Rock ’em, sock ’em RoboGames 

Robot gods do exist, and Stephen Felk aims to please the shiny steel deities at the fourth annual International RoboGames with his combat bot of destruction, Plasma.

Beginning Friday, Felk will join hundreds of engineers from around the globe in the world’s largest robot competition. The event, which spans three days and includes 61 events ranging from android kung-fu to robot hockey, will be held at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Festival Pavilion.

Felk, a combat robot enthusiast and builder of Plasma, a 30-pound titanium machine that’s about the size of a typewriter, insists that even though damage is unavoidable, the robot gods will indeed be watching.

"A lot goes into building these robots and I really do feel that robot gods do watch over the sport. They really like diligence and tenacity and those things get rewarded," says Felk, who first discovered the world of battling bots in 1996 when he stumbled upon a similar competition.

By far and wide, founder David Calkins says the most popular event at RoboGames is the combat competition, where bots — some the size of couches that weigh in at 340 pounds — battle it out behind the safety of bulletproof glass and send sparks and steel a-flying.

"Whether it’s boxing or wrestling, humans like to watch people fighting," Calkins says. "It is a lot of fun to watch, and the crowd gets really into it."

Of course, RoboGames isn’t solely about warring robots. The event, which brings teams from 30 different countries together, will also feature the 12th annual Robot World Cup and the first attempt at android basketball. But, if sporting bots aren’t your thing, art bots will also be on hand throughout the weekend, competing for such titles as top bartender or painter.

Calkins, who teaches robotics and computer engineering at San Francisco State University and is the president of the Robotics Society of America, created RoboGames — formally known as the ROBOlympics — to cross-pollinate robot builders. His hope was to bring mechanical engineers and computer programmers together to exchange ideas.

It was that sense of community that initially drew Felk to the world of combat robot building and what continues to keep him active. He recalls his introduction to the sport as rather welcoming, where the exchange of ideas was not only welcomed but also encouraged.

Besides his belief in robot gods, Felk is a firm believer that in due time the world will become quite taken with robot sports.

"I’m one of those people that’s totally convinced that this will become the No.2 sport in the world," he says. "The only sport more popular will be soccer — you just can’t argue with a game that only needs a $15 ball."

RoboGames

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Friday; to 10 p.m. Saturday; to 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco

Tickets: $20 general: $15 for children, except children under 17 admitted free Friday

Info: www.robogames.net


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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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