1. Best of the worst

Best of the worst

If you’ve made a robot that’s struggling to perform, then you can be a part of Hebocon, a contest for such ‘inventions’

By: | Published: August 28, 2016 6:04 AM
The competition involves several sumo-style matches in which the robots try to push their opponents out of the arena. (Reuters) The competition involves several sumo-style matches in which the robots try to push their opponents out of the arena. (Reuters)

You’d have always dreamt—at least in some point in your life—of building an ultra-cool, technologically advanced robot and have it face off against other robots of its calibre.

But let’s face it: how many of us actually have the engineering acumen, or the time, to build a product like that? Enter Hebocon, a contest for robots made by the common, ‘technically-unskilled’ man.

Heboi is a Japanese word that loosely means something is technically poor. “Thus Hebocon, as per its founders, extends to both the robots and the people that make them, but in an affectionate, pat-on-the-back kind of way,” writes online tech magazine Engadget.

The competition involves several sumo-style matches in which the robots try to push their opponents out of the arena.

The rules are pretty basic: if you fall over, or accidentally fall out of the sumo ring, you’re out. And in the case of a tie, the robot who travels the farthest across the table wins.

Hebocon founder Daiju Ishikawa started out in Japan with the intention of holding a one-off event in July 2014, but interest snowballed and contests have since been held in over 25 countries, including the US, Indonesia and Singapore.

The event was also chosen as the jury selection of the entertainment division in the 2014 edition of Japan Media Arts Festival organised by the cultural affairs agency of the country.

The contest’s handicap system is meant to discourage higher-tech robots. The scrappier the better, just so long as your makeshift bot makes it through the contest.

With all standards out the window, robots entered into Hebocon come in all shapes and sizes, with their equalising factor being how little each of them can actually accomplish.

That’s not to say technically skilled people can’t participate: they just need to ignore that part of their brain.

“Focus on how you can avoid using anything technical, and only try out ridiculous ideas you’ve never seen or heard of in your life.

If things aren’t looking good, then you have the right to participate in Hebocon,” reads an intro on the Hebocon website. In other words, iterative, polished robots aren’t welcome here.

Ishikawa came up with the idea for Hebocon through his work as an editor and writer at Daily Portal Z, a website dedicated to finding humour in the everyday and the mundane.

“We have a lot of articles about making things. But there are also articles about people who have tried to make things and failed, and that’s interesting from an editor’s point of view,” he was quoted as saying by a media report.

“I started thinking that I wanted to read more about projects that didn’t work out. People only get to hear about things that have been successfully completed. I wanted people to enjoy things that have failed, and that’s how Hebocon started,” he added. Ishikawa believes that a do-it-yourself ethos, without fear of failure, is the key to Hebocon’s ramshackle charm.

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