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giantrobotduel-promo MegaBots/ YouTube

USA Wins Giant Robot Brawl, Leaves People Wanting More

MegaBots finally aired its fight with Japan, which offered surprises, devastation, and ultimately, a solid proof of concept for a giant robot sports league.

The tech geek world hyped it for more than two years, and now it's over. The pre-recorded Giant Robot Duel came and went, underwhelming those expecting Pacific Rim-style fisticuffs, but delivering a fascinating 30 minutes (with limited commercial interruptions) of engineering envelope pushing. It also clearly demonstrated that with more funding and rules, MegaBots' plans for a giant robot fighting league are not only doable, but inevitable.

[Skip to the end to view the fight. Spoilers below]





No one died, cars were flung, lighting stanchions used as spinning shields, and robots got knock out and ripped apart. If you expected more from the first ever robot fight, well, life is going to be very hard and lonely for you, kiddo.

If you saw this as a modest, measured approach to a future technosport and are now researching Arduino to build your own bigger, better robot, well, then congratulations. You win.

As for the fight, MegaBots' Eagle Prime emerged with victorius over Suidobashi Heavy Industry's formidable Kuratas.  The red, white, and blue bruiser had twice the weight on its red-sun hued opponent, 12 vs. 6.5 tons —and two pilots, co-founders Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oerhlein, as opposed to Kuratas, piloted by its maker, Kogoru Kurata. Oh, and that rock trencher attachment gave them the literal and figurative edge.

There's not much the lighter bot could do with its Hellboy-like fist ensnared by Eagle Prime's logger grapple while the "Evil Dead" chainsaw hand went to work on Kuratas' extremities.

Starz Entertainment/ Universal Pictures

Essentially what the fight came down to.

The fight, in which only the teams' engineers, camera crew and announcers were present, was called before Kuratas sustained any more serious (expensive) damage.

As promised ahead of time, the match moved slowly at times, as combat vehicles the size of construction equipment are wont to do around humans. It all came down to the robots tangled in a clinch, slowly trying to bash each other to pieces, which isn’t all that different from MMA.

You could also see certain rules of engagement were instituted to protect the fighters' safety, as any actual sport would do. You can’t hit below the belt in boxing, so wisely, the pilots avoided direct hits to each other's cockpit.

Cavalcanti said in the following live Q&A that the intent was always to destroy the other bot, not murder the other driver. It's for that reason the chain sword was chosen, as it was more deliberate and controllable than the "Dentist Drill" they had experimented with. To still use weapons like this, maybe a remote-controlled sub-sport could be developed, or just have people on death row as the pilots.

The bout led off with an amuse-bouche of sorts: the OG MegaBot, the Mark II, now called Iron Glory, vs. Kuratas, now sporting 1.5-ton left fist. The track-based Iron Glory and four-wheeled Kuratas were in the same weight class, but nowhere near the same league. In a Medieval Times-like joust, Kuratas charged at the sluggish mech with an outstretched fist as a battering ram. Iron Glory missed a few wild shots from its paintball canon before the Japanese speedster, which can reach 18 mph, landed a solid blow. The mech immediately fell backwards, landing hard on the abandoned steel mill's concrete floor.

Cavalcanti and Oehrlein pushed out the escape the hatch and appeared dazed and disappointed, like a rookie quarterback getting sacked on his first play.

Oehrlein asked if anyone smelled gasoline, before giving his succinct opinion of the round: "That sucked."

This quick defeat should not have surprised anyone, as the unmodified Iron Glory is a glorified prop compared to the highly sophisticated Japanese bot. And even if this this was staged undercard, a way to show off Kuratas' speed and strength against an inferior opponent, nothing about that fall was fake. It was the equivalent of getting blindsided by an Asian elephant running top speed.

In reality, the next fight began the next day, with the MegaBots' crew now manning the 16-foot, 12-ton Eagle Prime. Featuring the very best in hydraulic actuators from Parker Hannifin, modular arms fitted with a logging grapple and double-barreled canon, respectively, and a 430-hp Corvette engine dropped in a light tank base, it was ready for retribution.

The field of battle now had piles of junked cars scattered about, Kuratas using a wall of steel drums as cover. Oehrlein, the gunner, landed a few shots to knock away the barrels and expose the enemy. Kuratas, not without its own trick, launched a drone. Eagle Prime swatted it easily, though it crash-landed right on the cockpit window, white smoke billowing from its carcass, obstructing Cavalcanti's view.

The two bots finally engaged in mech-to-mech melee combat, Kuratas landing a few hits before eagle Prime grabbed it giant fist with its logger grapple and fired its cannon, painting Kuratas' torso pink. The fight was halted when it was determined the two were locked together.

The next day MegaBots regrouped with the chainsaw hand, which would be the right tool for the job.

If the fight had been live streamed, MegaBots says the fight would have taken several hours due to repairs between rounds and mostly involve an engineer turning a wrench. And if there had been a crowd, the match would have more restrictions on it or be extremely dangerous.

The giant robots' tussle led to staging crumbling apart, chasing the announcers from their desk. They may have been a bit overly dramatic in that moment, but it did highlight a serious safety concern for the sport going forward. When a basketball player leaps into the stands, someone may get smooshed and lose their hot dog. If a mech veers off course, someone could lose their life.

That's the appeal, though. Size and strength previously unseen in sport or combat, played out for decades by anyone with an action figure and overactive imagination. Now it's real.

"When you're in it, everything is malleable," Cavalcanti said. "The world is a cardboard box you could punch through."

In one exciting Anime moment, MegaBots ripped a giant light fixture out to use as a makeshift shield to defend against a barrage of paintballs, and then rotated its wrist to spin it like a bo staff. That's the kind of thing we were hoping to see, and we did.

And like any good form of entertainment, it left everyone wanting more. And with at least two dozen prospective robot teams wanting to take down Eagle Prime, it looks like this battle was only the beginning.

And here's the fight!

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