Bam! Two metallic painted chariots brandishing spinning gears ram into each other with a thud. Wheels fly off, hitting the bulletproof window shield; metal armor is torn open, setting off a shower of sparks. No blood is shed, but this battle offers plenty of carnage.
This is no scene from “Real Steel.” Instead, it took place at a tournament held in Beijing on April 8 and 9 – the first round of Major League FMB (Fighting My Bots), which is the very first combat robot competition in China.
(A 4-meter-tall combat robot of FMB stands outside the fighting arena in Beijing on April 8. Photo/Courtesy of Zhang Chi)
Combat robot competition is nothing new to Chinese audiences, as many still remember the British “Robot War” and American “BattleBots,” both of which were famous in the early 2000s. However, the two competitions were only broadcast for a few seasons. They were in the midst of the renewal process for the latest seasons when China welcomed its own version of BattleBots.
According to Zhang Hongfei, CEO of the Shanghai-based sports company that founded and organized the FMB Championship and Major League FMB, China has long lagged behind when it comes to combat robots.
“Even in Asia, South Korea and India have taken the lead in offering such competitions, along with the so-called ‘fighting nation,’ Russia,” Zhang said in an exclusive interview with the People’s Daily Online.
“The competitions have spread across the world and received a great deal of attention. We must hurry to keep up by establishing our own competition and, hopefully, with the help of organizers, robotics clubs and competitors, make our competition a global one as well,” Zhang expressed.
Zhang’s company, FMB, founded in 2015, currently organizes two types of FMB competition: the FMB Championship for amateur players and the Major League FMB for professional clubs. In this year’s events, the FMB Championship boasts a prize pool totaling 180,000 RMB, while the Major League FMB has 1 million RMB up for grabs.
Zhang pointed out that a unique feature of the FMB Championship is that it provides special prizes for the best technology and the best robot design.
“The game is indeed highly violent, but we also want our players to focus on technological advancement. The prize for best technology targets specific types each year. In 2016, the prize targeted multi-ped robots and those with two arms,” he explained to the People’s Daily Online.
On the topic of Major League FMB, Zhang said he believes it makes China stand out.
“It can be compared to the Formula One car race. It is only open to professional clubs, and is usually organized by robotics-related companies and institutes. We also hope to bring in more overseas robotics clubs in the future,” he said.
Addressing the first round of Major League FMB on April 8, Zhang revealed that the FMB World Cup is scheduled to take place in China in autumn of this year, when 20 clubs from 16 countries and regions will come together. The first warm-up games will be held at the end of April, and 18 clubs from six countries and regions will participate. Two more warm-up games are scheduled in June and September respectively.
(Photo/Courtesy of FMB)
A total of 12 clubs participated in the competition on April 8, each pinning their hopes on a combat robot that resembled a chariot and weighed a maximum of 60 kilograms. The rules were simple: in the course of a three-minute one-on-one fight, one robot must knock out the other to win the match. If a knockout does not occur, the robots are graded on their respective performances during the match, including on agility, attacks and defense ability.
The use of water, magnets and electromagnetic guns is forbidden, but any other kind of sharp-edged weapon is welcomed.
The games are held in an arena surrounded by heavy metal doors and bulletproof glass. Inside, a diesel-filled drone breathes fire from time to time. The floor is equipped with random gadgets: thick, metal poles that can be erected at any time, and fast-spinning gears lurking underground, waiting to tear into unsuspecting robots.
The Major League FMB has four rounds. The 12 clubs go through three more rounds in Chongqing and Shenzhen before the final round selects the champion in Shanghai. In each round, robots are required to fight in four matches. That means every club must be prepared to make impromptu repairs, should their robot be damaged in a match.
Damage is unavoidable – even encouraged.
("Whorl-tooth shark" under attack at a game Photo/Courtesy of FMB)
"Whorl-tooth Shark” from Chongqing club Menluo Robot was a first-time entrant at the FMB competitions. The small but extremely able robot won three games at Major League FMB in Beijing. In its first and only losing game, the robot had one of its four iron “teeth” knocked out. The tooth flew all the way across the arena and made spectacular contact with a glass barrier, thrilling the audience.
“It was our first time participating in such a competition. We brought a pair of whorl-tooth shark robots to Beijing. The ‘husband shark’ was prepared to continue battle if the ‘wife shark’ was damaged. Throughout the games, we learned from others and attempted to close the gap,” Fan Yang, head of Menluo Robot, told the People’s Daily Online.
But the loss of a tooth seemed a minor wound compared with the afflictions of Thor’s Hammer, a combat robot from Shanghai’s Mr. O Robot Fighting Club.
("Thor's hammer" cut open at a game Photo/Courtesy of FMB)
The hammer-wielding robot was deprived of its hammer when it was found to exceed weight limits; its side armor was quick to follow. The exposure of its pedrail and wheels made it an easy target. In one minute sharp, Thor’s Hammer was knocked out after it lost a wheel and was torn open by a spinning gear from underground. Seeing his robot carried off the battlefield, Fang Lei, CEO of Mr. O Robot Fighting Club, greeted the fiasco with laughter.
“I dare say, people will love my game the best, and that’s good enough,” he said.
“Unlike some overseas tournaments, in which results are sometimes manipulated to please the audience, our games focus on training and making our robots better. The technology used is the same, both at home and abroad,” Fang said, adding that combat robot technology can be surprisingly useful in real life, such as in anti-terror robots.