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Dr Lucy Rogers and Sir K. Credit: www.neillcameron.com
The sharpest axe in BBC Robot Wars did not belong to Thor, Terrorhurtz or even Shunt. It belonged to the BBC itself – and they have used it to cut any future Robot Wars programs from their schedules. Robot Wars, for anyone unfamiliar with the show, is all about remote-control robots fighting against each other in an arena. The robots are made by teams or individuals, from professional engineers to school children.
Although I was a judge on the show, I am obviously not privy to the discussions between Mentorn Media, who produce the show, and the BBC - or with any other channel for that matter. So this post is all about my opinion, and also what I’ve read on Twitter.
Mentorn Media’s Robot Wars twitter (@UKRobotWars) tweeted the news last Friday, (16th March 2018):
“Sad to confirm the BBC’s decision to de-activate our House Robots. A huge thank you to Dara & Angela, our brilliant judges Noel, Lucy & Sethu, all of the amazing teams and most of all...you for joining us on this amazing robot smashing adventure. #BringBackRobotWars #RobotWars”
To which the BBC Press Office added: “We are very proud of Robot Wars and would like to thank Mentorn Media, the presenters Dara Ó Briain and Angela Scanlon, and all those involved in the last three series.”
I love the show and am disappointed by this decision, but I have been amazed at the outpouring of support for the program, both on twitter and in real life. The #BringBackRobotWars hashtag has been trending and many ideas are being put forward as to which channels should take the program on. Many people tell me how wonderful the show was - and how popular.
I was always impressed by the wide appeal of the show. My elderly neighbour would often pop out of her house to tell me how much she enjoyed it (her favourite was “that lovely lad from Newcastle” – aka Alex Brown with his robot TR2. Families with pre-schoolers and teenagers would all sit down to watch the show together. The number of robot wars themed birthday cakes that I have spotted has not only shown that (usually children!) love the show, but that there are some very talented cake makers out there too.
The show was first broadcast on the BBC from 1998 until 2003, then it moved to Channel 5 until 2004. The BBC brought it back on to BBC 2 in 2016, where it ran for three series and four specials.
The show was entertaining. The hosts were a blood hydraulic fluid thirsty Angela Scanlon, who really got into the spirit of the fights and Dara O’Briain, who appeared quite delicate as he ran away from flying shrapnel (sorry, I shouldn’t mock the weak).
The show was not just about entertainment though. It showed a variety of engineering skills and celebrated the joy of making. From different materials (wood is not good for a fighting robot) to the weaknesses of different joining mechanisms, from supply chain management to design, there was some part of the show that I think would appeal to most makers.
The show was also inspirational. When it was on 12 years ago, it inspired children, including the team who now make the House Robots - Robo Challenge. They used to make paper mache robots. And set fire to them. Ellis Ware, the creator of the robots Pulsar and Magnetar was also inspired by the show. He said in a tweet:
"The show cancellation is such a shame. You can easily trace who I am back to classic RW, which hooked me at 4yo. Wanting to compete drove me to gain niche skills, which lead to a direction in life.”
I am sad that the BBC have decided to drop Robot Wars, but I am hopeful that it will continue in some form. And if it isn’t televised, there are still live shows and competitions around the country and also around the world.
If you want to get involved with fighting robots, the Fighting Robot Association is the governing body for robotic combat and competition and there's a lot of information on their web page. If you’d like to get involved with robots, but maybe not so much the fighting, have a look at PiWars - in which teams build Raspberry Pi based robots that compete in numerous non-destructive challenges to earn points.