May The Worst Robot Win

Fingerbot fights to survive at Hebocon.
Fingerbot fights to survive at Hebocon.

When people imagine a robot battle, images of table saws and claws probably come to mind. But that’s not the type of robot tournament that happened at Carleton University.

The first Carleton Hebocon saw Carleton Students battling their terribly designed robots for a chance at victory.

But the bad design is the point of the competition, started in Japan by Daiju Ishikawa.

Pow Wow squares off with The Abusement Park.
Pow Wow squares off with The Abusement Park.

“It’s all the fun of robot battles, without having to learn all the skills necessary,” says organizer Nicole Mackin, who studies interactive multimedia and design at Carleton.

Mackin said she was inspired to host the competition after watching the video for the original Japanese Hebocon, which had its first tournament last July.

The Good Idea Of Being Bad

The battles are simpler and less damage oriented than those on shows like “Battle Bots” and “Robot Wars” from the early 2000’s.

The rules are simple: robots must at least have at least one moving part or something electronic (recording devices are allowed) and more sophisticated technology loses points. Each match is a sumo-style match to push the opposing robot out of the ring or render it unable to move.

Toasters and beer boxes make great frames.
Toasters and beer boxes make great frames.

Robots were built using objects like old children’s toys, zip ties and Styrofoam. One contestant even registered a box with spinning wires on top, and another was a cardboard hand that would poke in place.

Nicole Mackin describes what she thought was the strangest robot.


The Best Of The Worst

The tournament saw many interesting match-ups, some epic and many comically bad. With several battles ending with both robots barely having moved at all or completely missing each other.

The tournament ended with the robot Wannahukaloogies (alias initials G.E.D.) winning first place, Dunkaroo taking second place and The Esteemed Whistle taking third place.

Wannahukaloogies fights a surprisingly sturdy box-bot.
Wannahukaloogies fights a surprisingly sturdy box-bot.

A full list run down of the competition can be found here. (Note some names were changed by their owners after registering.)

“It took me about five minutes to build my robot,” says Dunkaroo builder David Dunkelman. “I love competitions like this, they’re nutty and exciting.”

David Dunkelman and his robot, Dunkaroo.
David Dunkelman and his robot, Dunkaroo.

Comedic robots like the poking Fingerbot took the Peoples’ Choice award, and Toasting The Competition, the toaster based robot mentioned by Mackin, took home Judges Choice.


Unexpected help

While copying a competition can land some copycats in legal trouble, Mackin received not only a blessing from Ishikawa but also encouraged her to send him all the videos and pictures, so he could share them.

“He translated all the rules into English for me” says Mackin. “He offers a lot of help to other organizers.”

“I started Hebocon as a joke, I didn’t expect that joke to become so popular,” says Ishikawa. “I’m glad that Hebocon entertains so many people all over the world.”

This year’s Hebocon was filled with funny-looking robots but it was also filled with laughter and cheers from an excited group of students attending. Ishikawa sees this as the spirit of Hebocon.

“I want you to know how to enjoy your lack of skill and failure,” said Ishikawa. “Knowing that will give you courage all your life because you don’t need to fear your failure.”


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