Forget about RoboCup, where teams of robots kick soccer balls around indoor fields. The first ever robot marathon finished up over the weekend, and one knee-high humanoid took home the prize with just one second to spare.
This video shows the winner’s final stretch:
Five robots competed in Robo Mara Full, the world’s first marathon for our plastic and metallic friends. The race, funded by the city government of Osaka, began on Friday; 54 hours, 57 minutes, and 50 seconds later, Robovie-PC finally completed its 422th lap, thereby hitting the 26.2-mile mark and sealing the victory. With an average speed of 0.48 miles per hour, these machines are no speed demons.
The competition was a cross between a traditional, human-run marathon and a NASCAR race: The robots had to complete the marathon without the help of humans, but the teams were allowed to switch out their robots’ batteries and to make repairs. If you think it’s not fair that the engineers were free to repair their robots during the marathon, keep in mind that the time taken for these repairs counted in the racing time.
To warm up for the big race on Thursday, five roughly one-foot-high machines exercised and performed knee-bends. That may sound like an unnecessary display of cuteness, but the robotics teams say it was actually necessary for these mechanical bundles to withstand the grueling trek, which tested their durability and maneuverability. Despite these pre-race exercises, one sad bot bowed out after only one lap.
Even though the race lasted for more than two days, the final laps went right down to the wire: Robovie-PC Lite had the lead for much of the race, but it locked up towards the end, allowing Robovie-PC (sans Lite) to take the lead for good. Both robots were made by Vstone Co., a Japanese robotics company, and upon finishing, the robots waved their mechanical arms and bowed for the crowd, while the two straggling robots finished the marathon later the same day.
Even though the winning time of roughly 55 hours isn’t impressive in comparison with the human record of 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 59 seconds, the race’s organizers are still rejoicing because this race—for them at least—was more about endurance than speed. Running over 26 miles takes its toll on the joints of these miniature robots, and just finishing the race is a mechanical achievement.
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