Master of the marathon?

They may not be going the full 26.2 miles, but a team of robots are hoping to be crowned masters of the marathon at a global competition in China.

The Plymouth Humanoids, based at Plymouth University, are pitting their wits against the international elite of robot sport at the FIRA RoboWorld Cup, being held in Beijing this week.

And having enjoyed great success in previous RoboWorld Cup contests, the Plymouth team are hoping to again demonstrate their athletic prowess in the Marathon and Sprint categories, while they will also take part in the United Soccer competition.

The Plymouth Humanoids team, comprising a five-strong squad of ‘Drake’ robots assisted by academics and students from the University’s School of Computing and Mathematics, will be led at the competition by monocle-wearing star performer Mustachio.

Dr Phil Culverhouse, from the University’s Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems, says:

“We have a great track record in the RoboWorld Cup and are hoping Mustachio can inspire us to more success in China. Our achievements in global events are furthering Plymouth’s reputation as one of the world-leading universities for robotic technology. Through technical and software developments, our students and staff are pushing the boundaries of innovation and engaging new audiences with the potential for this technology to have a positive impact on their lives.”

While it is called the marathon, the category sees the robots competing over a 200m course with arrows showing them the directions they need to take. The sprint category involves the robots having to go forward for 3m and then backwards for the same distance.

In 2011 in Taiwan, the Plymouth University team won both the Marathon and Sprint categories, retaining its Marathon title at the 2012 event in Bristol and also finishing on the podium in the Sprint and Soccer categories. In 2013 in Malaysia, Plymouth won the Sprint event again and since then, the robots have received newly designed inertial measurement units to help with balance, and the gait control has been rewritten.

Earlier this year, the Plymouth Humanoids also travelled to Brazil for the 2014 RoboCup football competition, where they reached the second round-robin stage.

The FIRA RoboWorld Cup was founded in 1996, and has resulted in introducing new holistic technology involving mechanical, electronics and digital control and image processing technology. It is the premier event for international robotics experts to gather and challenge each other and is this year being held alongside the FIRA RoboWorld Congress, a global scientific robotics conference.