Imagine you are a robot. You are minding your own business, perhaps shooting some soda cans in the backyard with your Gatling rapid-fire gun, or swinging by the grocer’s to pick up some milk. You have no robot friends because you are one of a kind, created by your master in 2012 and regularly tinkered with ever since, in his metal shop in Tokyo.
Or so you think. Shattering your illusion, a video arrives out of the blue via the Internet and, lo, some upstart in America you have never heard of challenges you to a duel.
This isn’t, believe it or not, some sci-fi storyline. The metal-crunching, bullet-spraying melees you saw in films such as the 2011 blockbuster Real Steel is set to arrive at a stadium. Think a mechatronic version of the Ultimate Fight Championship, with the battle between aggressor Megabots Inc’s Mark II and defender Suidobashi Heavy Industries’ Kuratas due to take place some time later this year, at a yet-undisclosed location.
It will be the prizefight of the century.
“Just building something huge and sticking guns on it… It’s super-American.”
Suidobashi’s CEO/Founder Kogoro Kurata
While the Mark II’s 5.4-tonne, 4.5m-tall frame appears to put it at an advantage over the Kuratas’ 4-tonne, 4m-tall one, its late entry into the game means it has a lot to catch up on, compared to its Japanese foe. The initial build of the Mark II was laughably rudimentary, with a severely underpowered 24bhp engine providing it a glacial top speed of 4 kmh.
The Kuratas’ 10kmh maximum velocity will have it run rings around the Mark II. And, while the Mark II is equipped only with paintballs, the Kuratas has the aforementioned BB-pellet-filled Gatling gun, a launcher that can fire water bottles or fireworks, a handgun and a pile bunker.
It also has its own proprietary operating system and can be manoeuvred remotely by iPhone, through the motion-sensing Kinect controller or directly by human action through a multi-sensor glove. Plus, inspired by its creator’s childhood fascination of a 1980s anime called Armored Trooper Votoms, it just looks uber cool.
Megabots Inc isn’t sitting still. It is using the year between challenge (which was issued last July) and duel to beef up its Mark II robot with the help of software company Autodesk and space agency Nasa. Military contractor Howe & Howe is even preparing an upgraded 340bhp V8 engine for the robot.
No matter how the fight plays out, the larger implication is whether we are witnessing the dawn of a new type of entertainment for a generation who grew up with action figures. Will it augment or even supplant the demand for traditional sports such as soccer or Formula One? For investors in these billion-dollar industries, this is one battle worth watching.