Captured by Robots

When computer geeks grow up, make millions, and have too much time on their hands, fully remote-controlled robots are born. And of course, when you spend thousands of dollars and eons of time building your own remote-controlled robot, the obvious question to ask next is, "Can my robot beat up your robot?"

Bot Bash's robots are not merely the brain children of your run-of-the-mill computer geeks. These puppies are built with custom software capable of analyzing robot opponents. The robot battle contains specifically designed challenges such as "Robot Soccer" with a special "Kill Ball," as well as "Golem Flag Capture," which is like regular flag capture, only with golems instead of humans. ("Golem" is geek-speak for robot, for those not in the know.) The robots are also called MERCS, an acronym for "mechanized extreme robotic combatants."

Bot Bash creator Bob Pitzer has built an automated arena for the golems, and even that is high-tech. There are pits that robots can fall into, and obstacles such as pinball flipper fins. Pitzer says, "People already know about BattleBots. But this is different than that. BattleBots is about destroying other robots. This is about impeding the robots. It's more strategy." Like Risk meets the old "My dad can beat up your dad" routine . . . with robots.

In addition to Robot Soccer and Golem Flag Capture, there is a game called "Annihilator," in which robots fight two-on-two until only one team is left standing.

"This is like a video game, only it's real life," says Pitzer. "It's more unpredictable because it's not limited to programming of the video game." Plus, Pitzer says that robots can fail because of small things like wires coming loose, so it adds an element of danger and unpredictability that you don't get from a video game.

Bot Bash has been around since 1997. According to Pitzer, Bot Bash started as a "sci-fi geek convention" but is now a regular, unspecified geek convention. In 1999, the events started getting off the ground when Robot Wars, a concept similar to BattleBots, was caught up in a legal battle.

Pitzer swooped in and offered the Robot Wars people a place to show off their robots, and Bot Bash got really big, really fast. In 1998, there were only 10 robots, but in 1999, there were 35. In 2000, there were 45, and last year, there were 60. This year, there are more than 90 registered robots, and Pitzer couldn't be happier. "We're the next step. We're the future of this sport as a spectator sport," he says. "But we're not up to NASCAR standards yet."

This year's theme for Bot Bash is "Hangar 18." "This is conspiracy theory," Pitzer says. Lending authenticity to the atmosphere, the event will be held in Tempe's National Guard Armory. There will also be Hummers, warning signs and everything you need to feel the conspiracy.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Quetta Carpenter