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'Mythbuster' Grant Imahara talks about bringing 'Killer Robots' to the Science Channel

May 27, 2011 | 11:00 am

 

Those wacky robots -- they love to fight. Seriously, just put them in a ring surrounded by bulletproof glass and watch them beat the gears out of each other.

That's what the Science Channel intends to do on Memorial Day with a one-hour special called "Killer Robots: RoboGames 2011." Hosted by Grant Imahara, best known in mainstream circles for his role on "Mythbusters," the show will pack in the "amazing adrenaline rush" of machine-on-machine combat, cage-match "cat-and-mouse" strategy and advanced technology that allows 'bots to annihilate their opponents like never before.

The show originates in the Silicon Valley, where 'bot builders have been gathering for a decade for three days' worth of exhibitions, contests and, of course, grappling. This is the first time the International RoboGames competition has been televised.

"This is the crème of the crop -- the most devastating matches," Imahara said. "In addition to the raw power, the violence of metal getting torn apart, we'll show the intellectual challenges involved in engineering a fighting robot."

Imahara, a bit of a rock star in the combat robot field and author of a book on the subject, operated "Star Wars'" R2-D2, helped create the Energizer bunny and built "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson's" robot skeleton sidekick, Geoff Peterson.

He said the proud-to-be-geeky RoboGames draws in everyone from engineers and machinists to high school teachers and artists who've spent countless hours (and dollars) perfecting their entries. The show will profile some of those hobbyists, who have been able over time to fine-tune their 'bots into lethal killers.

"There's been so much evolution that it's incredible to see," Imahara said. "There are rotating, spinning blades and other kinds of weapons that don't just create a shower of sparks -- they make their opponents explode into shrapnel."

The three-minute matches between 220-pound machines will be akin to heavyweight title bouts, Imahara said, and there's as much strategy involved as in a professional boxing match. "You don't just throw two 'bots in a cage and drive them toward each other," he said.

Traditionally, wedge-shaped 'bots and those with spinning weapons have proven the most effective, though Imahara said he's prepared to see some new kinds of devices emerge this year.

The show, under the Science Channel's budding Sci Sports banner, could become an annual part of the schedule. It's a celebration of a subculture that reveals "a world where mind-blowing science meets audacious imagination," said Science Channel's executive vice president and general manager Debbie Adler Myers.

Imahara said he senses from emails, tweets and other fan feedback that there's a renewed interest in robot fighting on TV.

There have been a number of robot-based TV series over the years, including Comedy Central's "BattleBots" and the U.K.-based "Robot Wars." The latter show spawned several spinoffs, with a kid competition called "Nickelodeon's Robot Wars" airing on that cable channel, "Robot Wars: Extreme Warriors" on TNT and "Robot Wars: Grand Champions" airing on a precursor to the Spike network.

Not only could the public see more robot TV, but it might also see more robots in general, Imahara said, pointing to 'bots that are taking care of aging folks in Japan and being incorporated into everyday life outside of military and industrial uses.

"They'll play a more prominent role in society and in interacting with people," he said.

That "Jetsons" scenario may not be so far-fetched after all. Robot butler, anyone?

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-- T.L. Stanley

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