Preparations for the Japanese robot wrestling competition started few weeks before the show. We 3D printed a custom backpack and hacked together a circuit to allow the robot to be remote controlled from a PC over bluetooth. This allowed a normal USB HID gamepad to send commands to the KHR remotely. (alternatively it meant using the designated Kondo gamepad and RC remote which seemed more complicated to set up and use)
KHR3HV was selected because it was a Japanese event and although we had preferred to use as base kit the all-metal Bioloid GP (with hacked servo firmware and motion control to make any robot envious), bringing a non Japanese robot could be seen as impolite. The weapons were developed to fit the KHR3. 3D printed hammer, samurai sword and shield (with union jack emblem) were developed using sketchup. They were then mask spray painted and later a dress was tailored to fit onto the robot.
We managed to have a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer shipped to Tokyo for shooting the printing of the KHR3HV weapons in my hotel room. It one of the first ever Replicator to leave NYC and the first to make its way to Japan. (It was not ideal bringing it back to UK checked in as luggage on a Virgin flight).
The robot wrestling competition was organized to coincide with the Tokyo shooting, by Lem Fugit (tempumaster) of robots-dreams.com
fame. It was held at Kondo's outlet and robot club RoboSpot
on the outskirts of Akiabara district. It was an amazing event to see live. No flickr picture or youtube video could do justice to the intensity of these metal monsters. The guys participating have 10 year experience as robo-one competitors. They formed the robo-wrestling competition as a light-hearted fun weekend entertainment where they can show off their moves in the local hackerspace. The setup is fit with a miniature wrestling arena where they enact a full blown wrestling competition.
They even have a robot referee (which was fitted by the Gadget Show camera man with a GoPro camera on his head to take close shots of fights), a pair of human referees and commentators and loud music as the robot heroes come out of a servo-actuated curtained mini entrance.
Some of the robots seem a bit outlandish as was the sense of humor (the blue masked robot for example and his human masked master depict a Mexican masked WWF wrestler..) but the fact was that we were just intruders to a private gathering of old friends having fun together. Everyone was very friendly and helpful throughout the shooting which took most of the day. Mr. Omata
, the organizer of the robot wrestling events got all the competitors together on the weekend of the tsunami memorial day (we all stood silent for a minute at some point in the afternoon when the radio gave the signal). Yoshihiro Shibata
(designer of the KHR3 humanoid kit; seen in the video clip fiddling with the robot behind Jason who says to Poly that we are given helped by the best experts) provided email support weeks before the event when we faced some RCB4 issues and during the whole event he helped fix our robot and got the battered buldog's gait to become more stable.
To get the Asus Xtion
(same device as Kinect but smaller and requiring only USB power) to track human skeletal motion and get the robot to follow suite, I used a free software called FAAST
which created an emulated keyboard that would render key-presses whenever a body position was recognized. The virtual keyboard then used in conjunction with a virtual joystick vjoy
which can emulate HID events from keyboard events. The HID events in turn created character sequences that were sent over bluetooth to the Kondo RCB4 to enact a motion. The reason for such a complex setup was that this kinect'ified robot control scene was a last minute thing added to the script and was made my technical responsibility. Hence a sleepless night looking for simple solutions ended up being not so simple. But it worked!
We visited RT-Net robot shop in Akiabara where they sell robot bits and also teach hobby robotics and where the presenters are seen buying the KHR3 kit and assembling it. The owner Yuki Nakagawa (seen in the clip welcoming Jason/Poly) develops robots such as the Kinect controlled humanoid pictured above and also electronic parts such as for example couple of years ago, the first Android interface board possibly before IOIO.
Visit to Honda labs was an amazing experience. We had a 25 minute debriefing about where the cameras can be located and what the Asimos will be doing. All was orchestrated even the pretend employees on the floor who were typing away and photocopying stuff in white robes. The famous curtains hiding the puppeteers controlling the Asimos were there too. The robot is spectacularly perfect and it feels something alive is in there when standing close to it. It can not stand unactuated, but needs a crane to lift and move when unplugged and not doing something. It uses zero-backlash Harmonic Drives motors which provide him enough instant torque to be able to make him jump on one foot.
I have a much higher appreciation of how much work goes into making The Gadget Show. The 30 minutes of footage aired show was the result of many hundreds of hours of up to 5 cameras in some scenes and many people working around the clock for a week in Tokyo and another month or so before and after the actual shooting.