America's first giant combat robot needs funds to ready it for a hand-to-hand melee with Japan's own battle mecha. And the funds — and big name support — are rolling in.
In June, Oakland-based MegaBots and its battle bot Mk.II (pronounced "Mark 2") challenged Japanese robotics company Suidobashi Heavy Industries in a brawl to robot death. A week later, Japan accepted, it became the top trending item on Facebook, and 'bot lovers' round the world lost all kinds of shit.
It broke the Internet. Today, the US combatants launched a Kickstarter and detailed specific plans to upgrade their mecha to Gundam-level status. They have already raised over $US120,000 in less than 24 hours.
If you'll recall, I was pumped, but sceptical. Now, I'm less sceptical. And way more pumped. It sounds like both competitors are taking concrete steps toward making this throw-down go down.
What we know:
- The match is supposed to take place in July 2016.
- The venue, which shall be a neutral location, is TBD.
- In a new Kickstarter to soup up Mk.II, MegaBots has already totaled $US120K of its $US500K in one day.
- MegaBots has revealed the following folks will lend expertise to the Mk.II upgrade: Mythbusters' Grant Imahara, Howe & Howe, BattleBots cofounders Greg Munson and Trey Roski, experts from NASA and Autodesk, IHMC Robotics (which came in second in DARPA's humanoid robotics challenge), and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.
- MegaBots and Suidobashi are still working together to find a third party to officiate and determine the rules of the match.
- Each robot will have a human inside, as a Gundam-style pilot.
I reported on some of the potential pitfalls that could make this duel overhyped and boring, but after reaching out to the guys at MegaBots, I feel better about things. Gui Cavalcanti, MegaBots cofounder, addressed all of my concerns and questions.
What kind of weapons and upgrades will Mk.II receive with the Kickstarter funding?
Like any sport — and yes, the main goal of this duel is to make mecha fighting a more widespread competition — your defence is as important as your offence. The MegaBot team is taking all of that into consideration.
"On the armour side," Cavalcanti says, "we're taking a page from our BattleBots advisers and are shock-mounting steel armour plates to the torso. Every plate will be able to give just enough to not rip up the underlying structure under heavy shock loads."
"On the weapons side, we're kind of ridiculously excited about the giant chainsaw," he says. "I'd personally like to rip the engine out of a Harley and use it to power the thing. We definitely want to keep developing our giant paintball guns, as they're a staple of Western versions of giant robot combat, but we want to build all the mech/Gundam/giant robot classics: pile drivers, fists on high powered pistons, missile racks, flamethrowers, you name it. Fiction is full of these fantastical weapons and we want to see if any of them are up to snuff. The one objection I'll make is that I don't want to make rocket fists. Firing your first at someone seems dumb."
Will these robots be too slow-moving?
Wouldn't this fight be extremely tedious, almost boring? These are bigass, heavy-hitting robots after all. Yes, but there are also also practical reasons for moving slowly, Cavalcanti says: Move too quickly, and you'll lose precision in your attacks. You'll also compromise operator safety.
"Most robots are intended to perform some action repeatedly and accurately. We need to swing an eight-foot chainsaw at a 13-foot tall robot. They are not the same task." It sounds like the emphasis is squarely on power and packing just the right punch. So the speed issue is still up in the air. "We intend to make the platform as fast as we can without dying."
What if one robot is incapacitated right away?
Robots often have a weak point that, if hit, totally ruins the bot and renders it motionless. What if, after all this hype, money, and time, that happens to either Mk.II or Kuratas?
"Robots are full of weak spots, it's true," Cavalcanti says. "We're intending to hide all of our actuators, hydraulic lines, and wires behind armour plates so our communications and hydraulic power don't go down with an errant swipe. The more complex a robot is the more weak points it has, but we're going to do our best!"
What if a robot gets totally wrecked? Isn't it a huge waste of money?
"It's really, really hard to destroy this much metal to the point where it's not reusable," Cavalcanti says. "We're not really like a car — the limbs, tread base, and cockpit are all modular. If they get too damaged, they can be replaced in pieces."
While the chances of Mk.II getting totaled are low, he adds: "If it's totally destroyed, it should at least make for truly incredible television. So there's that solace."
Is the year timetable realistic? How closely have you been working with Suidobashi to organise?
"Both teams have robots already, so we think the year timetable is accurate," Cavalcanti assures. "We built the Mk.II from scratch in 5 months — upgrading the robot in a year shouldn't be too much of a problem. Ever since their challenge response, we've been talking to Suidobashi regularly, going back and forth on rules, venues, and the logistics of the battle. We're hoping to make some joint announcements soon."
Japan knows robots. How worried are you?
"We have an amazing team made up of some of the best engineers and innovators in the country. We're going to build an incredible robot. They have a four year head start on us, and they have had plenty of time to practice and get used to their robot and tune its performance. These are things we need to be cautious of and respect. But we have a rockstar team, and we built the existing Mk.II incredibly fast. We'll get it done!"
How will this duel help make robot fighting a proper sport?
"The primary goal of this duel is kick off the giant robot fights we've been promised for 50 years in style. We want the dream to become a reality, and we want to have an amazing time doing it. This is basically our childhood dream come true."
Cavalcanti continues: "Giant robot fighting will only become a sport with appropriate rule and tournament structures in place, just like F1 became a sport by creating rules around the technology at play. We intend to create rules that make sense, encourage innovation, and give people enough structure to design amazing things."
Images courtesy MegaBots