OAKLAND, Calif.—As far as mass entertainment goes, giant robots smashing each other should be a sure bet. Turns out, there’s a lot of kinks to work out first.
On Sunday, MegaBots, a Hayward, California-based company (approximately 19 miles south of Oakland) that builds these robo-gladiators, held its second live event. It was an experiment of sorts. Instead of a robo-battle, it was more of a droid demolition derby, with MegaBots flagship mech Eagle Prime smashing appliances, a piano, and for the grand finale, a Chevy Astro van.
“The long-term vision at MegaBots is to have robot battles in stadium-sized arenas,” Matt Oehrlein, CEO of MegaBots, told Ars.
Previously, MegaBots had faced off against a Japanese team last year—but since then there have been no public demos.
“This kind of event is new for us,” Oehrlein said. “We’re still testing things out and trying to see what resonates with the audience. This one was super scripted; we had actors and characters, a lot more theatrics.”
The theatrics took the form of running patter on the robots themselves and their designs from both Oehrlein and another host, and also a loose plot that wove through the event. Eagle Prime, the “Prince of Privacy” was battling the evil robot Zork Muckerborg, who wanted to steal the audiences’ data.
But you don’t come to an event like this for the plot, you come for the bot.
Eagle Prime is a truly impressive machine, but once you see a giant robot in action, you quickly realize why huge mechs are generally found on film screens and not battlefields. The robot is slow. Extremely slow. Powered by hydraulics and a 430hp V8 Corvette engine, Eagle Prime can trundle across the pavement at a reasonable clip, but motions—especially the swings of its arms—take ages to execute. There was a fair amount of time just waiting for the mech to start moving.
Whether it’s a factor of the complicated hydraulics or the fact that the two pilots driving the mech can only see the outside world through external cameras, the mech’s movements were also clumsy, and it missed its targets as often as it connected with them. Which is a shame, because when it does connect, it’s thrilling.
We didn’t expect watching a mech crush a washing machine with a giant claw would be so entertaining, and when it jammed a giant chainsaw through the windshield of the van we wanted to cheer. There are the seeds of something amazing here, and with better controls and a faster pace it’s easy to imagine this sort of event becoming a phenomenon.
Unfortunately, MegaBots has been frank about being nearly out of money, and at this point it barely has the cash to improve its mechs and sort out some bugs (Eagle Prime simply turned off without warning twice) or even just to keep the lights on.
Despite this, the Oakland event felt like a success. MegaBots may be able to use events like this to develop its brand and build an audience, and if nothing else we hope giant robots will soon be battling it out at a nearby arena.
Check out the video from the event on MegaBots’ YouTube page.