Kickstarting the Robot Apocalypse: Megabot Mark II v Kuratas

“You grew up hoping that the giant robot battles of science fiction would become real, and we did too. That dream is one year away” That is how Matt Oehlrein introduces the Kickstarter project that has been started in order to help fund upgrades on their giant robot. Why? Because Japan accepted their challenge for a fight.

Robots have been a part of pop culture for decades. Whether they are autonomous A.I run creations like Arnold Swarzenegger’s Terminator, sentient beings like Transformers or giant piloted suits like those in the Pacific Rim or the Gundam series, they’ve been a part of our entertainment and continue to excite. The team behind the fifteen foot tall twelve thousand pound Megabot Mark II are big fans too. And after building it they decided to challenge Japan to a fight with it. As it is wont to do the internet caught wind of the challenge and proceeded to lose its collective mind. It went viral (and it was specifically thrown my way by several friends) and caused plenty of buzz, but I think most didn’t see it as anything but a fun little challenge.

And then Japan accepted.

And now Megabots are looking to the people to help raise the money required to upgrade the robot. Part of Japan’s acceptance to the battle was that melee combat would be involved, and given the design and performance of the Mark II, they felt in its current shape it would be easy pickings. They’re after $500 000, with further upgrades planned if they can raise more. And while at last count they’re over $324 000 with a bit under a month to go, there’s a lot of work needed before these two behemoths go to battle, with tentative plans for the match to take place next year.

This could be some warped look into the future. Part of the concept art surrounding the proposed Mark II included a look into what a fighting league might look like. The artwork, depicting several large robots in an expansive dirt arena, looks like it should be something out of a sci fi book you’d find in a second hand shop. But think about it. If this fight goes ahead (and it seems like it will) then it would be stupid for media companies not to jump on board. A live PPV show similar to a boxing megafight (think Mayweather/Pacquio) would surely achieve massive buyrates, or an online streaming company like Youtube to could get on board to present it to the world.

Again, there are several models to compare when considering this. On top of the traditional human fight card design, ABC in America have brought back Battlebots, which was a popular 2000’s series which pitted remote controlled robots against each other in destructive warfare. If the Mark II v Kuratas (the robot representing Japan) fight is sold as a major event, several Battlebots matches could easily fill the undercard in order to provide more bulk to the show. This would be important, since nobody really knows how long a giant mech fight would actually last, and promising a bit more action would only help sales. It’s not unrealistic either, since several people on board with the Mark II upgrades includes those previously involved with the show.

You can’t tell me people wouldn’t pay to witness this event. In this current day and age, we don’t have too many opportunities to witness something never before seen. Even people who might not normally watch Terminator or Battlebots would potentially be invested in the event as a glimpse into the future of technology and the spectacle of ‘for the first time ever’. While we’re not quite talking about anything as big as the Moon Landing, it is possible that this battle could define the decade, and be a turning point in the future of robotics.

At the very least, the battle should at least draw in plenty of American support. While it is an American mech, the concept art for the upgraded Mark II is adorned in red white and blue, stars and stripes and even two eagle heads. It would be the literal embodiment of American patriotism, short of emulating the robot George Washington in Bioshock Infinite by placing a presidential mask on the cockpit. As the fight nears, American patriotism would likely be a big selling point in gathering support. The team behind Kuratas in Japan haven’t been shy on the national pride of the fight either. In their video accepting the challenge, Kogoru Kurata, CEO and creator of Suidobashi Heavy Industry, wears the Japanese flag over his shoulders and states that “Giant robots are Japanese culture.” He’s also not afraid to throw a jab or two back, mentioning that just making something big and throwing guns on it is so American.

The main problem with this fight I see is pilot safety. Both of these robots will be controlled by an internal pilot, and while that is decidedly ‘cooler’ than anything remote controlled (again, mech pilot is no doubt high on the list of desired fictional jobs, up there with Jedi Knight and Hogwarts teacher) it does mean lives will be at risk. Again, it is worth repeating. These are giant robots that will be adorned with weaponry, trying to destroy each other while people control it from within.
Yes there will be safety precautions, but the risk is still incredibly high (as would insurance premiums), especially since we’ve never seen anything like this before.

Whether we are seeing a glimpse into a Real-Steal future or a Pacific Rim one is unclear, but what is clear is that people will do what they can to make their childhood entertainment a reality. Back to the Future II, which sent Marty Mcfly into the (then) future of 2015, depicted futuristic Nike shoes and hoverboards. There was enough demand for Nike to release specially designed shoes this year based off the movie, and the demand for hoverboards have led to several real and hoax videos demonstrating the technology at work, even if it isn’t quite as was depicted in the movie. And while space travel isn’t as high on the agenda as it used to be (although projects like Mars One show that people are still keen to see it become a reality), we continue to see developments in technology that begin to reflect the visions of creative minds of the past. Giant robot warfare, whether as terrifying machines of war or as entertainment, could be that next reality.

If they sell the fight, you bet I’ll be one of the many people who would sign up to watch it. Even if Australia has no bot in the fight, I’m a sucker for the kind of grandiose spectacle and warped sci fi reality it would create. As for who would win? While obviously its too far out to know for sure, but it’s hard to back against anything built by the Japanese. Not only are they the masters of giant robotic forms of entertainment (I’ve been to the Robot Restaurant people) their machine currently looks far more polished, and they’re not reliant on crowdfunding to make it more potent. The Mark II still looks like a prototype, but the Kuratas already looks refined and ready. But the American underdog story is probably exactly what Megabots are after, and if they raise enough money the upgrades they have planned with make it a beast to be reckoned with. And if nothing else, it’ll make for a great movie in twenty/thirty years.

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