This is all assuming Kogoro Kuratas—the Anime-in-spired maker of Japan’s giant mech—and his army of
engineers haven’t added anything new. Considering the
dozens of new iterations of Power Rangers and Mobile
Suit: Gundam, not to mention the business religion of
kaizen, or continuous improvement, it’s fair to say Kuratas
will have its own surprises in store.
Please be a laser sword. Please be a laser sword.
Please be a laser sword.
One worry MegaBots’ fans have expressed online is
the Mk. III’s Achilles’ shoulder blades, where its long,
vulnerable hydraulic hoses stick out. Those are necessary
to provide fluid to each arm’s actuator and right now
must be loose to allow flexibility. These Parker Hannifin
components, which Cavalcanti calls “the fastest valves
in the world,” should quickly counter the smaller, sleeker
Japanese fighter’s front attacks.
Rupturing one could incapacitate the bruiser, but these
are just regions they will have to protect in the fight.
Howe says the Mk. III’s zero turn ability should keep
Kuratas from flanking in time to attack these weak spots,
and the torso spins so fast it could be a hurl-worthy car-
nival ride when it retires from fighting.
If this exhibition does morph into something more,
that could include a number of W WE-style theatrics, such
as entrance music, or t-shirts being shot out of the Mk.
III’s air cannon.
It certainly has Howe and several other MegaBots’
partners we contacted excited. (Check our online cover-
age for a detailed conversation with each.)
“This is going to be the future Super Bowl,” Howe says.
“I think you’re going to see this spread and grow and be a
huge international hit in the next 10 to 15 years, because
it’s exciting and it’s the real deal, not scripted.”
For true aficionados of wanton destruction, that’s an
excellent hook. And smart business model.
More schools across the country have robotics com-
petitions, and as with high school football, some could
get college scholarships and then go pro in this proposed
league. The rest just have a good time, learn one of the
most marketable skills for the next several decades, and
get a great job.
And the start of that could kick off with this fight,
what could be looked at in a century as the moonshot
event for robotics.
“I want people to feel like they live in the future,” Oehrlein says. “I want people to say ‘Holy shit, I didn’t think
this would happen in my lifetime.’”
THE BIG REVEAL
As a kid, I couldn’t imagine a future without giant
Standing in the shadow of this absolutely real—and
quite stunning—crouching man-made beast, I can offi-
cially announce it’s the future. Its luminous metal frame
glows under the cloudless mid-afternoon sky, a red, white,
and blue angel sent from heaven to blow stuff up.
I would cry tears of joy, but that’s not the kind of thing
you do in front of such a finely crafted machine of death.
It just isn’t proper.
What MegaBots has created out of commonly available tools and trades stirs the same sort of pride I feel
standing for the national anthem. As I looked on, waiting
for the giant beast to rise to its full 16-ft. stature, the
communication between the engineers in the cockpit
and Oehrlein down below seemed to be more tense than
usual pre-movement safety checks. They kept running
systems checks, but the beast still lay dormant.
I shuffled through the enclosed work yard full of ship-
ping containers and parts while they work.
Tucked in a corner, the Mk. II rests in repose, its battered faceplate strewn on the concrete. In 2015, it ignited
imaginations. Now it seems antiquated and very DI Y, with
some parts covered in painted Styrofoam, and a missile
array made from PVC.
Despite the imposing, professional look of the new
mech in town, the Mk. II means more to its makers than
just an early prototype. It’s a monument to MegaBots’
rogue origin at makerspaces—urban DIY havens for those
with an insatiable industrious spirit but no access to welding and machining equipment to bring their ideas to life.
In a previous life, Oehrlein ran I3Detroit and Cavalcanti
the Artisan’s Asylum in the Boston area.
“It’s a gym membership for your brain,” Oehrlein
Geyer says the MegaBots co-founders tenacity in the
explained earlier with even more energy than usual.
“Instead of a weight lifting equipment, you use a CNC
machine or a laser cutter, a welder or 3D printer.”
It is the lowest possible barrier to entry to get their
hands on manufacturing equipment,” he continues. “Pay
for your membership, take a two-hour class, and you are
up and running.”
Cavalcanti first met former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass
there by chance, a relationship that grew in MegaBots’
first and most important partnership. After it was con-
structed, Autodesk transported the Mk. I—just a cockpit
and a cannon—from Boston to Las Vegas to show off at
a company event, a trip Mike Geyer, lead evangelist for
face of logistical changes and broken parts secured
the design software giant’s patronage, which included
guiding MegaBots design from one-off prototype to a
repeatable design others could use to build their own
fighting robot using makerspaces to construct this future
ultimate fight club.
Whether that happens or not, this robot built at For-
tress One proves the potential of a makerspace built
simply by will power and the never-fading adolescent
dreams of two brilliant builders who know their way
around a workshop and a sales pitch.
Geyer believes this makerspace movement is the start
of something huge.
“More and more people are able to now participate in
bringing the crazy ideas to reality, and many of those are
going to turn out to be terribly disruptive to our traditional
manufacturers,” he says.
This new world will emphasize doing while learning,
getting your hands dirty as opposed to just scribbling
in a notebook.
“The days of the professor at the podium are over,”
As MegaBots has strived to become more like a big
company and expand, it seems industry’s economic
giants are following in their footsteps (and tanks treads),
focusing on lean, super-fast fabrication and doing what-
ever it takes to make their goals a reality.
Of course, there will be days like today, full of boring
clerical work, intrusive journalists, and out-of-whack
parts. As part of manufacturing’s ruling class now, they’ll
have to get used to it.
About that final headache, the team quickly found
a loose connection and the next day the Mk. III rose to
the occasion for our cover shoot, looking quite heroic,
like its proud parents.
“The reward piece for us is inspiring the next genera-
tion of scientists and engineers to do really cool stuff,”
Damn. These guys are really good.
On the way out, I buy a MegaBots t-shirt for my step
son, who will lead his high school robotics team this year.
It wasn’t shot from a robot cannon, but the story behind
it is just as awesome.
For more information:
“I want people to feel like they live in the future,” Oehrlein says. “I want
people to say ‘Holy shit, I didn’t think this would happen in my life time.’”
--Matt Oehrlein, MegaBots co-founder
Makerspaces, such as ThinkBox in Cleveland, Ohio,
bring the communal aspects of crowd funding and
social media to manufacturing, allowing everyone
low-cost access to advanced industrial equipment
and the expert mentorship.