While plenty of people are willing to watch shows where robots compete in brutal fights to the death, will people ever be interested in watching them play sports? The Japanese Government for one hopes so, announcing this week that they plan to hold an Olympic Games for robots alongside the planned 2020 (human) games in Tokyo.
Speaking at a press conference last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted by AFP as saying: "In 2020 I would like to gather all of the world's robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills…”
Japan has long been at the forefront of robotics research, and it would seem that the planned competition will be a showcase of this. Current humanoid robots such as Asimo are the leaders in the field, and specialised Japanese robots are even being used to aid in the Fukushima clean-up. Mr Abe also outlined his hopes that this ‘Robot Olympics’ will help stimulate this sector of Japan’s currently struggling economy. For this to work the event will need spectators, sponsors, and significant prizes.
But, the question remains, can robots actually be developed that play sports in a way that is interesting and not, well, robotic? While some sports such as sprints are relatively simple others, especially team sports are incredibly complex. Furthermore, part of what makes spectator sports so interesting is that you know you are watching people are the peak of their physical ability. While coding a robot its probably just as time consuming as training a top athlete, this is not nearly as relatable to the everyday spectator.
But who knows? If people can be convinced to watch a bunch of celebrities mope about in a videotaped house all day, then, so long as the marketing is right, they can probably be convinced to watch robots play sports too.
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