Robots fight it out in the ring

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am

A robot wrestling competition held at Tsuen Wan Plaza last month saw some of Japan's top competitors face off against local robotics fans.

The friendly competition, which featured the renowned Japanese Sugiura Family and Maru Family - frequent competitors and winners of fights in Japan's Robo-One competitions - was part of Tsuen Wan Plaza's May Japanese Festival.

The Robo-One 'bipedal humanoid robot' competition was launched in Japan in 2002 and features a demonstration session followed by one-on-one robot fights.

The Sugiura Family and Maru Family - among the world's most famous robot makers - showcased their creations in a fight that amazed spectators with their robots' quick movements and manoeuvres, such as back flips.

A 1-metre-tall robot even greeted the crowd in Cantonese to the surprise of local spectators.

Another highlight was a robot sumo tournament with a local team of secondary school students.

Although the locally made robots did not fare well against their advanced foreign counterparts, the students said they learned a lot and were inspired by the exchange of information and ideas that followed the event.

Bosco Wong Chun-hin, a Form Five student at Po Leung Kuk C.W. Chu College, was one of the lucky students who had a chance to put their robots on the sumo floor. Bosco's robot, C.W.C., is the joint creation with a schoolmate. It was produced with a HK$5,000 school subsidy. Bosco has been working with robots for two years. 'Building robots requires very advanced skills,' said Bosco.

'It's hard to balance the robot on two feet, not to mention walking and fighting.'

Bosco said beginners should first learn to build a two-legged robot before tackling a full-body robot with a head, torso and all four limbs.

According to Hong Kong Robotic Olympic Association (HKROA) representative Keith Wong Wing-yiu, students can acquire a broad range of knowledge by building robots, including mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, physics, computer programming and product design.

But Mr Wong said it was difficult to promote robotics as a hobby among students because of lack of funding and also the language barrier.

'Most robot parts are imported from foreign countries and the user manuals are often in Japanese or English,' he said, adding, 'students need a lot of help to understand them'.

He said it was also sometimes difficult for robot builders to find parts they needed, forcing them to make the parts themselves.

Bosco agreed. 'I've even learned to use a laser cutter to make a robot body from plastic,' he said.