Categorized | Sci-Tech

And he’s off … Evolta Robot taking Ironman challenge

Conquering Kailua Bay. (Photo courtesy of Panasonic)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

For most Ironman contestants, the cut off time is 17 hours. But for a trio of little guys the goal is 168 hours.

The Evolta Robots set out on the official Ironman course – 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run – at exactly noon Sunday. And they won’t stop until they reach the finish line, in about one week.

And while the 1,900 triathletes who took the Ironman challenge earlier this month finished the course under their own power, these robots are powered by three rechargeable AA Panasonic Evolta batteries.

Tomotaka Takahashi, who founded Robo Garage and is a University of Tokyo associate professor, is confident the robots and the batteries are up for the task.

“I want to prove the potential of robots and batteries,” he said shortly before he accompanied the first robot out onto the swim course at Kailua Bay.

“Computers, batteries, materials … they are all getting better and better,” he said. “To complete this challenge will mean a lot for these batteries.”

A last salute before the Ironman challenge. (Photo courtesy of Panasonic)

Along the way, Takahashi and his support crew will stop only to recharge the batteries and do repairs and maintenance, but the robots will traverse the entire course.

Each one is designed for the three disciplines. The swimmer is centered in a stabilizing frame and followed an infrared beam shot from the back of a surfboard. A crew member paddled slowly ahead of the swimmer robot as it battled the swells and currents in Kailua Bay.

Takahashi had expected the swim portion to take about 7 hours, but the swimmer ploughed through the 2.4-mile course in little more than 5 hours and handed off to bike robot, kitted out on a nifty little tricycle.

The biker robot is expected to make the dash up Queen Kaahumanu Highway to Hawi and be back in Kona by Thursday morning.

Then the runner robot – attached to ring reminiscent of a gerbil’s exercise wheel – will take off on the marathon and hopefully will cross the finish line sometime on Sunday.

Swim 1, Bike 1 and Run 1 (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

“Triathlons are three different things,” Takahashi said. “For the swim you need power and for the bike you need stamina. For the run, the road is bumpy and there are lots of obstacles to get over.”

Takahashi put the three robots through their paces in Japan, but he said “conditions are much tougher here.”

Still, he’s not worried. His robots have conquered three previous challenges.

In 2008, one climbed a rope from the floor of the Grand Canyon about 1,700 feet to the cliff top. That took 6 hours, 46 minutes.

In 2009, a robot survived the famed French Le Mans car racing circuit for 24 hours.

Just last year, a robot used the rechargeable batteries for two months, running from Tokyo to Kyoto. That trek led indirectly to the Ironman start line.

Tomotaka Takahashi sets the robot off on the swim course. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

“I wanted to come to Hawaii, but it was almost by accident,” he said.

After a wet and cold run between Toyko and Kyoto, Takahashi joked at a press conference that the next challenge would be in a warm climate.

“It was raining so hard and it was so cold,” he said. “I just mentioned Hawaii and now it’s come true. But I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

Takahashi visited with the Kealakehe High School robotics team earlier this month and came away impressed by the students and their enthusiasm.

“We all showed off our robots,” he said. “But it was a fair trade. I was very inspired by their energy.”

Teacher Justin Brown and a handful of robotics students showed up Sunday morning to lend their support as Takahashi released the swim robot.

“It’s really quite amazing that they can build something that can do an Ironman,” said junior Kela Hauck, 16. “To think it’s going in the water and will actually swim is amazing.”

Hauck, who has been involved in robotics since sixth grade, said she was impressed with the power and endurance of the robots and the batteries.

“I learned that the smaller it is the more amazing it is,” she said.

Hauck and her classmates had a chance to check out the green-and-white 10-inch tall robots before the launch.

“Yeah, he is cute,” she said. “He has a face and everything so you can really relate to him.”

While Takahashi has not named the robots beyond Swim 1, Bike 1 and Run 1, he does admit to being inspired by his favorite comic as a youngster.

That’s why the Evolta Robots look just a little bit like Astro Boy.

Follow the robots progress at:

Follow the robot on Twitter: @EVOLTA_Robot

Tomotaka Takahashi swims alongside the robot as it heads out onto the 2.4-mile course. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

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