Sunday, July 01, 2001

'BattleBots' get Cincinnati touch

Oakley-based company supplies funding, parts

By Anya Rao
Enquirer Contributor

        Machine tools typically aren't the subject of highly rated television shows.

        But the TV show BattleBots soon will be giving Cincinnati Machine exposure to the series' audience of 1.1 million viewers, primarily men aged 18 to 49.

        For the uninitiated, here's a primer on BattleBots, which is shown on cable channel Comedy Central:

[photo] BattleBots features two homemade combat robots unleashed into a booby-trapped arena, surrounded by chanting fans.
(Daniel Longmire Battlebots photo)
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        The show features two homemade combat robots unleashed into a booby-trapped arena, surrounded by chanting fans. The remote-controlled robots fight each other using weapons such as saws or hammers, while trying to avoid the surprise spikes and sledgehammers that pop up from the arena floor. The event lasts until only one robot is functional or until the three-minute time limit is up.

        Anyone from a rocket scientist to a teen-ager can build a robot to compete in one of four weight classes. Tournament winners may receive cash prizes and the Golden Nut, a machine part-inspired trophy.

        “It's like a rock concert,” Greg Weyman, spokesman for Cincinnati Machine, said. “Crowds stand outside without tickets. Fans root for particular robots. There is definitely a cult following.”

        The 117-year-old Cincinnati Machine has joined with San Diego's Mutant Robots, a competitor in the growing sporting event of robot wars. The Oakley-based company is offering $30,000 to $40,000 and “weapon” parts to Mutant's two attack robots, Diesector and Tazbot. In exchange, Cincinnati Machine's logo is on the robots and on the team T-shirts, exposing the brand name to a new, younger audience.

        “This is a great way to get our name in front of a technically oriented audience in a nontraditional way,” Mr. Weyman said.

        The company supplies machine tools for small and large customers, including large aerospace and automotive companies.

[photo] The Diesector robot was designed by Mutant Robots and sports Cincinnati Machine logos.
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        The BattleBots deal also involves employees in something fun they can follow each week that is tied to their work, said Kevin V.G. Bevan, a vice president and general manager at Cincinnati Machine.

        Mr. Weyman, who watches the show every week, hand-delivered the attack hammers to the leader of the Mutant Robots team just hours before a competition in San Francisco in May, he said.

        The May competition will air on the upcoming third season. Although Mr. Bevan and Mr. Weyman know how the Cincinnati Machine sponsored robots fared, they won't disclose the winner of the tournament.

        “I won't tell how they did, but they did well,” Mr. Bevan said. “I'm not going to ruin the fun for everyone.”

        BattleBots is Comedy Central's third-highest-rated show, which means a lot of exposure for Cincinnati Machine. But why is this metal-crunching show so popular?

        The show's co-creator, Trey Roski, said the appeal is that it's something on TV that anyone could do. People watch the show and think of what they would do differently to make the robots win, Mr. Roski said.

        “It's the only sport where a 9-year-old girl can go up against a rocket scientist or a jock and beat them,” he said. “It's a sport of the brain. You don't have to be physically strong.”

    The third season of BattleBots begins July 10. The show airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m, and Sundays at 10 a.m.
        Mr. Roski and his cousin, co-creator Greg Munson, began their robot quest with friendly competitions held at freeway underpasses in the mid-1990s. Their more official BattleBots competitions began in 1999 with two events that were shown over the Internet and on pay-per-view. Comedy Central began airing the show in August.

        Ernie Hall, professor and director of the robotics center at the University of Cincinnati, said he was leery at first of the violent nature of the show — which many of his robotics students watch regularly.

        “I thought they were taking robotics the wrong way in building machines for destruction,” Mr. Hall said. “Now I really think they are being creative with electrical and engineering design. I think my students are inspired by it.”

        Mr. Roski said he does not consider BattleBots violent because no humans get hurt and robots are only metal. He is interested in educating people with a show that happens to be funny. BattleBots also turns the spotlight on the people who create the attack robots and are often behind the scenes in everyday life, he said.

        “Everyone knows who first flew to the moon, but what about the guys who made the rocket? Those are the people who get neglected,” Mr. Roski said.

        BattleBots continues to gain competitors as well as viewers. The show began with 65 competitors in the first season to almost 600 in the upcoming season, said Renata Luczak, a spokesman for Comedy Central.

        The popularity of the show has led to lines of toys and games with Hasbro/Tiger Electronics and Jakks Pacific. There are more extensions in the works, Mr. Roski said. Plans are under way for a textbook and school curriculum for building robots and a version of the show for children.

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