Robots and Systems
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1st International Robot Olympics
27th to 28th September 1990
Glasgow

The 1st International Robot Olympics was held on 27th to 28th September 1990 at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. The Event was conceived by Dr Mowforth of the Turing Institute, Glasgow as a British 'Robotics Weekend' on the lines of a weekend event held the previous year at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However perhaps because Glasgow was City of Culture 1990 the scale of the event changed and it grew to a major international meeting.

  • # Announcement in the BMVA News
  • # Report by David Buckley
  • # Report by Richard Greenhill
  • # Report by Richard Moyle
  • Brochure
  • Event Flier
  • Information for Competitors
  • University of Wales, Cardiff; biped by Paul Channon - information sheet
  • Report in The Daily Telegraph 29 September 1990 p7
  • Robots Compete in Olympian Style, Byte January 1991
  • The First Robot Olympics ,IAPR Newsletter v13 #4
  • Robot Roundup by Nigel Clark, Practical Electronics January 1991
  • Report by the Shadow Group to the Department of Trade and Industry
    The 'heading' of this page and 'Report by David Buckley' form the contents of the report.
  • Adam Hart-Davis' photos of the event.

  • 1st International Robot Olympics top
    BMVA News
    Newsletter of the
    BRITISH MACHINE VISION ASSOCIATION AND SOCIETY FOR PATTERN RECOGNITION.
    Vol 1, No 3, August 1990.

    ROBOT OLYMPICS
    The First International Robot Olympics is being organised and hosted by the Turing Institute on the 27th and 28th September 1990. The event is part of Glasgow's European city of culture programme and is being held in the sports complex at the University of Strath-clyde. Primary sponsorship for the event has come from the NatWest bank, the Scottish Development Agency and the IEEE. Robots from the United States, Japan, Canada, Europe and the Soviet Union will be arriving in Glasgow for the event which will be initiated with the carrying of the Olympic flame. At 9.00am on the 27th September, Trolleyman (a two wheeled balancing robot rather like a golf trolley) will carry the Olympic torch through the streets of Glasgow to the sports complex at the University of Strathclyde. This will be followed by a robot parade and a press conference. In the afternoon, the robot "athletes" will be on display in parallel with a masterclass seminar titled "The future of intelligent robots". This masterclass will include talks by leading specialists from around the world focusing on current problems with advanced robots. One of the speakers, Professor Ruzena Bajcsy from the University of Pennsylvania, will be concentrating on problems associated with active vision. Here, it will be argued that one of the primary bottlenecks for producing new generations of robots concerns the issue of generating useful perceptions from sensors.

    On the Friday, the main events will start at 10.00am. Each robot will be given time to show their capabilities. More importantly, prior to the event, the organisers will look at the details of the contestants and whenever commonly claimed capabilities are found, competitions will be devised. We expect that there will be junior events, competition races (two legs, four legs, wheels and tracks), collision avoidance tasks, wall climbing competitions, speech communication skills and swimming events (in the University pool).

    In addition to all event winners and runners up getting Olympic medals, there will be an overall Olympic champion. The champion will be selected by a team of judges. The criteria that they use will be devised and scored on the basis of three issues:

    (i) The quality of the hardware (engineering and electronics).
    (ii) The sophistication of the behaviour.
    (iii) Novelty.

    There will also be prizes for devices or pieces of technology which show good commercial potential, young competitor awards and design awards. The event will finish at around 5.00pm on the Friday.

    It is expected that the Robot Olympics will be held every two years alternating between Glasgow and other sites around the world.

    Peter Mowforth, The Turing Institute, email: boffin@uk.ac.turing


    1st International Robot Olympics by David Buckley top

    At first sight the Olympics seemed to be a large well attended international event and judging by the intense media coverage one at which startling advances in robotics were going to be revealed.

    However a French t.v. journalist confided that he had asked around among the other reporters and they all agreed that they were somewhat disappointed at the level of technology. (He thought the Shadow walker was the most interesting looking entry.) He was also disappointed that there were no French entries. Nevertheless this view can not have been the only one since Philipe Dufay reporting on the Olympics in the Figaro colour magazine remarks; "It is high time to finish drilling the Channel Tunnel: our neighbours have now too many secrets..."

    As was to be expected the level of technology varied with the level of funding, but irrespective of cost, most designs were first used over ten years ago. The University entries had obviously had considerable funds expended to produce nicely-finished engineering presentations. With few exceptions, however, the level of performance did not match their appearance. The entries from amateurs and schools were, on the whole, developed with minimal expense, some deliberately, others from necessity. Their engineering tended to be more primitive, but showed several neat methods of solving design problems.

    Most entries suffered from being moved to Glasgow, and perhaps more effort should have been applied to improving reliability. (Perhaps an additional day should have been allowed for setting up, free from Press involvement.)

    The event was held (as might be expected) in a sports hall but it was well disguised with the traditional exhibition carpet and equipped with numerous tables and chairs. The carpet later proved to be exceedingly troublesome to most of the robots; the small ones got stuck in the pile, larger ones navigating by ded-reckoning can only have been confused by the pile induced drift (much as a rug on a carpet seems to have a mind of its own migrating purposely in some inconvenient direction) and the largest wheeled machines appeared to have been designed to run on nothing less than reinforced concrete. Virtually every robot at the Olympics required electricity, for itself and/or its controlling computer, money spent on the carpet could well have been put to better use in providing an adequate electricity supply. Sports halls are not noted for this need and many competitors seemed to have difficulty with the number of sockets provided and a few complained of computer malfunction attributed to an unreliable supply.

    Little prior thought seemed to have been given to the actual competition events themselves. In traditional athletics the first past the post is invariably the winner but with today's robots of limited versatility the outcome is not quite so clear cut especially when competitors did not know what was to be tested until after they arrived! This lack of adaptability ought to have been foreseen and had some bearing on the events and on the selection of judges for the events.

    It was interesting to compare the differing attitudes of the teams. Half, in charge of robots which didn't look so much designed as assembled in the University workshop from parts chosen at random from a machinery catalogue were apparently bored to death by the whole affair. Whilst the others in charge of machines, working or not, which they had either built themselves or been closely involved in the building of (for example Paul Channon of Cardiff) were enthusiastically demonstrating, discussing or repairing them. This latter half were definitely involved in the sharper end of the technology.

    Suitability of Events
    The competitions were really too difficult for real robots, and conditions did not adequately take account of their limitations. Although providing some comic relief, they did not serve the real purpose of pushing development forward. For example, in the walking race there was no handicapping for size, which left a four foot high machine having to 'run' as far as a machine one foot high.

    Salient Technology

    Conclusions
    Three things were very evident from the Games. Britain is not at the sharp end of robot technology, enthusiasm from a mere handful of researchers is not enough: there just is not sufficient backing both for resources and the time necessary to build state of the art machines: and certainly in Britain's universities there is not the necessary intellectual infrastructure and knowledge base.

    It is important to realise that despite the tones to the contrary from one or two prominent researchers in the field Britain has a lot of catching up to do. On the whole British universities are about ten years behind the wavefront and this is not going to be changed overnight.

    Fortunately there does seem to be a growing awareness amongst our researchers that it is not possible to build advanced research robots 'on paper', and that actual working hardware is vital for understanding of the problems involved. This awareness must be nurtured.


    Impression of Olympics by Richard Greenhill top

    THE TURING OLYMPICS
    1. Other people's impressions A French tv journalist told me he had asked around among the other journalists and they all agreed that they were somewhat disappointed at the level of technology. (He thought the Shadow walker was the most interesting looking entry.) He was also disappointed that there were no French entries. And in the Figaro colour magazine, reporting on the Olympics, Philipe Dufay remarks; "It is high time to finish drilling the Channel Tunnel: our neighbours have now too many secrets..."
    Looking in the catalogue, Britain is well represented, although the numbers of entries in the English section are rather pulled up by the Shadow group (17 out of 34 entries!)
    2. Our impressions. (Setting up our own entries and talking to myriad journalists and visitor left very little time indeed for studying the other entrants.)
    The best technology there was American, the second best British. The most ambitious (the Shadow walker) was not finished. A less ambitious walker, from Cardiff university, was finished, working, walking on two legs and deserves much credit. However it raises the question of what we actually mean by walking; for less than thirty pounds you can buy a doll which walks, but it can only do so in a straight line, on a flat, smooth surface. At the moment the Cardiff walker does no more, as it has no lateral or rotating movement available. The question is, can the builders succeed in extending the design? And what about the cost? Certainly, Paul Channon is a man to watch; his team have made something that works and in this field that is all too rare.
    Japanese technology was not well represented, even though the single Japanese entry Yamabico did win the overall prize for the best robot, it does not represent anything that has not been around for a couple of decades.
    Dave Bisset, from the University of Kent, is one of the most interesting roboticists at the Olympics. He put in two small buggies and picked up a silver and a gold medal. He is now expending his activities at Kent University department of Electrical Engineering, into what could turn out to be a British version of Rodney Brookes' MIT AI lab (generally seen as the Mount Olympus in this domain).
    Arthur Collie with his wall climber is of course another person who has to be taken extremely seriously - it works, he has overcome all the problems.
    TAG's Igor is another good product [ ]
    Jack Todd's walkers, funded, I believe, to a large extent out of his own pocket, are excellent, interesting, fairly innovative and they work...
    To go back to the American technology [ ]
    Conclusion. Britain is generally considered to be 'Number Three' in the world of robotics. Our entry to the Robot Olympics support that view.
    Impression of Olympics by Richard Moyle top

    The level of technology varied with the level of funding, but irrespective of cost, most designs were first used over 10 years ago. The University entries had obviously had considerable funds expended to produce nicely-finished engineering presentations. With few exceptions, however, the level of performance did not match the appearance. The entries from amateurs and schools were, on the whole, developed at minimal expense, some deliberately, others from necessity. The engineering tended to be more primitive, but showed several neat methods of solving design problems.
    Most entries suffered from being moved to Glasgow, and perhaps more effort should have been applied to improving reliability. Perhaps an additional day should be allowed for setting up, free from Press involvement.
    The technology of Domestic Robots has not developed far, with many of the basic problems yet to be solved, especially on the software side. The competitions were really too difficult for real robots, and conditions did not adequately take account of the limitations. Although providing some comic relief, they did not serve the real purpose of pushing development forward, particularly as competitors did not know what was to be tested until after they arrived.
    The MIT cockroaches and Dave Bisset's Alpha-photon were interesting developments, probably more advanced in their areas than most.


    Document history
    22May07 added links to sub pages:
    Event Flier, Information for Competitors, Cardiff biped, Daily Telegraph, Byte, IAPR, Robot Roundup, Shadow DTI Report
    07Sep06 incorrect HOME links removed
    02Nov10 added Brochure
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