were the most exciting parts of all the eleven shots uploaded by the company.
Although it’s likely to see serious engineers trying to test their latest product without any emotional transport, students are not expected to appear so uncompetitive. Around the track, there were also two teams from the Osaka University of Engineering, which is very active in the experimentation of new technologies.
Just to have an idea, last year a group of research made up a realistic looking female robot able to repeat a person’s actions, while in December, scientists created a genetically engineered evolution of a mouse, which could literally sing like a bird.
But no one was cheering in the room. Maybe they didn’t because robots can’t feel their encouragement?
One who cares about moral support is Joseph Tame, a bit-addicted athlete who has become popular among runners, thanks to his robot-mania. To get more people watching him, he has been wearing a robot fancy dress at the “human” Tokyo marathon, held on Sunday 27, the same day when the robots reached the finish line.
He was equipped with four iPhones, an iPad, multiple cameras and a heart monitor with a GPS, obviously connected live to his website. He really looked like an expanded version of the small Robo-PC, but more passionate.
Nobuo Yamato, CEO of Vstone, wishes the Robot marathon “will become international in the next years.” Surely, it would be more exciting with a bit of speed, some active public, a singing mouse mascot and a man who wears computers.