RoboGames was founded as the ROBOlympics in 2004 as an exercise in cross-pollination, and has grown into the world's largest open robot competition (according to the Guinness Book of World Records). The event was founded by David Calkins, president of the non-profit Robotics Society of America (RSA.) Calkins, who participated in all types of robot competitions around the world, realized the need for cross-pollination between events - as too many robot builders over-specialized within a single field. He would suggest that contestants from combat try their hand at sumo, that sumo builders start a robot soccer team, and encourage programmers to trade in their compilers for a soldering iron. As few roboticists took his advice, he realized the only way to get the various disciplines to learn what exciting things were going on outside their specialty was to create an event that brought them all into the same venue.
Competitors from all over the world now make annual plans to compete in over seventy different events sponsored by RoboGames. About two thirds of the robot events are autonomous, while the remaining third are remotely operated (ROV's). RoboGames is co-managed by the Robotics Society of America and ComBots LLC. The RSA organizes all the autonomous and humanoid events, while ComBots leases the combat arena to the RSA and manages the combat side of the house ("the milk in the back of the store.") Combat robotics is currently the biggest crowd draw, getting tens of thousands of spectators to the event.
Even though it is run on a shoestring budget, RoboGames is similar to the human olympics in that competitors are challenged in a number of different events that showcase focused abilities and skills. The largest difference is that at RoboGames, the competitors are robots (the coaches are human engineers.) As of 2010, people from 39 countries have participated in RoboGames and continue to use the event as a way of exploring new technology and challenging themselves as engineers. RoboGames also features non-competitive demonstrations and talks by leading robotics industry designers and engineers from the world.
While RoboGames has achieved wide acclaim, it was founded with five simple goals:
While RoboGames is only a few years old, its goal of cross-pollination is already working. Humanoid builders find out about better sensors from the sumo teams. Sumo builders learn to strengthen their robot chassis from the combat engineers, many of whom have gone from building competition combat robots to building large companies producing hardened tele-operated bots for police and military buyers.
- Get robot builders to grow beyond their specialization. By bringing together robotics builders from combat (mechanical and electrical engineering), soccer (computer programming and vision), sumo robotics (sensors), androids (motion control), and art (aesthetics), builders can exchange ideas and learn more than they do at home. More breakthroughs can be achieved across disciplines when participants see each other's hard work in action. We pride ourselves on a steady influx of enthusiastic, inspiring, talented people. Attendees forge lasting relationship and valuable associations over the years of competition, enabling multicultural and multinational exchanges on the event floor and back at home.
- Let anyone compete, amateur and professional alike. Anyone - regardless of age, education, affiliation, country of origin, gender, academic discipline (or lack thereof) - can compete. While there are many robot events around the world, most limit who can participate: they might be offered to only high-school or university students, and often have entry fees that exceed $5,000. Some are conferences with a strictly business slant. RoboGames takes the best of these forums, expands them, and then welcomes all comers in the spirit of sportsmanship and scientific exploration. All with registration fees under $250 (with several events free of charge to compete.)
- Expose the general public to robots they wouldn't otherwise see. While events like RoboCup and First inspire participants, there is rarely anyone from the general public at those events. Robots should be seen by everyone, not just other researchers, hobbyists, or students. At RoboGames, the combat robots attract the public at large to attend, but they're then wowed by all the other competitions.
- Give robot builders the recognition they deserve. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded in each division. RoboGames invites the best robot builders from around the world to compete, and highlights the achievements of our participants through widespread mainstream media exposure, continued promotion to the general public, and year-round advocacy. Medalists have gone on to front-page acclaim, gotten lifetime scholarships, and even been recieved by their nations' presidents!
- Lead the way with educational outreach. Children are strongly encouraged to participate in RoboGames not only as spectators, but as full-fledged competitors. In order to encourage and reward STEM education, RoboGames created a Junior League for participants under eighteen years old, where teams and individuals can compete in events such as the Lego Tube Push, 1 pound combat, 500g autonomous sumo, and seven other categories. Each category in the Junior League is free to enter and spans the full course of RoboGames. This layout allows younger competitors to compete on a level playing field, while enabling them to see the adult talks and displays and meet adult competitors who encourage and inspire the juniors!
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