For­mer ‘Bat­tleBots’ engi­neer train­ing Bos­ton ar­ti­sans for robotic warfare

Rob Masek, for­merly of “Bat­tleBots,” en­vi­sions monthly com­pe­ti­tions at Ar­ti­san’s Asy­lum.

Metro USA (Boston) - - BOS­TON - SPENCER BUELL @MetroBOS

Teams of en­gi­neers smash­ing to­gether ro­bots wrapped in metal­lic ar­mor and fit­ted with saws and bat­ter­ing rams: such was the joy and geeky fury of “Bat­tleBots.”

The Com­edy Cen­tral TV show, which ended its run on air in 2002, brought world­wide at­ten­tion to the sport of re­mote-con­trolled ro­bot fight­ing. It also put Rob Masek, a bat­tling ro­bot afi­cionado, on the sil­ver screen.

Now, he told Metro, Masek wants to bring mini-mech­a­nized warfare back to Bos­ton.

“There hasn’t been a com­pe­ti­tion in years in Bos­ton,” Masek said. “We’re just try­ing to make it big­ger, bet­ter and hap­pen more of­ten.”

Masek was host­ing a sem­i­nar Thurs­day night for bat­tle ro­bot builders-in-train­ing at the Ar­ti­san’s Asy­lum, the big mak­erspace in Somerville where he is op­er­a­tions man­ager.

He hopes Asy­lum’s tin­ker­ers will have time to pre­pare a group of tiny robotic war­riors by the Asy­lum’s open house in De­cem­ber. One day, he hopes to hold monthly con­tests. Mean­while, a fortified, bul­let­proof arena waits in stor­age.

Af­ter the TV show, which fea­tured Masek sev­eral times, ended, a smaller loyal group of bat­tlers kept at it. He es­ti­mates there are 40 or 50 of them in all of New Eng­land.

But it’s about time the city had a bat­tle arena of its own. Once a month, he said, he’d like to see ro­bots go to bat­tle at the Ar­ti­san’s Asy­lum.

Times have changed. Masek re­mem­bers when du­el­ers guided their acid bat­tery-pow­ered robotic sol­diers with AM ra­dio sig­nals and ro­bots weighed 220 pounds.

These days, the ro­bots are much smaller — they can weigh as lit­tle as 12 pounds — and it’s be­come pop­u­lar to 3-D-print the work­ing pieces.

“We used to go to junk­yards,” he said. “Now we’re buy­ing off-the-shelf com­po­nents that work.”

But it’s al­ways been hard to find places to duke it out with ro­bot cre­ations, he said. In the mid-2000s, Masek said he used to break into aban­doned ware­houses in Nashua, New Hamp­shire, steal elec­tri­cal cur­rents from the grid and throw “ro­bot raves.”

“All the raves I went to when I was younger, it was al­ways in some ware­house and show up with mu­sic and light­ing equip­ment and play loud mu­sic and party all night. This was like that, ex­cept in­stead we’d show up with a 10,000-pound ro­bot arena.” Masek’s vi­sion for Bos­ton is a lit­tle more low-key — “the ex­act op­po­site of that,” he said.

He said he hoped to get high school stu­dents and their par­ents in­volved — a sup­ple­ment to (non­vi­o­lent) com­pet­i­tive af­ter-school robotics leagues.

The Com­edy Cen­tral pro­duc­tion in­cluded booby traps like trap­doors, pop-up spikes and flamethrow­ers. The Ar­ti­san’s Asy­lum ring has none of those fea­tures, he said. And at 10-by-10 feet, it’s tiny by com­par­i­son.

It weighs 2,350 pounds and cost $2,500, and when bro­ken down it fits on one pal­let.

“‘Bat­tleBots’ events would cost over $1 mil­lion and five days of work,” he said. “We’re able to do some­thing at a much lower cost.”

In other ro­bot-fight­ing news, ABC an­nounced Thurs­day that the broad­caster’s “Bat­tleBots” six­episode re­vival has been re­newed for a sec­ond sea­son. It airs sum­mer 2016, an an­nounce­ment on the “Bat­tleBots” web­site said.

“We’re just try­ing to make it big­ger, bet­ter and hap­pen more of­ten.” Masek


Rob Masek with “The Claw”

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