Robot wars are a major focus of the World Robot Conference – the fierce and entertaining annual robot competition.
Thousands of contestants, from elementary schools to universities across China, are taking part in robotic combats and a humanoid robots relay.
In the elementary level arena there are Ganker robots, designed by a Chinese technical company.
With swords in hands and all-direction wheels as feet, the Ganker robots are fast and flexible fighters.
Each joint of the robot is equipped with a servo motor and contestants from primary schools can drive them by sending signals through a mobile phone app.
The sensors embedded under its body sense competitors within a certain range and start attacking, otherwise they just spin in the same place.
Just like a video game, the mobile phone app records health points and the robot’s remaining lives. By checking a control interface, judges can tell which player lost.
10-year-old Qu Shaokang, who will soon start fifth grade at school, is one of the competitors. Qu has been learning about robots for four years, but only started playing Ganker robots recently.
Though losing the game in the group stage, Qu still found he learned something.
“I was a little impatient during the combat, so I lost. But I still won a round. I found it beneficial,” says Qu.
Reflecting on the game he says: “I think I must remember the robot is controlled from its viewpoint rather than mine. Because I didn’t look from the robot’s view, I lost direction several times.”
The combats between university contestants are even more intense.
Their self-designed robots must be kept within a certain size and weight to qualify for the competition.
Backstage the atmosphere is tense as over a hundred university students test their robots.
Li Shuohan, a second year student majoring in automation at Hunan University, shows how the robot is made of motors, batteries and a control chip where programmes are inputted.
Li and her partners test their robot to come up with the most aggressive strategy.
“The most important thing is the robotic structure. We lowered the gravity centre, so the robot walks more stably and more quickly. With high speed, it attacks with more power. The structure of its arm is also flexible, so we can design different movements, which attack different ways,” says Li.
Combat takes place in an enclosed arena with a red Chinese character meaning “martial” in the centre.
What takes place here is a reminder of martial artists in the movies. A lot of pushing, knocking and shouts from crowds.
Li’s team’s robot lost after being locked by its opponent for most of the game.
But it’s not all about fighting. A real crowd pleaser at the World Robot Conference is the RoboCup, performed by 60 cm tall humanoid robots, called NAO.
During this relay race the robots use cameras to recognise one of their own robots before they themselves start walking.
NAO’s visual control systems are often interrupted by noises or lights.
Feng Kai, a Regional Sales Manager at Bank Robotics, NAO’s producer, says the software should overcome such interference so the RoboCup is a perfect test:
“The competition is to see whether the programme is strong enough or adaptable to different environments. For example, lights and floor surfaces are the elements the programmers should consider,” he says.
The finals of the robotic combats and humanoid robot relay will be held this weekend.