Robot Olympics

Robot Olympics

I'm not a staunch nationalist, nor am I an athlete of any description, yet I find myself in the same quadrennial boat as most others - the Olympics is an entertaining event to watch. Good-spirited competition drives people to push themselves to the extremes and work together to achieve their goals. The athlete is only the tip of the iceberg, backed by coaches, nutritionists, therapists, and I'm sure more teams of supports. Together, they dedicate themselves to one singular goal, and I want to see that happen for technology. The rate of improvement in human performance backing these records is diminishing, and technology improvements be it in shoes, track, or anything in between, is increasingly the reason records are being shaved down. So why not embrace this? What would that even look like?

To foster the same level of excitement and dedication as the Olympics, lets mirror the structure of the Olympics as closely as possible and replicate as many events as we can with robot competitors. This will allow people who aren't interested in purely technical feats of engineering to recognize the level of performance on display by comparison to the main events. The primary entry requirement is that the robot must be able to autonomously perform the event to a standard above what the human record is. In short, lets have country teams make robots compete in the Olympic events!

In keeping with the theme of the Olympics, and to allow the host nation have another event to try recoup the enormous (and wildly varying) costs, lets host our new robot Olympics in the same locations as the Summer Olympics, but a few months after the main event. There also will have to be some regulation about the robots in order to keep an event running smoothly. The competitors must be able to negotiate their way to and from "neutral" zones autonomously. We want to get rid of the idea of someone wheeling out a huge, static trebuchet right up to the javelin line and saying it's good to go!

On the topic of trebuchets, there's one important caveat to these Robot Olympics. Repeatability. A competitor's skill should be somewhat consistent, and to that end, instead of it being a simple "what's the best you can do?", the result a competitor achieves is the simple average of their attempts. In events where there's usually only one result considered (e.g. did you clear the high jump bar or not? Did you win the 100m race or not?) the success must be repeated (e.g. for these examples, you must clear the high jump bar 3/5 attempts or the 100m is raced three times and each result is the average of them). After all, nobody is interested in how high you can jump by strapping explosives underneath a robot and shooting it out of the stadium if it can't do it again!

Finally, there shouldn't be any explosive/inhuman elements to a competitor. They can't be 10m tall doing the long jump or 3,000 kg doing the hammer throw! Similarly, using explosives/combustion/similar is forbidden. We're focusing on kinetic movement here. The robots don't need to be humanoid, bipedal, or anything like Boston Dynamics' newest dystopian concept, just:

  1. Capable of self-directing itself to the event start point, fulfilling the event on cue and returning to where it was released from.
  2. Be able to perform the event consistently above the peak human level without destroying itself.
  3. Not use any form of combustion.

I really want this to be a legitimate event and I don't see much reason something better fleshed out couldn't be a reality in the future. I would be more than willing to be on the steering committee if someone wants to give me a warm introduction to the Olympic council. Naturally before I do this, I'll want to hear feedback, thoughts and further restrictions/improvements anyone has so leave a comment below or reach out to me by email so we can make this a reality!

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