Back in 2015 the Oakland-based start-up challenged the Japanese company Suidobashi Heavy Industry and their Kuratas robots to a duel. After multiple delays MegaBots Inc. says it is definitely happening.
“This is gonnna be EPIC!” I would say if I were a naive 12-year-old, who had not yet learned my life will never live up to the afternoon Toonami programing schedule.
Nope, I’m afraid this epic robot duel is gearing up to be a disappointing flop.
Last week Megabots performed the first public demo of its Mk.III robot, and it was incredibly lame.
The human-piloted robot takes about 30 seconds to stand up and even longer to wind up and throw punches with the force of an uncoordinated toddler. It also looks incredibly top-heavy and prone to easily knock over.
“It’s like that one transformer that they’d leave behind at the base with a ‘special’ mission,” read the top YouTube comment on the video.
Safe to say this robot is not even near fighting ready for the duel three months away.
This time last year, Megabots founders Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein raised $2.4 million in seed funding to create a league of giant fighting robots. A year earlier, they raised $500,000 through a Kickstarter that used the big names in nerddom like Mythbuster’s Grant Imahara. This fight with Japan is presumably supposed to serve as a trial balloon for the league.
Based on their marketing, Megabots appears to be both an entertainment company and a robotics engineering one. They’ve managed to build a huge amount of hype through flashy videos and quick edits, and according to Tech Crunch were able to generate $1 million in revenue through merchandizing and appearances.
But what happens when these robot fights just aren’t entertaining? Two slow moving, souped-up forklifts pawing at each other isn’t exactly the kind of thing people will pay money for. These giant fighting robots aren’t a publicity stunt to promote a more practical robotics business. The fighting robots are the business and they’re not even close to being practical.
Even the Japanese robot, Kuratas, doesn’t look all that impressive. Suidobashi Heavy Industry uses the same technique of flashy editing to obfuscate how their robots actually move their arms.
The Kuratas looks a little less “tip-overable” than the American bot and drives four-wheeled legs at 6 mph, but its overall mobility is suspect. It can slowly move its arms, and has a computer targeting BB gun, but hardly looks fighting ready.
The last video of the Kuratas in action was from four years ago, so who the hell knows what has changed. But the fact Suidobashi has not had any high-profile demos of their robot probably means they don’t have any exciting new developments to show.
It seems the upcoming duel will probably last about 30 seconds as the Kuratas rams into the Mk.III, knocking it over, causing an absurd turtle rolled on its shell spectacle. But that’s just my speculation.
A Chinese company even wants to enter the battle with their “Monkey King” robot, but based on the scant videos of the machine online, all we can really tell so far is that it’s able to turn its neck and slightly move its arms.
When compared to the fluid, animal-like robots of Boston dynamics, it’s clear these giant “fighting” robots are years away from being primetime ready.
The YouTuber CaptainDisillusion recently made a great video showing the pitfalls of designing robots based off television and movies. In the video he talks about the South Korean “Method Robot,” an $8 million supposedly practical machine designed by a Hollywood concept artist. The company claims their robot could soon see action on the “Demilitarized Zone” between South and North Korea.
But when you see the robot in action, it has to be held up by two tethers when it makes its incredibly awkward pre-programmed steps. The company won’t even put a pilot in the cockpit while it moves around for safety reasons.
Cavalcanti and Oehrlein seem to be suffering from the same overactive imagination. They are starting from anime and Hollywood and working backwards to create a practical robot. Their marketing materials constantly mention video games and comic books, without any focus on the many massive technical advancements necessary to create a battle-ready robot. Their first prototype was like something out of the Titanfall video game, with basically no mobility whatsoever.
Compare this to Boston Dynamics which unveils a box with legs every year, but the insane technological breakthroughs speak for themselves.
The robot fighting league stinks of a quixotic pipe dream serving as a money dump for weeaboo Silicon Valley investors . The upcoming August fight will no doubt be embarrassing for everyone involved.