My heart stopped when the robot fell over. How dare you!
That's what Gui Cavalcanti's mom texted him while watching the Giant Robot Duel in mid-October, right after the Japanese robot Kuratas crashed into the mech her son built at full speed. With an outstretched fist like a battering ram, the 6.5-ton Kuratas knocked the MegaBot named Iron Glory straight back, along with Cavalcanti and co-pilot Matt Oehrlein with it.
Cavalcanti, a former mechanical engineer at Boston Dynamics and founder of one of the country's largest makerspaces, Artist's Asylum, spent years designing and testing this giant robot, the first MegaBot.
Now he and the rest of the MegaBots team were in a nearly empty Japanese steel mill, fulfilling the challenge he and co-founder Oehrlein threw down via a 2015 YouTube video to Suidobashi Heavy Industry and Japanese roboticist Kogoru Kurata. They were very brash and bold, emulating the very best (and what the rest of the world may say is the very worst) of American swagger. And Kogoru, piloting Kuratas, seemed intent to make them pay for their hubris with pain.
For that brief moment in time, even strapped snuggly into their own 6-ton robot, bravado was in short supply for the duo.
"When you see this 600-lb. metal fist coming at you, it's a very different story," says Cavalcanti, who steered Iron Glory's track base.
"I didn't know Kurtas was going to move so quickly," says Oehrlein, the gunner who got off a few wild paintball shots during the bum rush. "I kind of knew it was going to be a bloodbath."
There was no real blood in this battle, the first ever combat between giant piloted mechs, unless you think anime is real, in which case there have been thousands. Both sides agreed to take measures not to kill each other, and MegaBots reinforced the cockpit to take the impact.
"The worst part was not so much the fall— the seats flex a little bit," Oehrlein explains. "It was basically when you're in the robot hanging upside down waiting for the crew to get us out."
Aside from terrifying Mrs. Cavalcanti and probably Mrs. Oehrlein, the guys came out dazed but unscathed. Then they climbed in their mechanical magnum opus, Eagle Prime, a 12-ton, 16-ft. robot constructed from the latest and greatest in American industrial controls and components.
|Look, ma! They're OK!|
Using a giant trencher, a.k.a. the "Chain of Command," Eagle Prime avenged the earlier defeat by hacking off bits of Kurata's hand and chest.
Millions watched the live stream on Twitch.tv, posted later on YouTube, where it currently has 3.7 million views. Many were disappointed that the fight wasn't live, it looked staged, that MegaBots had an unfair advantage with two pilots, there wasn't enough destruction, and many more gripes pouring in from all recesses of the Internet.
As this fight was always a proof of concept for an actual robot combat league that would merge the engineering of Formula 1 racing and brutality of UFC, MegaBots gladly absorbed all the criticism, for at least none of these trolls could hurt them with a giant robot.
All that is about to change, though.
MegaBots has just announced that they are hosting the "World's 1st Giant Fighting Robot Tournament" near the end of 2018. Planned to take place LIVE in an as-of-yet unnamed arena in the San Francisco Bay area, this tournament will pit four, and possibly eight, giant robots against each other for global bragging rights and prize money.
Eagle Prime, of course, will be there to defend its title, and MegaBots says at least 20 teams internationally have expressed interest. These include two impressive Chinese contenders: Yamantaka from Fighting My Bots, and Monkey King from GREATMETAL. Other fighters may emerge from Canada, South Korea, the United States, and Japan. (Kuratas strikes back, perhaps?)
Crowdfunding is what got MegaBots battle ready, and showed investors people really wanted this, so MegaBots is holding out its giant metal hat again, hoping the public will collectively pitch in $950,000 on Kickstarter to fund the tournament.
Pledge here: MegaBots Kickstarter Campaign
Pledges start at $5, with a $15 donation earning you voting rights. Combining democracy and giant fighting robots is a brilliant idea, and thinking about it nearly brings to tear to my eye.
Here's how that breaks down:
- rules and regulations of our sport
- direction of MegaBots R&D
- aesthetics of the arena and show
- which teams attend the tournament
- which new teams get financial assistance
Now, what you are probably most interested in is how the hell can you get a ticket to the mayhem?
For $125, you get a ticket, along with previous merch rewards including
- Name On Our Website
- Digital Wallpaper Pack
- Voting Rights
- 4-in. Die-Cut Sticker OR 4" Iron-On Patch
- 18x24-in. Poster
For $3,450, you get a bunch of merch, two VIP tickets, and get to drive around Eagle Prime at Megabot's Hayward, Calif. headquarters, codenamed Fortress One.
The more money that is raised, the more MegaBots will be able to do. Raising $2.5 million will ensure eight teams fight, while $5 million will allow MegaBots to build walking mechs, as opposed to wheeled or track-based ones.
Conversely, failure to raise the $950,000 will shut the whole damn thing down.
"This Kickstarter is as much about funding a historic event as it is sending a message to investors and media companies that people want to see giant robots battle it out in a live sport," MegaBots says in a press release. "The stakes are as high as possible — if this campaign is unsuccessful, MegaBots will likely close its doors for good."
Considering how emotionally people responded to the first fight, positively and negatively, creating a huge live tournament that addresses all the earlier issues is likely to generate the necessary revenue.
That's great news for robot enthusiasts, but not so much for Cavalcanti's mom.
"We definitely want to keep pilots inside," says Cavalcanti. They did however, rig Iron Glory for remote control earlier this month for a scrimmage with Eagle Prime. Prime did not take it easy on its older brother, It played out like a robot version of the Black Knight fight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. ruptured hoses spewing hydraulics from Iron Glory's shoulder. It was merely a flesh wound, though.
Even with all the funding, don't expect Pacific Rim-style devastation any time soon. The goal is entertainment through engineering, not high-tech Roman Coliseum carnage.
"To be honest, the level of destruction [many people] want can’t be achieved," Cavalcanti says. "You don’t want to spend $1 million to repair a robot every time it fights."
To meet MegaBots co-founders Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein in person, register now for IndustryWeek's Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo May 8-10 in Raleigh, N.C., where NED will hold a panel discussion and Q&A with the roboticists.