Robot Olympiad Wrap Up

I've been on the Gold Coast for the past few days attending the International Robot Olympiad on the Gold Coast, and all I can say is, far out brussel sprout.

Where do I start. I should probably begin with the competition (I wasn't competing, only spectating and presenting). The competitors had to build, code, test and run their own rigs, and competed in a bunch of categories from maze orientation to battle games!

I was blown away with the tenacity, discipline, perseverance and imagination of these bot builders. They were completely focused on their objective, but also displayed a comradery amongst competition that is rarely seen, and while everyone was there to win, they were gracious in defeat. And then there was the wonderful lack of cynicism! No problem was too hard, and rather than argue over semantics or rules, they just got to work and solved the problems.

So let me tear down the process. Each competitor had to build their own bot. There were many kits, but also custom bots. This meant that there was this indoor basketball court filled with desks that had been set up as bot stations, with botgineers toiling away with screw drivers, hammers, soldering irons, you name it!

Then there was the software! Again, a mix of hardcore C being developed in Programmers Notepad, to those using Visual Studio and .NET, to the 4GL'ers! All being compiled and downloaded to rigs via wireless RF, bluetooth or umbilicals (cables for comms and power). And what does a botgineer do while your latest bio-ware is being downloaded?? Play PSP off course!

What the I hear you say? Damn right. Average age of competitors... 8 years old!

Then there was the Academic breakout sessions, which were nothing short of mind blowing! Discussions ranged from Robotics Genome projects, to emerging data structures for robotic software development based on DNA principals.

My favorite part though was the concept of the bi-centennial man. It was completely revolutionary, but essentially (I'm not going to even try to do it justice) is the concept of growth and learning in robots. Essentially, the idea that humans do not have a complete way to pass knowledge and experience down the generational tree. The future of robots is to create systems that can pass on learning from one generation to the other in a matter of seconds. Simple example, V1 of Kitchenbot has the ability to learn, so when it joins your family, it needs to learn how you like your eggs cooked. When V2 arrives 30 years down the track, and V1 is ready for "retirement", V1 looks into V2's eyes, and shazam, 30 years of learning (not just the knowledge, but the learning pathways) are zapped into V2. So although V2 is 0 years old from a manufacturing point of view, it is 30 years old from a knowledge point of view. So from V1 to V2 and so on, the concept of the bi-centennial robot becomes possible. A robot capable of housing millions of years of know-how and learning experience, which as you can appreciate, would be phenomenal.

Anyhoo, to all those spirited young botgineers, your breaths of imagination truly inspired the 8th IROC, and set the pace for the next generation of robotics!