Who is presenting?
Craig Charles and Philippa Forrester? Yes please
BBC 2 has shrugged off the rising android-rights movement to reboot Robot Wars, the mechano pugilistic punch-fest which enlivened many hungover Sundays* in the late '90s. The broadcaster has commissioned six one hour episodes of the new series from Mentorn Scotland, which it reckons will exploit “a raft of technological …
I was going to add that the follow-up programme, Star Gazing Live: Back to Earth, was even better. Just like The Sky at Night used to be: a bunch of experts talking about their field.
I was, but I've just checked the BBC2 schedule and they seem to have made only one Back to Earth this series. Instead you can watch the hilarious antics of Russell Howard, Clare Balding, and Stephen Fry.
Wasn't Messr Sharkey a judge on Robot Wars anyhoo?
He was also nominally "in charge" of a project at Magna, when I worked there in 2001 - 2002, which involved a "show" using autonomous robots which didn't work, mainly because they were built from cheap B&Q battery drills and the plastic gears lasted about 30 minutes. He lost interest in actually keeping the things working, despite Magna putting a lot of money into the arena where they were to be the star attraction. There was even a completely false story about one of the robots escaping - even if it had "broken out of its paddock", it wouldn't have been able to get as far as the car park before either throwing a cog or running out of battery (or more likely, just continually bashing its head against one of the arena walls), let alone reaching the M1.
The story did find its way to the main BBC News website at the time, but I can't find it there now, perhaps they have removed it.
The robots were "handed over" to us, the centre's engineering team, and we spent several weeks investigating how to make the blasted things more reliable and actually able to do the things they were being advertised as doing. Eventually (IIRC) we decided to keep them going as they were because there wasn't a budget available to completely rebuild them. Eventually they were ditched altogether.
Sharkey was disinterested in the little robots because the next project was more exciting - robotic airships. Unfortunately they were just as awful. They had so little lifting power that the electronics was seriously short of battery power. They were intended to fly around the building (Magna is built inside an old steelworks) but not only were they too weedy to overcome the light airflow through the building without being pushed sideways, their sensors - essentially the ultrasonic focus units from Polaroid cameras - simply didn't work and they kept crashing into things.
The things were so seriously behind schedule, and Sharkey wouldn't put any more students on the task (the project was basically being run by a pair of Phd students), that I had to bring a friend of mine up from South Wales to work the summer holidays finishing off the mechanical parts - cutting, shaping, glueing bits of Carbon fibre.
The escaping robot story evidently created a lot of interest because I note that shortly after I left this story popped up about one of them escaping. To be honest, this story is slightly more believable as the building they were being developed in had large roller-shutter doors at both ends and the balloons did occasionally end up tangled in the overhead crane even while I was there. On the other hand, this followup story smacks of overegging the pudding again as I really don't think the blimp would have stayed together for long enough to get 300 miles away. More likely it had crashed into a tree and was floating down the Don.
Needless to say (but I will anyway) the blimps never worked and were never - as far as I'm aware - put into use.
I had a great time working at Magna, though the management was awful. I note that they are no longer open all year round and find that not at all surprising as the place simply couldn't make money. The appointment of a manager to manage the maintenance department's manager was only a symptom and I was "made redundant" in 2002, along with a colleague from the maintenance department, bringing that department down to two actual engineers and two managers. About three months later they appointed a new engineer - on a much lower salary than the rest of us had been getting - and then they sacked the manager's manager. Within 18 months of me leaving there were only two members of permanent staff on the whole site who had also been there when I was "made redundant".
Me? Bitter? Not really; although I was out of work for 9 months after that, it gave me the push to enable me to start up on my own as an electrician, and it cut many of the ties my new family had with South Yorkshire, enabling us to move to South Wales to be nearer my parents and where for the first five years we owned a house mortgage-free, prices being that much lower down here.
I've not been back since, though now that one of my ex-colleagues has actually gone back to work at Magna part-time, perhaps I should visit.
As for Robot Wars, my boys have recently, and completely independently, discovered the original series which is being shown nightly on "Challenge" (ch 145 Freesat / ch 45 Freeview). They are quite excited by the prospect of a new series, though they are getting a bit jaded by the old one.
Me, I went off it when it stopped being about "clever" robots and obstacle courses and simply became people with too much disposable income burning it on national TV.
"Wow, you're really a barrel of laughs."
That doesn't mean he isn't also exceedingly accurate. When the contestants will be required to keep their hands in plain view and off any remote controls during the actual fight I might even become interested, but not until then. Yes, it's excellent practice for CAD use in industrial housing design and failure modes of mechanical linkages. No, it has nothing to do with "robots" or any meaningful notion of combat based on anything other than mostly just sheer luck.
BBC Select. I'd almost forgotten about that! Did you watch it with or without the descrambling?
However, my all-time favourite retro show was that odd programme they used to show in the middle of the night which consisted of a bunch of random-looking black and white dots dancing all over the screen. The soundtrack was almost incomprehensible to the point of being little more than a loud hiss. Amazing!
Seemed to be on all the channels at one point. It was very avant-garde, yet they even showed it on ITV back then- can you imagine them being so experimental today?
They did an American version too; you can see it on the TV set in the film "Poltergeist" where I think it formed part of the plot.
The BBC must be worrying about the loss of licence payers if they are bringing back watchable TV! A good show that demonstrated that 'kill it with fire' only applies to things that will be killed by fire (remembering a particular bot covered in flammable material for amusement) and the enjoyment of watching multiple 'trials' before they went head to head for a smashfest. I enjoyed watching people put effort into different attributes and those who relied on purely a big hammer didnt necessarily win.
Good for the BBC and hopefully they will make some more stuff of interest to me to win me back.
"Good for the BBC and hopefully they will make some more stuff of interest to me to win me back."
It makes no difference to the BBC whether you watch them or not, so long as you pay them they are happy. That's why they specialize in crap antiques, interview, cooking, quizzes with no prize money or impossible to win big. micro-short 'series', shows. They could show the testcard and not lose a penny.
If this is successful they will sell it to Sky (again).
The obvious next questions are :
1. How many BBC Micro Bit | Arduino | Beagle | Raspberry PI based robots will come out of the woodwork (metalwork ?)
2. Are swarm's of centrally controlled / distributed controlled robots allowed now ?
3. Drones ? Airspace ? 3D Wow that would add a new dimension :-)
4. Lasers ? Got to have lasers
5. Are Boston Dynamics allowed to enter ?
and ... perhaps Amazon can deliver spares for robots that have had failures ?
> IIRC the rules specifically encouraged for-the-time difficult builds such as ... walkers by allowing greater weights etc
Ah yes, a walker was allowed 200kg, a wheeled or tracked one only 100kg.
I had an interesting idea for something that would technically be a walker, while incorporating the idea of stored kinetic energy ala Hypnodisk. Just thing what that could do with another 75-100kg in the rotor :-)
Alas, I would never have been able to afford the bits even if I'd had the time - and then they canned the series.
I did here tales from "unhappy" contestants that the bouts were absolutely not run to the rules. Times were extended if the producers thought they could get another destructed machine for the TV ratings - not very fair on the builders of the machines hacked to bits after the bout should have ended.
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