8 December, 2016
First Hairo Sozo Robocon: Students at Technical Colleges Showcase Ideas for Robots Working in Restricted Environments
On December 3, the First Hairo Sozo Robocon (Robot Contest) was staged at the Naraha Remote Technology Development Center in Naraha Town, Fukushima Prefecture, and sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Technical College Council for Development of Decommissioning Human Resources.
The competition—its name roughly translating as “creativity contest using robots for decommissioning”—was intended to get students interested in the decommissioning process by challenging them to identify and resolve issues and to develop robots accordingly.
Fifteen teams from thirteen technical colleges around Japan, competed in the final stage before Mayor Yukihide Matsumoto of Naraha Town, Mayor Satoshi Endo of Hirono Town, and other local municipal heads.
The first prize—the MEXT Minister’s Award—went to the “TAPPAR” robot developed by the Doi Laboratory of the College of Technology, Osaka Prefectural University. Meanwhile, the “Step Walker” robot, made by the Hairo-Robocon Club of the Nara College of Technology, received the Merit Award, and the “Fukutsuru No. 1” robot made by the Hi-Low Research Group of the Maizuru College of Technology was awarded the Best Idea prize.
In other special awards, the IHI Award was presented to the “U-Bo” robot made by Team ANCT of the Asahikawa College of Technology. The Atox Award was given to the “Hairon” robot of the Suzuki Laboratory of the Fukushima College of Technology.
The Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy Award was given to the “RITORNO” robot created by the Toyama College of Technology. The Joban Engineering Award meanwhile, went to the “SANRED” robot of the NITK-K Robocon Team, Kumamoto College of Technology. Finally, the Pacific Consultants Award was given to the “Get the Situation—We Can Do It” made by the Kuchii Laboratory of the Kita-Kyushu College of Technology.
Teams consisted of up to three students and a supervisor. Each team chose between two competitive challenges: either stair climbing or navigating uneven terrain. On a mockup staircase, the robot had to carry a 5-kg load to a second floor, deposit it, return to the starting point, and search for an object left at an unknown location on the second floor. On the block-like irregular floor, the robot had to investigate the configuration, including surface conditions and sizes of obstacles, and locate a target item.
Simulating conditions in a dark reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants, the robots, operated by remote control, were viewed using cameras and monitors as they were unable to be seen directly. Radio waves were deemed unable to penetrate thick concrete walls, and time limits mimicked the radiation constraints on camera and semiconductor functioning.
Judges could, however, extend the time limits if a team demonstrated a creative solution. Each team made a ten-minute presentation in the morning to explain the environment and conditions they had set, and later conducted its ten-minute demonstration in the afternoon. Presentations and demonstrations were evaluated from the viewpoints of the ability to identify issues and resolve them, as well as creativity, ideas, and technical execution.
The participants made wide variety of types of creative robots in a variety of shapes. One made use of helium-gas balloons, while another had an extendable arm to grasp the stair railing. Only a few, however, could accomplish their tasks. One team made a flying drone but could not control it well, and it crashed.
Another “robocon” will be held on the same subject next year. After taking a hard look at their results this time, the participants all seem eager to take up the challenge again.