It was a robot love fest at the Santa Clara Convention Center, home of RoboNexus, the largest annual robotics show. The October conference hosted a number of robotics events, including the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition and the Tetsujin 2004 Competition.
The FIRST Robotics Competition gives budding engineers and programmers a chance to show off their skills. Teams from various schools competed to accomplish some technically challenging and amusing antics. Meanwhile, teams in the Tetsujin 2004 weightlifting competition developed powered exoskeletons to augment the strength of a human being. Of course, Tetsujin means "iron man" in Japanese.
Sozbots, 1-lb robotic gladiators, also were out in force with devastating consequences for their peers (see the figure). Fortunately they weren't roaming the floor, or there would have been fewer attendees by the end of the show.
The show wasn't all fun and games, though. Plenty of technical papers and new products were presented. Regis Vincent of Stanford Research Institute International showed off his Centibots. Ten of these robots worked as team and communicated with each other to map unexplored areas and navigate a complex maze. Robotic psychiatrist Joanne Pransky gave a presentation entitled "Why We Need to Love Our Robots—and How to Make it Happen" that examined the human/robot relationship.
A number of consumer and industrial robots showed up, like iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaner. Software companies like Evolution Robotics showed how the field is moving from custom models and experimentation into practical and modular designs. New servo and motor control technology was touted, along with more multiprocessor solutions for distributed system control. Walking—and even running—robots were more prevalent than in the past. Still, rolling robots provide a simpler and stable platform for most applications.
A number of educational vendors displayed packaged solutions based around everything from Parallax Basic Stamps and Lego Mindstorm bricks to Via Technologies' EPIA-Series mainboards. Robotics classes are becoming more common in schools, and teachers will have a wide range of products to choose from.
Overall, it was a very satisfying show.