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Dec. 21, 2011

Toy-Sized Robot Completes the Ironman Triathlon

by Zach Lynn

Click to enlarge images

By Zach Lynn, Carleton College

A fish's view of the 2.4 mile swimming portion of the 2008 Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Credit: guardian.co.uk


The Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii is known for its rigorous difficulty. Competitors must complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 180 mile bike ride, and a 26 mile (marathon) run. The competition attracts some of the best athletes from around the world. In 2011's Ironman Triathlon, Mr. Evolta, a 6.7 inch tall robot, raced alongside human competitors. It finished in 166 hours and 56 minutes, just under its goal of 168 hours (one week). The average time for a human competitor is about 10 hours. The lead designer of Mr. Evolta, Tomotaka Takahashi, reasoned that since the robot was about one tenth the size of a man, it should take the robot 10 times as long to complete the course.

Mr. Evolta was equipped with one of these attachments for each of the race's 3 legs


The Evolta Robot has completed other significant challenges before. In 2006, it climbed a 1500 foot cliff in the Grand Canyon using a tiny rope. Mr. Evolta finished the climb in about 6 hours and 45 minutes. In 2010, Mr. Evolta walked 310 miles from Tokyo to Kyoto. The Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii was Mr. Evolta's most difficult challenge yet, because it was made up of three separate events.

For the Ironman Triathlon, Tomotaka Takahashi designed vehicles for the robot to use in each event. For the swim, Mr. Evolta was waterproofed and wore a fin to keep itself on course in the heavy surf. For the run, Mr. Evolta used a modified hamster ball, and for the bike, it used a tiny tricycle. Each event was completed by a different Mr. Evolta. In addition to designing a robot that could complete these three events, Takahashi had to ensure that the robot could withstand the hot sun, high winds, and rough surf of Hawaii.

Mr. Evolta, who is the mascot of Panasonic's Evolta line of batteries, runs on 3 AA rechargeable batteries. During the race, the robot was either recharging or moving at all times.

Panasonic has not announced Mr. Evolta's next challenge, but since the robot has been so popular and successful, it seems unlikely that Mr. Evolta will retire.

You can watch a clip of Mr. Evolta scaling the Grand Canyon here.

____________________
Zach first discovered his passion for science as a high school student at Trinity School in New York City. He now attends Carleton College, where he plans on majoring in Physics. His interests in science include high energy physics, medicine, and technology.

About Zach Lynn

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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