"In 2020 I would like to gather all of the world's robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills," said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week.
It's about time!
There have been, and are, all kinds of competitive robotics events that take place all over the world. We were huge fans of RoboGames, FIRST, and RoboCup (which is taking place right now in Brazil). And there's Robo-One, RoboCup@Home, Sparkfun's Autonomous Vehicle Competition, along with any number of research-based competitions that take place at ICRA and IROS. All of these events are fantastic, but a flagship event like a worldwide robot olympics would be something special.
Competition spurs innovation. You don't have to look any farther than the DARPA Robotics Challenge (or the earlier DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles) to see how much of an impact these kinds of events can have on the speed and focus of technological advancement. We certainly don't mean to suggest that smaller competitions (namely, those without an Olympic-scale backing) aren't relevant or important, because they absolutely absolutely absolutely are. But there are things that can only be accomplished when you have a lot of resources to throw around, as DARPA has demonstrated.
We've already heard that Japan may continue with the DARPA Robotics Challenge in some form, even after its official conclusion next year. In 2016, Switzerland will host a competition for augmented humans called Cybathalon. Big robotics events are happening, in a somewhat fragmented fashion, and the extreme depth and variety of the robotics field itself is at least partially to blame for that. At the same time, however, getting researchers and hobbyists who are at the top of their varied specialties all together in the same place for a few weeks and setting them against each other in events that are almost (but not quite) impossible could potentially be a huge driver for progress.
There aren't any details about what Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has in mind, and him saying "I would like to" in no way means that this is a thing that is happening for real. So, don't get your hopes up (like we already have). If the DRC Finals go well, though, it would help show what's possible through a well-funded competitive event, especially from the perspective of Japan: robotics competitions like the DRC, but also including all the rest, aren't just about figuring out what robot is faster or stronger or more skilled, as with the human Olympics. It's about developing robots that are all of those things, and then recognizing that those advances can all be adapted to make our lives better.
Via [ AFP ]
RoboCup photo via Eneas De Troya/Flickr.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.