An elementary school student focuses intently on programming a robot at Robosquare.
Japan is renowned for its world-class robotics. In particular, Japan boasts the largest number of industrial robots, such as those for assembling automobiles. It is also the largest exporter of industrial robots.
In Japan, there are a number of places and ways for kids to come into contact with and learn about the most advanced robots and robotic technology. Many researchers working on the frontlines to develop cutting-edge robotic technology are also excited about developing something else — educational programs to bring to youth the surprise and joy that come with making a robot oneself. There are robot workshops around Japan where kids can try their hands at making robots. The experience can be such fun that after taking part, many kids set their hearts on developing robots in the future.
Birthplace of RoboCup
A Chiba Institute of Technology humanoid robot team in action as it represents Japan competing at the RoboCup in Mexico in June 2012. The team went home with the Best Humanoid Prize.
You may have heard of the RoboCup. Put simply, it is a World Cup for robots. The 16th RoboCup competition was held in Mexico in June 2012. At this year’s annual event, which drew 381 teams from 39 countries and regions, a Japanese university team competing in the small humanoid robot soccer competition came away with the Best Humanoid Prize for the top humanoid robot. The Japan team is a perennial favorite and has a sterling record in the humanoid robot soccer competition, which is said to be the most competitive. In fact, the team from Japan won the Best Humanoid Prize from 2002 to 2008.
The event is not only competitive, but also extremely well organized. Each country holds preliminary qualifying matches to decide the team that will represent each nation. Another fact that is not well known is that it was a proposal from Japan that first kicked off the event. The event started with a big dream: creating a fully autonomous humanoid robot team that could beat a human World Cup champion team by 2050. Japanese researchers hit upon the idea in 1993 with the first RoboCup held in 1997 in Nagoya, central Japan.
Autonomous humanoid robots move of their own accord on two legs without being remotely controlled. A decade ago, getting them to stand upright was all that researchers could do. Today, the robots have progressed to where they can pass and shoot with improved accuracy. While beating a human team is still a distant, pie-in-the-sky dream at this point, it may someday become a reality if the children of today make great strides in robotics research.