abandon all hope ye robots who enter


 Le Monde

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Article in Le Monde on 9/26/2001

(funny english automatic computer translation!)

New gladiateurs
Edition of Wednesday September 26 2001

The robots will be perhaps the stars of our future televised evenings

They are called Diesector, Raptor or Red Scorpion. They are made of steel and electronics, and have only one vocation: to destroy " They ", they are the battlebots , or combat robots. Conceived by impassioned amateurs, these machines not like the others are the subject of a strong passion, in particular on the other side of the Atlantic. With the difference of the domestic robots standard Aïbo, these remote-controlled monsters clash in combat organized by specialized companies. For the greatest pleasure of the witnesses who, on the spot or in front of their television, attend these metal combat. Battlebots Inc, created by two robotics engineers amateurs, Trey Roski and Greg Munson, is one of these companies. Since 1999, it organizes successfully of the regular tournaments, retransmitted on several chains of television in the United States (Comedy Central), in Great Britain (BBC 2) or in New Zealand (Premium TV). precedes some time which more is.

Not less than 650 robots took part in the last Battlebots competition, organized between May and August 2001. Lines in several categories - " lightweights " (less 30kg) with " heavy super-weights " (until 170kg), the machines compete of ingeniousness to secure the victory. Equipped with wheels, caterpillars or multiple legs mimant of the insects, all have at least a weapon. Circular saws, pneumatic scraping-knives or other " crushing " pistons are some of the solutions imagined to inflict, as soon as possible, of the fatal " wounds " to the other machines.

The engagements are held according to a quite precise ritual. The soldiers take seat in " the arena ", a vast metal cage designed, according to organizers' " to outside ensure the maximum of security and greatest torture inside " . In the facts, the cage is truffée passive traps, in particular piles steel foundation, or random release like pneumatic jacks or circular saws emerging from the ground.

Jason " Dante " Bardis, thirty years, is an engineer and researcher in mechanical engineering in California. It is him which gained edition 2001 of the competition. Impassioned robots since its youth, it created Infernolab, a unipersonal company dedicated to the manufacture of combat robots. " All started like a hobby, but it became my second work " , explains it. Participant in many competitions for more than five years, it has enjoyed his victory. " I was moved so much that I spent several months to be carried out " , remembers it.

With the image of Jason Bardis, all the craftsmen robotics engineers, set on mechanics and electronics, devote the essence of their spare time to the clothes industry of complex machines. " Battlebots was always a place privileged for the engineers, the programmers or the scientists " , estimates Greg Munson, the president of the company. Sometimes helped by sponsors who, as in Formule1, can place publicity stickers on the robots, they imagine machines which will become, perhaps, the heroes of a mechanical combat.

For iconoclastes that they can appear, the combat of robots are a serious activity. At Battlebots, one makes business, and even show business. " appearance external of the robots must reflect the image of a clean sports activity although aggressive " , specifies one of the persons in charge, recalling to the passage that the robots must be " suitable " for television, and publicities which they display " of good taste " . Nothing thus is left randomly and especially not the economic model. " the incomes which I draw from my robots became higher than my wages " , estimates Jason D.Bardis. If Battlebots perceives royalties of the chains TV, the derived products form part of the plans of the company for its development. Last August, the first range of Battlebots toys, reproducing in miniature the real robots, thus was born. And of the licensing agreements were already signed, intended for the creation of video games soon available on the Nintendo consoles.

The combat of robots thus has a real commercial potential. Robot Wars, one of the competitors of Battlebots, diffuses already its engagements on seventeen world televised chains, in the United States, in Europe and Asia. Moreover, the probable input of the large companies like Sony or Honda in the competition undoubtedly will amplify the movement. The American consortium Robot-Price thus proposes a reward at which will develop an autonomous and anthropomorphic robot, evolving/moving on two legs, able to be measured with the remote-controlled machines of Battlebots or Wars Robot. A lump sum several million dollars - a million as of this year, two from 2002 - could thus be empochée by the creators of this ultimate cybergladiator.

In France, one of the principal competitions of robots is the French Cut of robotics, organized each year by emission " E=M6 " and the ANSTJ (national Association of sciences and technology for youth). The robots must be autonomous there and clash in general on imposed courses where they must carry out certain actions (to burst balloons or to place flags at precise places). The Cut gave only once the occasion of direct confrontations between robots, in 1994, via a tournament of sumos. For the moment, no televised competition is envisaged in France. But there is extremely to bet that, if the combat of robots prove that they are not a momentary fashion, French televisions will be interested closely in these funny of machines.







Cyril Fievet

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