To call MegaBots audacious is a bit of an understatement. Not too long ago, the robotics company challenged Japan to a giant robot duel. Sure, it was cheeky to wear aviators and drape an American flag over their shoulders in the challenge video. But that’s not the audacious part. It’s a bold play because this is Japan we’re talking about.
Humans have long built monumental statues: The Colossus of Rhodes in ancient Greece, the Statue of Liberty in New York…and Japan? Japan has a 60-foot Gundam robot.
This is the country whose prime minister just kicked off the robot revolution, a government plan to quadruple the size of the robotics industry by 2020—at which time they aim to host a robot Olympics alongside the human Olympics in Tokyo.
This is the country that already sells a giant fighting robot. On Amazon.
But the US is pretty great at making robots too. And if you want to fight giant robots, you’ve got to go where the giant fighting robots are—and that place is Japan. So, after a much-publicized challenge, Megabots was no doubt excited to find Japan’s Suidobashi, maker of the Kuratas robot, picking up what they were throwing down.
It was on. Except for one thing. That bit at the end about melee combat? That’s exactly what it sounds like—an all out hand-to-hand, steel-on-steel brawl, where the winner punches the loser “to scrap.” Melee capabilities will require a few updates and additions.
To fund their build, the MegaBots team launched a $500K Kickstarter, and a few days ago hit their target. Today is the last day to pledge support in exchange for a t-shirt or, for top pledges, the chance to ride in the finished bot, fire its guns, and even knock around a few Prius punching bags hung from cranes. (How else would it get into fighting shape?)
But even if you don’t support the Kickstarter, never fear, the final spectacle will be broadcast worldwide for all to see. So, there’s that to look forward to.
It’s at this point, however, that we have to address the giant fighting robot in the room.
Given the state of robotics—where the top robotics competition recently got tons of press for a video montage of the world’s most advanced bots falling over—what’s the likelihood this thing is the fast-paced heavy hitting duel we’re imagining?
A few items to note. It’s true the Darpa Robotics Challenge featured glacially slow robots falling over. It’s also true those robots were required to be mostly autonomous and many walked on two legs like a human. They were also asked to perform complicated tasks (for robots) like driving a vehicle, climbing stairs, and using human tools.
In this case, both competitors are wheeled robots. Also, humans are onboard piloting them, a little like the Jaeger mechs in Pacific Rim (sadly, no brain-machine interface). These two facts simplify the equation quite a bit. Also, MegaBots has a pretty stacked team of advisors, including Grant Imahara of Mythbusters and BattleBots fame.
Probably the hardest task the teams face is figuring out how to take a multi-ton punch and remain standing. But today’s robots are actually pretty good at balance.
Early videos of Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot—shown above and heavily featured at the DRC—showed it recovering from a stout shove on the treadmill. Indeed, MegaBots say on their Kickstarter page that if they hit $1 million they’d be able to work with IHMC (second place at the DRC) to write and install an advanced dynamic balancing algorithm.
They won’t get enough on Kickstarter—$500K buys major upgrades to armor, speed, and weapons—but maybe they’ll find more support down the line. And maybe not. This where we acknowledge the fact it’s a seriously challenging engineering project on a tight schedule.
But that’s the idea. Think big and advance. And get people excited about robotics.
The MegaBots team puts it like this, “The main risk of doing this project is dying in glorious combat, or potentially becoming a national disgrace. The main risk of not doing this project is living in shame, and definitely becoming a national disgrace.”
So, mark your calendars: July 2016 is giant fighting robot month.
Image Credit: MegaBots