While drones and batmobiles might be making waves at CES 2016 in Last Vegas, another type of robot is vying for a place in the sun — or at least in the robo ring. MegaBots, Inc., an Oakland-based firm with the mission of turning the idea of two huge robots duking it out into a bonafide international sport, will pitch its concept onstage at Las Vegas' notorious Venetian luxury hotel on Friday, Jan. 8, to none other than Virgin Group founder and investor Sir Richard Branson.
Well, not exactly to Branson — the MegaBots team is pitching for Branson as an endgame at the semi-finals for the Extreme Tech Challenge, an annual competition that "brings together targeted resources and world class advisers to help high-energy, wicked-smart entrepreneurs that are executing on big ideas," according to its website.
MegaBots, Inc. was selected as one of the top 10 contenders back in November; the top three selected will be presented before Branson on Necker Island later this year for the top prize. According to a message and press release sent to Tech Times by MegaBots co-founder Brinkley Warren, its firm has a "One in seven chance of investment from Sir Richard Branson" with the intention of "build[ing] an international sports league of giant fighting robots."
MegaBots made waves in 2015 when it completed the Mark II (or Mk. II) battlebot, a gasoline-powered 15-foot, 12,000-pound giant internally-piloted robot equipped with heavy paintball artillery. The team then challenged the only other battlebot design company and producer in the world, Suidobashi Heavy Industries, to an international robot duel in a delightfully, absurdly American fashion, with co-founders Matt Oerhlin and Gui Calvacanti donning aviators and American flags as capes in a video invitation to their Japanese rival, which the MegaBots team posted on YouTube.
Suidobashi replied in a similar fashion via video post, upping the ante with some flag-wearing and Japanese pride of its own.
Right now, MegaBots, Inc. has about $500,000 to its name to put toward its dream, all of it raised with the help of a Kickstarter campaign this past fall.
"This is what the world has dreamt about for 20 years," said Oerhlein in an official company statement. "MegaBots is taking all of the cutting-edge robotics research that's been happening behind closed doors, and busting it through the wall in the most epic entertainment phenomenon of our generation."
The crew also plans to exhibit Mk. II on Jan. 9 at the Xtreme Drone Racing Championship, located at Zappos' corporate headquarters, where the bot will participate in a race against drones, in a bit of a John Henry-esque twist. The event marks the first of its kind.
So, what's the allure of these dueling bots? When it gets right down to it, a joyous, childlike and nostalgic impulse — one that can't be ignored any longer.
"An entire generation grew up with these machine characters in video games and on movie and TV screens," said Cavalcanti. "We know people want to see this happen, and we know it may seem improbable and ridiculous, but that's exactly what we do at MegaBots — we are building the sports league of the future, one epic robot at a time."