Prosthesis preparing for testing

Mech racing: the future sport of human-controlled robot battles

Image credit: Michael P.J. Hall

The evolution of technology will affect how and where we do our jobs. What happens when we get home from a hard day at the (virtual) office? Assuming we have the option to switch off from the ‘always on’ work environment , what is going to keep us entertained?

For those who fear that future TV schedules will be blocked by ‘Love Island’ (series 20) and the alternative will be reading computer-generated novels, there could be relief in Mech Racing – pitting one giant human-controlled robot against another.

Perversely, one of the drivers for this futuristic pastime is rooted very much in the sporting ideals of the past and present. Jonathan Tippet, CEO of Furrion Robotics, the company behind the mech racer, Prosthesis, explains that one of the design goals was to make it a human sporting challenge.

“Originally it was in response to the increasing automation of our world, our tasks and our joys,” he says. “The process of driving our cars is slowly being taken away. For a lot of people that’s great but for some people it is sad because they enjoy shifting gears and hitting the brakes and all that stuff. So I see there is potentially a negative outcome with the development of technology where there is a theft of skill, where you don’t have to do anything challenging anymore.”

As a motor and mountain biker, Tippet claims that some of the best moments of his life are when facing danger while engrossed in physical sport, and using skill and training to overcome these potentially perilous situations. He comments: “There is such a push to automate things and make them so easy that it poses a threat to us as human beings and our joy of life. So this is intentionally 100 per cent human-controlled and that is the core spirit – it is a sport.”

It is a daunting sporting challenge. Prosthesis stands 4.5m high, is 5m across and weighs in at 3.8 tonnes. Tippet maintains that the safest place is either several hundred yards away or actually being inside the robot, where the ‘pilot’ is protected by surrounding cage.

There is a 200hp (150kW) electric power plant but there are no sensors, gyros, positional awareness or automatic control functions. The robot just follows the movements of the pilot.

“It will depend a lot on the skill of the pilot because it has no autonomy whatsoever. It’s engineered for 30km/h – it will be terrifying,” adds Tippet.

First walking trials are planned for this autumn, and when one Prosthesis is fully working it is only a matter of building another one for it to race against! 

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