Before former-Mythbusters team member Grant Imahara was destroying his robotic competition with “Deadblow” on the U.S. game show Battlebots, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was giving inventors and engineers the chance to engage in metallic combat in their arena on the show Robot Wars in 1998. At the peak of its popularity, Robot Wars drew in over 6 million viewers per episode – explaining why there were over 150 episodes produced over the course of its six-year run.
After a twelve year break, the BBC is resurrecting Robot Wars for six 60-minute long episodes to air on BBC Two – though an actual production start date and air date have yet to be determined. The show spotlighted mechanical, electrical, and robotic engineers as competitors but its premise appealed to viewers of all ages. This time around however, Robot Wars will reportedly focus more on the science aspect of the robots themselves and feature more battles than were shown in previous episodes.
BBC Two/BBC Four controller Kim Shillinglaw had this to say about the new Robot Wars:
“Robot Wars is an absolute TV classic and I’m thrilled to be updating it for the next generation of viewers. With new technological advances making for an even more exciting and immersive experience, this is a fantastic example of the kind of content-rich factual entertainment that BBC Two excels at.”
Shillinglaw is correct to mention all of the new technological advances and modern appeal of tech-forward robotics. When Robot Wars eventually went off the air in 2004, the first generation iPhone hadn’t even been released (that was 2007), Bluetooth technology (while invented in 1998) was still becoming commonplace in the consumer cellphone market (first Bluetooth-enabled phone hit shelves in 2000), and YouTube was still only a dream in the minds of founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim (founded in 2005). Indeed, much has changed in the way of technology over the last dozen years and it will be interesting to see how competitors incorporate those changes into their various robots.
Flyable drones and high-speed RC cars, to Sphero’s beloved Star Wars BB-8 toys showcase how readily available in the consumer market advanced robots are these days offering just a hint at the potential for a new generation of Robot Wars contestants. Hopefully, what doesn’t change is the amount of sheer robotic carnage brought about by the “House Bots” (pictured above) present every show. There were a total of nine house bots used during the show’s run, tank-long mechanical monsters that frequently lay waste to the contestants’ creations:
- Cassius Chrome: Fastest of the bots; Used “fists” and a front-mounted shovel to ram opponents
- Dead Metal: Used hydraulic pincers to hold opponents down, then engaged a rotary saw to cut them apart
- Growler: Could rip opponents apart using its 3000 PSI front jaws
- Matilda: The “lady” of the group; Could lift opponents with her front pneumatic “tusks” or cut them down with her rear-mounted chainsaw
- Mr. Psycho: Biggest of the bots; Could grab opponents with its claw using 5-tons of force, then whack them with a 66lb hammer
- Refbot: The janitor of the bots: Would clean up the arena of any “dead” bots using its shovels and fire extinguisher
- Sergeant Bash: His speciality was long-range weaponry by way of his flame thrower
- Shunt: If it wasn’t pushing or lifting opponents with its front plow or rear scoop, it was cracking them open with its pneumatic diamond-edge axe.
- Sir Kill-a-lot: Slowest but deadliest of all the bots; Featured a set of hydraulic claws that grabbed an opponent then he would drill into them with his rotating lance.
As if the house bots weren’t enough to deal with, competitors also had to avoid various deadly obstacles including Floor Spikes, a Flame Pit, an Angle Grinder, the Disc of Doom, and the infamous Floor Flipper (which took out many opponents in its day). The rules for the show were rather simple and a robot could lose in more ways than it could win:
- A robot that was immobile for 30 seconds could be counted out , then given to the house bots as punishment.
- A robot flipped out of the arena lost the battle.
- A robot that fell or was pushed into the Pit of Oblivion was instantly out of the battle.
- A panel of three judges scored the competitors on style, control, damage, and aggression.
Robot Wars had many hosts during its six seasons – Jeremy Clarkson, Craig Charles, Philippa Forrester, Julia Reed, Jayne Middlemiss – and featured the unmistakable voices of Jonathan Pearce and Stuart McDonald as announcers and the robots. There’s no word yet on who will replace these fine people but it wouldn’t surprise us to see one or two of the retired Mythbusters make an appearance in the role – it would seem like a natural fit.
We’ll update you with more information about Robot Wars as it becomes available but for now, you can check out an episode of the show HERE.