Former ‘BattleBots’ engineer training Boston artisans for robotic warfare
Rob Masek, formerly of “BattleBots,” envisions monthly competitions at Artisan’s Asylum.
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”