Remember Robot Wars? That show where shy men with ponytails spent all their free time welding circular saws to robots, only for something called Sergeant Bash to come along and set them on fire?
Well, it's back. Kind of. Instead of Craig Charles and some moving, shoebox-sized bits of metal, there will be 15-foot-tall, seven-ton, walking, talking robots that shoot each other. The founders of MegaBots Inc.--engineers Andrew Stroup, Gui Cavalcanti, and Matt Oehrlein--want to place a human controller in the cockpit of each of their monster creations, before letting them spar it out in front of a stadium audience.
All they need to bring their dream to fruition is $1.8 million. An ambitious target, maybe, but giant fighting robots seems like the exact kind of thing Kickstarter was built for. I recently had a chat with Andrew, Gui, and Matt to see how things are going.
VICE: Hi, guys. So let's start with how you got into building massive humanoid robots.
Andrew: Well, Gui and I were on a TV show on the Discovery Channel back in 2012, which was basically like Masterchef or Model Runway, but for engineers. Gui and I were talking, and he was like, "I want to build giant fighting robots," and I was like, "I could help with that."
We started working on some tech around that, and then Matt got on board because we needed a third guy to round off the team and to help with electrical expertise. I came from New York to Boston, Matt came from Detroit to Boston, and we found an investor to give us some money, so we started building giant fighting robots, put it on Kickstarter, and now here we are.
How's the reception been so far?
Gui: We started using Kickstarter last Wednesday, and we've actually been struggling to convince the news media that we are building these giant fighting robots.
Andrew: We went to New York Comic-Con and debuted this working robot in the face of these nerds, and they were like, "Is that a prop for a movie?" But the reception has been great and we're getting more and more attention. It's hard for the average person to imagine this is happening, but that's what we're trying to convince people of.
How much money do you need to raise?
Gui: Our minimum funding level is $1.8 million. If we only raise $1 million, it's not realistically enough to be able to execute it.
If you do eventually go live, how will the fighting robot tournaments work?
Picture a ghost town set: bombed-out buildings, wrecked cars, half-built concrete walls, and two teams of robots on each side of the field. The way the robots take damage is they are covered with this foam armored plating that paintballs explode off, and when you take enough damage limbs start blowing off.
We have all sorts of different games we can play, depending on how many robots we have, which depends on how much funding we have. If there are just two robots it will be just them navigating this maze, blowing the crap out of each other, and the first one to die loses. But if we have more than two, then there are all sorts of games we can play, like capture the flag, free-for-all, or adventure bases.
When are you hoping to get this show live?
Andrew: The plan is get the tournament started in May of 2016. Everything you see today has taken four months, so it will take us another six months to build the rest of the robots, and half that time will be spent on production of the event itself--the lighting, filming, location, etc...
Who'll be inside these fighting robots?
Matt: People can back the Kickstarter on certain levels, and one of those gives them the opportunity to compete in the tournament themselves. But we're also going to be running a pilot social media contest that we'll launch next week. People will submit an entry, and if they get the most Likes on their video then they'll get a chance to compete.
Gui: But we're also reserving a set of slots for celebrity guests. So all of us have our favorite celebrity who we want inside the robot. I want Arnold Schwarzenegger to be inside the robots fighting the people who've paid through Kickstarter.
Kind of like Celebrity Deathmatch?
Yes, exactly! You could buy a ticket to fight Robert Downey Jr. across the field.
Sorry to be that guy, but there must be some kind of safety concerns with this whole thing? What if one of the robots catches fire with someone inside?
We're as concerned about safety as you are. With any large construction equipment that weighs 40,000 to 100,000 pounds, they have a basic roll cage, so when this machine falls over, the person is fine. So making a roll cage that can withstand these robots falling over isn't too much of a challenge, and then we also have multiple emergency exits from the cockpit.
Matt: It's no more dangerous than high-speed racing or any other high-adrenaline sport you see on TV.
And let me just clarify again: This is definitely going to happen, right? It's not just a stunt that isn't going to go anywhere?
Gui: As you might know, there was this old show called Robot Wars around ten years ago, where there were these 30-pound robots tearing into each other. That kind of inspired us, but I think that died off because no humans were involved. When people watch sports, they're watching it for human beings. They want to see people in dramatic tension; you want to see people in the cockpit. You want the drama of the person driving, but you also want to picture yourself as the one driving it. We felt that needed to be added to robotic sports--you need people in the robot cockpit to make it real and identifiable.
Matt: This is not a marketing stunt--this is happening. We've had people who have been like, "Is this real?" But it's just so crazy that it actually might work.
Finally, how long before the military steal your technology?
Gui: [Laughs] We've all seen these science fiction scenarios where these machines would be amazing in combat, but the reality is they're slower than a tank, they can't go to the same places as a tank, they can fall over from their own weapon fire or from other people's. They are hugely vulnerable. They have 24 moving parts, whereas a tank has just three. We're phasing tanks out anyway because they're not effective in modern combat any more.
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