Two robots enter the ring, only one can leave victorious. But throw away any notions of cage matches like the ones seen in TV shows like BattleBots or Robot Wars. This is Hebocon, where only the lowliest of robots compete. 

First held in Japan in 2014, the Newfoundland Robotics Club will be hosting their own robot-fighting tournament at Sci Fi on the Rock on April 29th.

Dave Gilbert started the Newfoundland Robotics Club as a Facebook group two years ago and Hebocon will be the first public event they host. From 3-4 pm, small homemade robots will be duking it out in a ring that’s 50cm x 100cm. But these won’t be state-of-the-art mechanical feats of engineering. The word “Hebocon” is a combination of the Japanese words for “unskilled” and “contest.”

The official rulebook describes it as a sumo-style robot fighting tournament that pits badly made robots against one another. The first one pushed out of the ring, loses. If it’s pushed over while in the ring, it also loses. But if the robot falls over by itself, there’s a rematch.

Hebocon was chosen to be the club’s debut event “Because it’s mostly just anyone can do it. And that is they key aspect of it,” Gilbert explained. A simple robot can be cheap to make, with parts from a dollar store. “Essentially, the only goal of a Hebocon robot is just to go forward and hopefully you’re aiming towards another robot. And if you do, you might win.”

They are the saddest robots: “Even if it’s bad, it’s still people working towards these common scientific goals of building something that achieves a minor goal. But is still part of that design process.”

“A lot of competitions are about trying to win and this is just about having fun and making something. And making something, I think is one of the most important things that we do as humans. Like, look at the world around us, everything around us has been made by humans,” Gilbert said.

“So continuing that tradition with even small things that are not supposed to work, not supposed to win, but just exist in the moment. Because odds are, most of these robots will fall apart halfway through the competition, and all the better for it.”

It’s a pretty low bar for entry because the competition isn’t supposed to be highly skilled. Anyone can put together one of these robots, compete, and have a fun time. You don’t need a background in computer science or engineering. In fact, robots considered high tech (like if they have a remote controller) face penalties. It’s one of Gilbert’s favourite rules and it’s supposed to even the playing field.

He wants this event to act as a gateway into the world of science and technology.“We do hope to use this to be able to teach people about various aspects of robotics; the mechanics, the electronics, the programing systems in place,” Gilbert said.

“From there, we hope to expand it out into more hands-on events, where young people will get interested in the field of robotics and science technology.”