In popular culture, “mecha” is a term usually used to refer to the giant robots of science fiction. The term originated in Japan, as an abbreviation of the word “mechanical,” and is associated with franchises like Pacific Rim or BattleTech.
For decades, fans of this genre have imagined what a fight between giant robots would look like in real life. According to The Verge, they won’t need to imagine for much longer, as next Tuesday, October 17, what is proclaimed as the first ever giant robot duel will be streamed through Twitch to the entire world at 7 p.m. Pacific Time.
The duel pits the American-made Eagle Prime, manufactured by MegaBots Inc., against the Japanese Kuratas, from Suidobashi Heavy Industries. Contrary to other sports, the duel has no point system. Instead, the victor is decided by simply tipping over or disabling the other machine.
The MMA commentator, Mike Goldberg, and Saura Naderi, a robotics expert, will provide commentary for the duel.
This event and the concept of jumpstarting a new sport of mechanized robot battles is revolutionary, but there are competitions that can be described as equally strange. For example, the Russian Army has been hosting a multinational tank biathlon every year since 2013.
However, this robot duel may not be what the fans imagine it to be.
The event itself originated from Guy Cavalcanti, Matt Oehrlein, and Brinkley Warren’s vision of creating the first championship of giant robot fighting. To do this they established MegaBots Inc, raising $3.85 million from several investors, like Autodesk, Azure Capital or Maveron.
In the summer of 2015, in order to jumpstart the concept, MegaBots issued a challenge to Suidobashi Heavy Industries. This Japanese firm had also created a piloted giant robot, the Kuratas, back in 2012.
The Japanese accepted the challenge, but only if the battle also included hand-to-hand combat alongside the ranged weapons. This meant that the MegaBots’ machine would need to be upgraded, so a Kickstarter campaign was launched in order to do this. MegaBots also partnered with Howe and Howe Technologies, NASA and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
These initiatives were also accompanied by a web series and publicity aimed at further promoting the concept of a league of giant robot fighting and MegaBots itself.
Given all of this, what are the contenders for this Tuesday’s duel, after all?
MegaBots will present their very own Eagle Prime. Standing 16 feet tall when fully upright, it also weights 12 tons. However, it is not a truly walking vehicle. The humanoid torso and legs stand on a tracked platform powered by a 480 horsepower LS3 V8 engine.
Its opponent, the Kuratas, was created by Kogoro Kurata and Wataru Yoshizaki. The Japanese machine weighs around six tons and stands 13 feet tall, Engadget reports. Contrary to the Eagle Prime, it mounts four articulated legs with wheels. Arguably, the Kuratas should be much nimbler than the American machine, at the cost of being potentially less durable.
Both robots feature armored cockpits to protect their pilots. They are also equipped with high-powered air guns and close combat weapons like claws and chainsaws. However, Cavalcanti assured that these weapons are made to damage metal, but not to puncture it.
This probably means that the robots are capable of hurting each other, but not of causing the kind of damage that would injure the pilots. This is very important, because given the ambition to turn this event into a full-blown sport, pilot safety is a prime concern.
Both machines are still a far cry of their science-fiction counterparts, though, and are comparatively much slower and not very agile. Instead of a dance of fury akin to what one would see in a Gundam show, audiences will most probably be presented with something more like a Rock’em Sock’em Robots fight.
According to MegaBots, such a fight cannot be ‘livestreamed like a traditional sport,’ meaning that the rounds had to be spread out through several days to account for repairs and maintenance. This means that by this point the duel has already happened. Thus, the streaming will be an edited version of the fight.
There is the hope that this event may still spark something larger. A walking robot fighting league would be something never seen in the history of sports, and herald a new era of highly advanced motorsports.
[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]