SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Apr 5, 2013 -- Killer robots are hardly the first MCAD application you think of but here is Mark Setrakian, designer and creator of SyFy network’s Robot Combat League, at Autodesk’s very popular Design Night1 showing me how his creations –- one of which has an axe for a head – are designed to win in robot-vs-robot competitions. The robots are actually controlled by a human being doing the same motions. Think about it, says Mark. This could actually replace human-vs-human gladiatorial combat, such as the increasing popular UFC fights, thereby saving human beings from being brain injury, which he says is being increasing associated with the sport. And designing robots is also just plain fun. Sure beats designing pumps and speed reducers.
Mark has been making killer robots and winning the heavy weight division (machines between 220 and 340 lbs) so often that he qualifies as a superstar in the combat robot world. These guys have been staging matches pitting mechanical monsters against each other for years, on stages, with large and boisterous crowds. I hadn’t even known this “sport” existed. I must get out more.
Seeing menacing looking robots surrounded by fleshy, vulnerable humans makes my concern for safety kick in but Mark assures me there is no danger. I think that’s what Dr Frankenstein said. But there is a kill switch, and the robots are on a tether. No one in the audience has died yet. I think.
Unlike the FIRST competitions in which high schoolers pit robots against each other, battle robots are decidedly more more Hollywood. This is not by accident. Mark’s creations have actually been in Hollywood movies. He lists Men in Black, Hell Boy, M Night Shamalyan’s Lady in the Water, for which he made a robotic grass dog, others… It seems that the best and brightest makers of the battle robots could hope for stardom in the entertainment industry.
Designing battel robots was looking less like child's play and more like a not-so-bad career choice. But even if you still think it's all fun and games, Mark’s creation have also served in bomb disposal squads for police forces. But Mark seems to draw the line when it comes to helping the military – the other big buyer of robotic technology2.
1Autodesk’s Design Nights are held once a month at the Autodesk's San Francisco Gallery. Situated in a choice location with views of the bay and the Bay Bridge, Design Nights are popular with the public. For $20, every one gets to see some show (tonight, robots) and unlimited food and drink. It's practically the best deal in town. Does it hurt that the public gets to see what Autodesk software is actually used in cool and interesting applications?
2Wired for War, by PW Singer - an excellent book on how the military is getting increasingly roboticised.