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Gearheads

Posted 12 May 2003 at 14:21 UTC by steve Share This

Now that Tech TV is bringing Robot Wars back to the small screen, this seems like a perfect time to offer a review of Brad Stone's latest book, Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports . As it turns out, the history of robotic combat is almost as violent as the shows are. To read the full review, click the "read more" link below.



Review by R. Steven Rainwater

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Title: Gearheads, The Turbulent Rise of Robotics Sports

Author: Brad Stone

ISBN Number: 0-7432-2951-7

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Number of Pages: 284

List of Chapters:
Prologue
Part I The Age of Robot Wars
Chapter 1 The Purist
Chapter 2 Beginnings
Chapter 3 Robot Wars Years
Chapter 4 Courtrooms and Other Arenas of Violent Combat
Part II Attack of the Human Money Bots
Chapter 5 The Ice Age
Chapter 6 Thorpus Delicti
Chapter 7 The Exalted Stage
Chapter 8 The Square of 2.70
Chapter 9 Marc Thorpe vs. Robot Wars
Chapter 10 The Final Showdown

Okay, let's get two things out of the way right off. First, this book isn't going to show you how to build a robot. There are no schematics, no parts lists, none of the step-by-step assembly diagrams you find in the sort of books robot builders usually read. Second, the "robots" in this book are actually the radio-controlled vehicles seen on robot combat TV shows. But, even if the pedants among us complain about this now commonplace (mis)use of the term robot - don't worry about it, you'll enjoy the book. It's a good read.

So, what is this book about? It's the story of Marc Thorpe and his quest to create a new sport in which humans battle to the death through mechanical surrogates. It's the inside story of Thrope's dream of profiting from organized mechanical violence and the interconnections with Robot Wars, Battlebots, disputes with SRL, disputes with TV networks, and a never-ending series of lawsuites.

There's also lot of robotics history along the way; SRL's strange robotic creations, Dean Kamen and FIRST, the MIT 2.70 competitions, and the Critter Crunch, One thing you have to give this book credit for is giving the Critter Crunch a mention in the history of "robot" combat. They were doing their thing years before anyone had heard of Robot Wars but seldom get recognized for it.

Along the way, the books relates the impressions of an unexpected assortment of people about the combat robot phenomena. Joel of MST3K fame comments on an early Robot Wars event saying it didn't take any vision to realize it was going to be huge. Dean Kamen of FIRST and Woodie Flowers of the MIT 2.70 robot competitions realize after watching the first episode of Battlebots in horror that robot combat shows are destined to confuse the public about what robots are and what robot competitions are all about.

It's a compelling but not entirely happy story following Thorpe's seemingly infinite ability to make deals with the wrong people, leading to robot combat's descent into the mechanical equivalent of professional wrestling. The book serves as a cautionary tale for anyone hoping to make it big and thinking that deals with record companies and television networks is the way to go. As the judge says of Thorpe in one of the endless lawsuits, "when you sell your soul to the devil, you can't pretend it's still yours".


Professional Mechanical Wrestling, posted 12 May 2003 at 21:06 UTC by earlwb » (Master)

I can tell it turned into a scripted event. Only the favored robot is allowed to win. They'd have the house bots gang up on the robot that was winning to ensure it lost.

Also to please the crowd, if a robot died or became disabled too quickly, the house bots would tear it up real good then. As it was supposed to last until the commericial break.

Thus if you built a really competitive $20,000 (US) bot, they would refuse your entry into the competition as you weren't one of the insiders. Only if your bot wasn't very good and they could have it lose spectacularly would they let you in.

Once I saw what they were doing, I completely lost interest.

I once thought about building a titanium framed and covered bot, using stainless steel plates strategically placed as reinforement. With a vicious saw blade, and a heavy duty flipper. I would use 1" axles with protected wheels. But then if they won't let you enter, what's the use.

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