The Robot School: Fight for the Sumo Master Throne


On December 14, 2014, they became famous in Latvia, Japan and throughout the world. Latvian robot builders were the first to beat Japanese masters in the category of autonomous sumo robots – something that world leaders in sumo robotics had not witnessed in two decades.


The robots are not managed by remote control; they fight independently on the basis of various programming tasks. This Latvian victory came down to the ability of the whole team to work together. “At first we were unsuccessful because each person had been working individually,” says one of the organisers and supporters of the Latvian Robot School, Vitolds Bīriņš. “Once we brought together robot builders and their equipment – students from the Riga Technical University and the University of Latvia, as well as other robotics aficionados – we finally became a true force. By working together, we produced the best robot in the Baltic States, Europe, the United States and now Japan, too.” Vitolds himself holds a degree from the Riga Technical University in robotic engineering, in addition to an MBA. He runs a company that maintains iRobot robots.


“They see things, but they are far from human understanding or a human eye,” says Jānis Zaharāns, as he watches two black metal boxes pushing each other around in a ring. Jānis, who won Europe’s leading robotics championship, Robotchallenge, in 2012, says that the next level in robot construction will involve a robot that can make its way around an area and take unconventional decisions during the battle.


A number of robotics enthusiasts work at the iRobot service centre, where Robot School students (some 30 in all) turn vacuum cleaners that have served their time into hybrid battle robots. “Some of them can build a simple battle robot out of an old vacuum cleaner in about three weeks’ time,” says Vitolds, “and we teach the old robot to do something new whilst also learning new things ourselves.” He believes that the Robot School can become a foundation for including robotics in Latvia’s educational system. “This knowledge can be used to build robots for almost any everyday need, and it should become part of Latvia’s economy,” he argues.