The #GiantRobotDuel

The #GiantRobotDuel

Zachary Johnson, Writer

Back in June of 2015, Facebook and Twitter alike were flooded with posts and tweets about a “giant robot duel.” Apparently, around that time, an American robots group Megabots, Inc., completed “America’s first fully functional giant piloted robot.” Their robot, the Mk. II, featured a massive paintball cannon on one arm and a plethora of smaller paintball launching tubes on the other. Suidobashi Heavy Industry, a Japanese organization, had also built their own robot, the Kuratas. Kuratas was smaller than the Mk. II, though fast and far more advanced. While the Mk. II and its successor the Mk. III required a two man crew to operate and was controlled by a number of joysticks and flight throttles. Kuratas was also shorter and had a wider base, featuring two large wheels in the back and two smaller wheels in the front, whereas Mk. II and Mk. III each had tracks like those found on large tractors.

So, as you might expect from two groups with giant fighting robots, a duel was arranged. The duel was set to take place sometime in the near future while Megabots, Inc. and Suidobashi improved and streamlined their robots. Megabots, Inc. periodically released videos detailing their progress over time. Apparently, they had picked up some pretty major sponsors over that time, including Autodesk, a 3D modelling software, Parker, a motion controls supplier, and a few others. As update videos streamed in, it seemed like Megabots, Inc. realized that they were at a pretty major disadvantage. Around a year ago, Megabots, Inc. released the first video about the Mk. III on their YouTube channel. The Mk. III (or the “Eagle Prime” as it was also called) was an absolute monster compared to its predecessor. The Mk. III was twice as heavy, almost twice as wide, five times as fast, had eighteen times more horsepower, featured modular and easily replaceable arms to switch weapons in a cinch, a plastic or fiber cockpit (instead of a wire mesh) and, perhaps most importantly, a massive metal eagle head. As for armaments, the Mk. III could carry a logging grapple, a four foot chainsaw, or a double-barreled paintball cannon. Kuratas, as far as I could tell, remained relatively unchanged, as the duel’s broadcast date was announced: October 17th, 2017.

The duel date rolls around. I’m at home getting ready for school the next day, and, as I’m scrolling through Twitter, I come across a few tweets anticipating the fight. I decided to tune in around 9 to get ready for the duel at 9:35. While I waited for the action to start, I noticed the chat on the right side of the screen was filled with hype. Thousands of Twitch viewers (where the fight was streamed) flooded the little chat box with emotes, predictions, and even small donations to Megabots, Inc.

Once 9:35 hit, everything went silent. The pre-fight hype videos stopped, and even the chat seemed to almost halt for a moment. Then, a ten second countdown appeared, ushering in a pretty pretentious video, claiming this was “the dawn of age,” talking about how hand to hand fighting has taken place over centuries as black and white footage of sumo wrestling and martial arts training. The video tried to intertwine clips of martial artists flipping people over their shoulders and slamming them to the ground with footage of the robots punching things, which was the first of many presentation failures in the “Giant Robot Duel.”

After the video ended, the stream cut to MMA fight commentator Mike Goldberg introducing the arena for the duel, an old, vacant building once used as a steel mill. He then introduced his co-host, Saura Naderi, a robotics engineer for Qualcomm Thinkabit. Once Saura and Mike said a few words about the events, Mike announced that Kuratas would be fighting both of Megabots, Inc.’s robots, Mk. II and Mk. III, in separate rounds. Then, they sent it over to their sideline reporter (after a rough editing cut) Mari Takahashi, who is also the host and executive producer for Smosh Games, a relatively popular YouTube channel.

Around this point, the Twitch chat realized that this wasn’t going to be a live battle. That wasn’t a major surprise, as these robots had to be piloted so it probably would have been prerecorded to ensure safety, but the extent to which it would be scripted was unknown. As Mari walked across what looked like the equivalent of the pits, the American technicians and team members would get up from their folding metal chair and do something a tad more interesting, as if someone had said “just look busy.” Once Mari finished her walk past tables of uniformed engineers, she sent it back to Mike and Saura with the first chat-enraging quote of the stream: “It is gonna be a dope battle!”

From there, the stream featured interviews with team leaders from both teams, featuring Gui Cavalcanti Matt Oehrlein for America and Kogoro Kurata for Japan. Unlike the first video at the beginning of the stream, the interview videos were far more sincere, authentic, and most importantly, unscripted. After Mike went over the rules for the first duel between Kuratas and Mk. II, a clip played of Mari interviewing Megabots, Inc. team leads Gui and Matt. While Matt and Gui handled the questions well, there seemed to be no escaping the wrath of the Twitch chat. For example, Mari asked Gui if he saw any major flaws in Kuratas. He replied, “Yeah, I would say, uhh… everything.” Before anyone in the chat could react to it, Mari replied, “Oooh! Them’s be fightin’ words!” which, while may have been just a little cringey, only added suspicions that most of the interview was scripted. A storm of criticisms and horrible jokes followed.

It should be noted that it didn’t seem like anyone really disliked Mari, and most viewers didn’t blame her personally for what she said. She presented effectively and clearly, like you’d expect from a sideline reporter, but what really angered everyone was the delivery of some of her (probably prewritten) lines. They came off so awkwardly, as if they were shoehorned in, like some producer was trying to make it “hip” and “cool for the kids.”

Finally, after two years of hype, it was time for the first duel. The camera opened on Mike Goldberg and Saura Naderi back in their studio as they gave quick rundowns of each robot. Once again, nothing major to note. By this point, the Twitch chat, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube Live were losing their collective minds in unison. For two years avid fans across the world waited for this very fight, and here it was. This wasn’t just a feat for robot fighting. This was a feat for the internet to share. No one believed this would ever happen. It was just too good to be true.

The duel began with the Mk. II, Megabots, Inc.’s first robot and Kuratas standing opposite each other in the steel mill. An airhorn sounded, and Kuratas rushed towards Mk. II with its massive 600lb fist extended outwards. Mk. II fires one round out of its cannon, but it seems to break apart on firing, and barely leaves a mark on Kuratas’ glossy red paint. Not even a second after the round deflected, Kuratas turned its torso 90° so that the fist was extended straight out, like a stiff arm in football. Kuratas’ hit landed square in the middle of the cockpit. The world seemed to stop for an instant. Then, Mk. II toppled backwards on its short little tracks (link to the full round).


That was it?

TWO YEARS of hype and all we got was 18 seconds of mediocrity? Needless to say, no one was happy.

“This was so anticlimactic,” said one YouTube commenter.

“That was idiotic. [It was] like two garbage cans on wheels bumping into each other,” said a second.