Electronics hobbyists and model builders got their fill in Tokyo this weekend with two headline events in the DIY calendar.
Maker Faire Tokyo 2016, Japan’s biggest exhibition of amateur electronics, took place on Saturday and Sunday at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center in the city’s Koto Ward. It was accompanied on Sunday at the nearby Tokyo Culture Culture by the tongue-in-cheek Hebocon (Lousy Robot Competition), which features wrestling-style contests between intentionally clumsy robots.
“We are very happy to have more families visiting,” said Hideo Tamura of O’Reilly Japan, a publishing company that organized Maker Faire Tokyo.
He said the fair this year included many children showing their inventions, and fewer commercial exhibitors pushing big-ticket 3-D printing and virtual reality.
Twelve-year-old exhibitor Mina Tsuchida showed off a pair of VR goggles she created to play 360-degree video recorded using two smartphones with 180-degree cameras.
“I came up with the idea because I wanted to see the Olympics using this system,” she said. “It’s fun to experience VR as a hobbyist, and I’ve been showing people what it can do.”
Young exhibition-goers were enthralled by many of the inventions, but what really caught their eye was Slime Synthesizer, an electronic musical instrument developed by Yumi Sasaki and Dorita Takido. The instrument creates electronic sounds when people touch or stretch the slime.
“Electricity runs through the slime, and the sound becomes deeper as the slime becomes thinner,” said Sasaki, who works at Tamarokuto Science Center in the Tokyo city of Nishitokyo.
She said she uses slime at work and suspected that an instrument made from it would be a hit with children.
Maker Faire first took place in 2006 in the San Francisco Bay area.
Hebocon debuted in Japan in 2014. A Hebocon event took place during Maker Faire in California’s Silicon Valley in May this year, and the latest event was the first-ever world championship.
The rules for Hebocon are simple: A robot must knock its opponent over or push it off a wooden board.
“It’s basically sumo,” said organizer Daiju Ishikawa, an editor at the Daily Portal Z culture website.
Participants on Sunday hailed from across Japan and as far afield as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, France and Hungary.
Living up to their lousy billing, the robots juddered and jerked their way around the ring, shedding bolts and wheels.
Before rounds began, designers were asked to describe their machines’ highlights, or rather their shortcomings.
“It can only move forward,” one said.
“It’s made of paper,” another admitted.
One designer said her robot included dried squid.
The Hebocon champion was Ricky Chan from Hong Kong, although his cube-shaped, remote-controlled robot with caterpillar treads was criticized by the judges for being “too sophisticated.”
“I got the first place, but getting the second place is actually the first place because Hebocon is not about winning: It’s trying your best to lose with your low-tech robots,” Chan said after receiving his trophy.
True enough, the highest award went to the lousiest robot, a machine with a pole-dancing doll fixed on top. It was the work of a 36-year-old office worker who gave her name as Anipole Kyoko.
She said she set out to build a strong, functioning robot, but it proved to be top-heavy.
“It can’t keep its balance because I added too many things on top,” she said.
The charm of Hebocon is that anyone can participate and have fun making electronic crafts, Kyoko added.
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