Robots compete in their own 'Olympics' games

Updated on: 2012-08-26 || Source: bbc.com

London may be host to the Olympics and paralympics but Bristol is the place to be if you are a sporty robot.

26 teams from around the world are currently competing in the FIRA RoboWorld Cup

They are taking part in a range of games, including football, basketball and weightlifting.

It is the first time that the event has been hosted in the UK and organisers say that they have had a record number of entries.

The robots have also smashed a few world records along the way.

Marathon hopes

The Usain Bolt of the robot world comes from Singapore.

"The sprint world record was 42 seconds but Singapore has smashed that with 31 seconds," organiser Dr Guido Herrmann told the BBC.

Unlike their human counterparts, the robots do not run 100 metres.

"It is three metres [9ft 10in] forward and three metres back," explained Dr Herrmann.

Homegrown pre-tournament favourites from Plymouth University will compete against Singapore in the sprint final on Saturday and "still have a very good chance", he said.

It could be shaping up to be the robot equivalent of super Saturday.

Another local team, from Bristol University's robotics laboratory, is competing in the final of the marathon.

Robots compete at the Robot World Cup, copyright Joe Meredith
Competition is fierce in all disciplines

The event - a gruelling 42 metres - is going to be a challenge for Team Panther, as the entry is dubbed.

"To be honest we'd just be happy to finish the race. At the moment our robot isn't walking very well," confessed team member David Pollard.

The competition is made more difficult by the fact the teams have not been told in advance where the race will take place.

"A table-top is easier than a floor or carpet but the surface is yet to be decided," he added.

Team Panther's robot has been built from scratch but it will be competing against shop-bought robots which, according to Mr Pollard, are currently outperforming the home-made versions.

But he doesn't think this is unfair.

"Essentially you should be able to build a better robot than one off the shelf but this is our first year," he said.

Weightlifting DVDs

The main focus of the competition is football, but competition in other disciplines has also been intense. The weightlifting record is one of several expected to fall.

"The current world record is to lift 89 DVDs which is quite a bit for a small robot. But already in training a couple have lifted 100 DVDs," said Dr Herrmann.

Many of the robots compete in multiple sports. The organiser described them as "decathletes" rather than single-event specialists.

Fun is at the heart of the competition but all entrants must observe one important rule.

Robots compete at the Robot World Cup, copyright Joe Meredith
Just like their human equivalents, having the right trainers is vital for a sports robot

"The robots must be autonomous. Once they start the humans must be hands-off," Dr Herrmann said.

It is a coup for Bristol to have won the bid to host the event which has been running since 1996.

But Dr Herrmann admitted that competition was "fierce".

"I had to submit a bid in 2010 and go to Bangalore to present it," he said.

"Putting the dates between the Olympics and the paralympics may have helped."

The competition ends on Saturday.

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