Ready for the next generation of robot combat? Syfy has greenlit and shot the first season of a new show where eight-foot-tall state-of-the-art humanoid robots will rock ’em and sock ’em in a boxing cage until one is defeated.
The future-shock new series is called Robot Combat League and the project has been kept under wraps until today. The action resembles a real-life version of last year’s hit movie Real Steel, with large menacing robots pounding away at each other in a satisfying shower of sparks and gushing hydraulic fluid. And just like in the film, the ‘bots will be controlled by shadow-boxing operators whose movements are translated into metal-on-metal punches. WWE wrestler, author and Dancing With the Stars veteran Chris Jericho will host.
Though Real Steal is the most obvious recent reference, Robot Combat League has cable network forebears like BBC’s Robot Wars (1998) and Comedy Central’s Battle Bots (2000). But older shows featured small, squat robots rolling across the ground and attacking each other, like evil Roombas. “It has always been our desire — and it’s really come around perennially — to update and do Battle Bots for the new century,” says Syfy president Mark Stern. “Can we do Real Steel? Are we at a place where you can do real bipedal robots? Every time we tried to to do it, [the project] was stymied by the technology.”
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Here’s how this show got started: Last year, veteran reality producer Craig Plestis teamed with robotics expert Mark Setrakian to pitch Robot Combat League to Syfy. Setrakian’s resume includes developing life-saving robotic systems and creature effects, animatronics and control technology for such films like Men In Black, The Grinch and Hellboy. One early test featured a robot attacking a Volkswagen Beetle that was hung in the air. “The robot was hitting it, it was tearing the mirrors off and breaking the windows,” Stern says. “At every step we got closer and closer.”
Syfy won’t reveal how much the 1,000-pound robots cost (“a lot,” Stern says) and there is one obvious design differential that keeps the bots from Reel Steel-like autonomy — a stabilizing bar that prevents the top-heavy machines from toppling over during fighting and help controls their movement across the ring. Stern hopes that “version 2.0” of Robot Combat League can ditch the bar.
Still, from what we’ve seen from a presentation reel on the show, Robot Combat League (which debuts Feb. 26) delivers what’s promised — robots pounding on each other. “Up until we actually saw them in the ring fighting, we didn’t think it would work,” Stern says. “Setrakian created a robotics system that can mimic a human’s actions and movements. We’ve had robots decapitated, we’ve had robots cut in half. It was truly spectacular.”