Flying robots battle it out in Tokyo competition

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A fish-shaped robot and propeller-driven helium balloons competed for the title of fastest, lightest flying robot in an event featuring engineering students from all over Asia.

Competitors were required to build remote-controlled flying machines of under 150 grams (5.3 oz) that had to pass through goal posts and film objects on the ground in a three-minute race.

Juho Lee, a 20-year-old South Korean of Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who had built a robot attached to balloons, won the first leg of the two-day event that started on Friday.

The 44 teams flew in from high schools and universities around Asia, including South Korea and Indonesia, but the majority of participants attend Japanese engineering colleges.

Sponsors of the competition, such as national carrier JAL and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, hope the event will help lay the foundations of a Japanese aeronautical industry.

“This competition is backed by the aeronautical industry, and as Japan is entering an era where we are trying to build our own commercial airplanes, I am sure they are looking to develop the aircraft engineers of the future,” said Shinji Suzuki, professor at Tokyo University’s department of engineering.

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Mitsubishi Heavy, the leader in the Japanese aeronautical industry, is aiming to start small jetliner production in 2012.

Mitsubishi’s jetliner will come in 72-seat and 92-seat versions and is part of a larger effort by Japan to develop aircraft that are more fuel-efficient and less noisy.

However, not all the students saw their future in aeronautics.

“I am looking to develop a system where the robots will monitor indoor situations, either in a security capacity or to help out check on senior citizens in need,” said Kunihiko Sato, a 21-year-old student of the University of Electro-communications who built a fish-shaped robot that tried to fly over the indoor field using swimming motions.

Other participants said they were hoping to build future space shuttles or fly robotic spy planes.

Writing by Olivier Fabre; Editing by Alex Richardson