A massive robot for an article on robot fighting.
Most robotic combat involves an individual or team creating a robot and remote-controlling its movements in the ring. (Image by Hkyu Wu via Unsplash)
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A massive robot for an article on robot fighting.

This thrilling form of entertainment encompasses everything from tame boxing matches to intense gladiatorial battles.

For decades, robots have garnered the media spotlight, and their rise has been all but prophesized by scientists, authors and futurists for the last century. A robot is a machine capable of performing intricate actions, be it remotely or automatically, or in layman’s terms, it’s one of those things capable of vacuuming your floor. Robots offer far more than just the next vacuum or “Terminator,” though. Suppose you disregard the nihilistic and bleak visions of a robotic past, present and future. In that case, one can see that robots are all around us and have been taking over numerous sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and entertainment. The potential for human enjoyment is immense, and one specific use for robots has become a popular pastime for many: robot fighting.

From movies like “Real Steel” to the Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots toys, robot fighting has been around for years and isn’t a new idea. Robot fighting is a form of entertainment that has evolved with time. However cruel or barbaric robot fighting may sound, there are different kinds, and not every type turns robots into gladiators for human entertainment. That said, there is a common factor that has held true since the time of the ancient Romans: Violence sells. People seem to love combat, whether it’s filled with blood, death, gore or otherwise. It’s no surprise that entertainment involving robots fighting has become popular.

What Is Robot Fighting?

You’re probably imagining something along the lines of human-sized robots duking it out in hand-to-hand combat. If you are, you aren’t far off from the truth — for some forms of fighting, at least. Others are a bit more advanced. The common theme across robot fighting is that individuals or groups create robots for competition. How people go about making their robot varies depending on the type of competition and its rules. Also, these robots are almost always remote-controlled.

Sadly (or for some, thankfully), entertainment hasn’t reached the point of autonomous, human-sized robots fighting each other. But that doesn’t mean robot fighting in the present isn’t fun to watch. To give you a better grasp on what robot fighting is, here are a few current tournaments with their respective robots and playstyles.

RoboMaster

Based in Shenzhou, China, the RoboMaster program offers collegiate and youth academic exchange competitions and public tournaments, where students and the general public are the builders and competitors. The popularity of RoboMaster is so great that there is even an animation, a reality show, a documentary and a comic about the competitions.

Each year, the organization holds tournaments for each category — collegiate, youth and public — and hundreds of universities and people from around the world partake in Shenzhou’s robot fights. The main spectacle is the RoboMaster University Championship.

The RoboMaster version of robotic combat is a massive step up from robot boxing, though. Each team creates various airborne, stationary and wheeled robots to participate in an intricate, tactical arena battle where teams coordinate their actions, and teamwork is essential. Each robot plays a specific role in the competition, like serving as a healer, a tank or just a standard fighter. To score points, competitors must hit the enemy and certain targets by shooting high-speed balls. Imagine esports, but with a real, physical battlefield.

“BattleBots”

Less complicated and sophisticated than RoboMasters, “BattleBots” is an American television show streamed on Discovery. The premise of “BattleBots” is just as the name implies: Robots battle each other in a fierce, gladiatorial fashion. Individuals or teams can enter from around the world and compete by remotely controlling their robot against a competitor — whoever disables their opponent’s robot first is the winner.

“BattleBots” is considerably intense, as the robots are several feet long and wide, and some robots have sharp tools to shred their opponents. If you decide to check the show out, expect to see sparks and parts fly. “BattleBots” also has a British counterpart titled “Robot Wars.”

Robo-One

If you’re interested in something less violent, Robo-One is one of the tamer robot fighting tournaments. Robo-One is a Japanese-based robot boxing competition where individuals or teams create robots. They enter their robot in the contest and remotely control it to take down its counterpart using only the robot’s body; it’s like pro wrestling, but for robots one-fourth the size of humans.

The robots are actually pretty intricate and awesome; some can perform unbelievable moves similar to mixed martial arts (MMA) takedowns seen on television. Robo-One also has variants of the competition, such as Robo-One Kendo. Kendo is a competitive form of sword-based martial arts native to Japan. The Kendo version of Robo-One’s contest is even cooler than its base version. Two robots wield small shinai (bamboo swords) and try to hit each other for points.

The Future of Robot Fighting

Despite all the cool renditions of robot fighting out there today, robots are still remotely controlled and have only simple, limited, programmable actions they can perform. Also, the competitions themselves lack the randomness, intensity and intricacy of higher forms of entertainment. Comparing MMA fighting to Robo-One proves how limited the current versions of robot fighting are.

However, do not despair (or despair if you see robots as the embodiment of evil). Considering the growing popularity of robot-based combat entertainment, you should expect some form of advancement within the industry. The company and game MegaBots has already created two massive robots bigger than the average human and plans to innovate more. This just goes to show the enthusiasm people and companies have for improving upon current robots.

Perhaps by 2050, human boxers will no longer be the majority. Instead, robot boxing may reign supreme, where there is no limit on pain, destruction or size. The large caveat would be the possible introduction of true artificial intelligence, where robots gain free will and become indistinguishable from humans. That’s when the ethics of robot fighting comes into play and a whole slew of other problems arrive. But never mind that: Let’s focus on the present and enjoy the epicness, and in some cases hilarity, that is robot fighting of today.

Writer Profile

Joseph Gorzka III

University of Virginia
English and East Asian Studies

A student at the University of Virginia, an avid reader and a dabbler in the writing arts.

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