No Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Here: Behold A U.S. Vs. Japan Giant Robot Duel

Oct 17, 2017
Originally published on October 17, 2017 7:11 am

Two years ago an American robotics company challenged a Japanese robotics company to a duel.

Their weapons of choice? Giant robots.

This long-awaited match between the monstrous robots — built by MegaBots Inc. of the U.S. and by Suidobashi Heavy Industry of Japan — will be broadcast on Tuesday via the online steaming site, Twitch. It's billed as the "first ever giant robot fight."

"This is a personal dream of mine come to life," says engineer Gui Cavalcanti, MegaBots' co-founder. Cavalcanti tells Morning Edition host Rachel Martin that it was both "awesome" and "terrifying" to co-pilot the 16-foot-tall, 12-ton robot – named Eagle Prime – during the duel. Cavalcanti, and his co-pilot Matt Oehrlein, were actually inside the robot controlling where the robot went, what its legs and arms did, and deploying its weapons.

"We're sitting on top of 430 horsepower Corvette engine," Cavalcanti says. "You can actually feel the robot just kind of shaking and quaking around you as you get punched, as you lean into a turn, as you fire the weapons or throw a punch."

Eagle Prime can be outfitted with a range of weapons from cannons to a chain saw, Cavalcanti says. Its challenger, Kuratas, stands about 13-feet tall and weighs about 6.5 tons.

Though the duel was pre-taped in an abandoned steel mill in Japan back in September, NPR does not know who won. We do know that there will be multiple rounds of fighting and the winner will be decided when one robot becomes incapacitated.

But this is about more than just a giant robot fight and a battle for technological superiority. Cavalcanti says their goal is to form a new giant robot sports league and turn it into the next arena and stadium sport.

"So instead of going to watch boxing at an arena, you go to watch giant robots fight and you feel like you're living in the 21st century. Technology has caught up with the dream," he says. In turn, Cavalcanti says, he hopes seeing giant robots fight and compete will inspire kids to become engineers and scientists.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The age of giant, fighting robots.

MARTIN: The first-ever giant robot fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: On one side, Team USA. On the other side, we have team Japan.

MARTIN: And by giant, we mean 16 feet tall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Landing a huge right hook on the top vehicle there. And it comes crashing down.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Nice, nice, nice, nice, nice.

MARTIN: The robot fight is airing tonight on the online streaming site Twitch. Here to talk more about this literally groundbreaking event is Gui Cavalcanti of MegaBots, Inc. He is one of the pilots who actually navigated one of these robots that fought in the duel. Gui, thanks so much for being with us.

GUI CAVALCANTI: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: What in the world...

CAVALCANTI: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Spurred the idea to have giant robots fight each other?

CAVALCANTI: You know, we've seen decades and decades of science fiction - right? - all featuring these giant robots fighting. And, you know, me and my co-founder Matt, we're a couple of engineers who specialize in big equipment, and we realized we can actually make those dreams come to life.

MARTIN: I love it. So this is a dream - this is a personal dream of yours, now realized.

CAVALCANTI: Yes.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CAVALCANTI: This is a personal dream of mine come to life.

MARTIN: So just so people have a sense of this, I mean, we tried to give a sense of how big these things are, but what do the robots look like and what can they do, exactly?

CAVALCANTI: Yeah, so it looks like a very bulky, stocky human being with the red, white and blue all over it. Our robot, Eagle Prime, stands 16 feet tall. Matt and I are inside the robot.

MARTIN: Oh, both of you are inside?

CAVALCANTI: Yes.

MARTIN: Wow.

CAVALCANTI: It's a two-seater.

MARTIN: OK.

CAVALCANTI: I'm the driver in the back watching through monitors to see out of the robot. And then Matt is in the front.

MARTIN: What weapons does your robot have at its disposal?

CAVALCANTI: So let's see. We brought a couple of cannons, a missile launcher, claw, a giant 48-horsepower chainsaw to the fight.

MARTIN: How cool was it to be inside this thing? I mean, this is like if you've seen the movie "Iron Man," it's kind of like that, right? You'd be navigating...

CAVALCANTI: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...The robot from inside.

CAVALCANTI: It's awesome. It's terrifying. We're sitting on top of a 430-horsepower Corvette engine.

MARTIN: Wow.

CAVALCANTI: So it's like you're sitting in a redlining supercar. And you can actually feel the robot kind of just shaking and quaking around you as you get punched, as you, like, lean into a turn, as you fire the weapons or throw a punch. Like, everything's moving around you.

MARTIN: It's dangerous to live your dreams, Gui. It is dangerous to live your dreams.

CAVALCANTI: (Laughter) That's exactly right.

MARTIN: So this is all insanely fun, but work with me, Gui.

CAVALCANTI: Yeah.

MARTIN: Was there some larger scientific mission at work here?

CAVALCANTI: Our goal at MegaBots is to start a sports league of these robots. So the next step is really, you know, take this concept and make it into the next big arena and stadium sport. It's about what you consume as entertainment being inspirational. Are you going to want to be the NFL player and have a .0001 percent chance of actually making money playing in the NFL?

Or are you going to get inspired to be an engineer or a scientist because you see giant robots fight and you think it's the coolest thing ever? And then you see that these didn't come from nothing. These came from a couple of people dreaming and deciding that they could just do it.

MARTIN: Gui Cavalcanti, he is CEO of MegaBots, Inc. The first-ever giant robot fight is going to be streamed online on Twitch.tv tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks so much for talking with us, Gui.

CAVALCANTI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.