Robot duels – such an evocative pair of words, conjuring up images of the best of Saturday morning cartoons and Japanese anime. Whether it’s the Transformers or Gundam, Mechwarrior or Real Steel – or even One Must Fall 2097, the idea of watching huge metal beasts duke it out has inspired poems, plays, moves and interpretive dance. And now, just about 80 years away from the year 2097, our very first proper mecha fight is about to come to life.
All this started thanks to MegaBots, who threw down the gauntlet at their Japanese counterparts, Suidobashi Heavy Industries, for a giant robot duel. Suidobashi has the KURATAS, a 4-year-old single-rider robot that weighs almost 4,000kg and stands at 13 feet tall. In the other corner is the challenger, the MegaBots Mk II. Measuring at 15 feet tall and almost 5,500kg, the Mk II is a beast – but there’s one problem. The Japanese want melee combat (hurrah!) and the Mk II? It’s only built for long-range paintball combat. So that’s where you come in.
I like the Mk II – it’s so American. Like a Chevrolet it’s massive and has huge guns. I mean, look at it! Bull horns, eagle heads, cigars. But then there’s the KURATAS, and you cannot say no to the screech of when metal hits metal especially when memories of Evangelion just come to mind. And honestly, Suidobashi’s response is just golden: “Just building something huge and sticking guns on it. It’s … super American.”
So the fight is on, but the Americans need to include some melee capabilities before it can really happen. They’ve turned to a whole team of amazing guys to make it happen. Helping them out are
- Howe & Howe Technologies (builders of the world’s fastest tracked vehicle)
- IHMC Robotics (#2 seed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge for humanoid robots)
- FonCo Creative Services (lead model makers on Star Wars, Transformers, and other films)
- Co-founders of BattleBots (Greg Munson and Trey Roski)
- Grant Imahara (of Mythbusters fame)
- Peter Diamandis (founder of the X-Prize)
This is quite the laundry list of amazing folks that will help whip the Mk II into shape. While I’m not sure if the montage of Mk II upgrades will make a good biopic, watching the upgrades take shape while the robot looks good will be really fun. But for starters, they need at least US$500,000 to make the basic upgrades happen, so that the Mk II can survive the hand-to-hand battle. MegaBots are hoping for US$1,500,000, just so that it’s really kick-ass, and I really can’t blame them.
And to do so, MegaBots are turning to good old KickStarter. Right now, in slightly more than a day, they’ve passed US$190,000, which hopefully means that the battle IS going to happen. Here’s a breakdown of what they’ll need for extra awesome sauce:
- US$500,000: Basic armour, speed and power upgrades to the Mk II which will make America’s robot 5x faster, 5x more powerful, and ready to engage in melee combat.
- US$750,000: The Mk II will get an interchangeable weapon suite
- US$1,000,000: The Mk II will get a balancing algorithm that keeps it balanced and steady while in melee combat.
- US$1,250,000: The Mk II will be significantly upgraded for pilot safety in consultation with NASA.
- US$1,500,000: The Mk II will get a Hollywood makeover from FonCo Creative Services.
Backing the Mk II will get you various rewards, from a credit, a tee shirt (US$50), a 3D-printed model of the Mk II (US$150) … to a pit crew experience during the actual fight (US$10,000, and sold out!) The perks aren’t super awesome, in the sense that it’s not like they’re making you your own Mk II to bring home and take for a spin down Shenton Road, but I can’t stress this enough:
GIANT ROBOTS HITTING EACH OTHER.
And that’s not all: What MegaBots really wants to do is to create a live-action sports league of giant robots hitting each other (be still, my beating heart). No longer will we need to roll dice or master odd controls for robot combat (but you still can, so that’s a bonus), but watching it live onscreen might be an option one day, or even better, piloting one, crushing your enemies, and seeing them driven before you.
And really, think of the benefits research into robotics can go to, whether it’s home automation, safer piloting and vehicles, your own Jarvis-esque butler … and even:
GIANT ROBOTS HITTING EACH OTHER.
“If we’re gonna win this, I want to punch them to scrap and knock them down to do it,” said Suidobashi artist Kogoro Kurata. I say bring it on guys, and let’s help make this happen. And if the Japanese had a campaign of their own, I’m afraid I might be very broke for a while.