Many moons ago, I toured the globe to ascertain the current status of the world’s giant stompy robots. What we found out was that humanity made some decent progress towards making its first true ‘Mech, but hadn’t quite arrived at the future promised in the 31st century. Can’t really blame ‘em since the Mackie didn’t take its first steps until 400 years from now, but you also can’t blame me for being impatient.
Six years since that article was first published, we’ve made yet more strides towards a ‘Mech-anized future, but it looks like we’re still some decades (or centuries) away from something that closely resembles a BattleMech. But it’s always nice to get our hopes up, so let’s check in on the world’s real-life giant robots.
Quick recap: the Method V2 was a South Korean design that really seemed the closest to being both A) BattleMech-sized, and B) able to walk on two legs. Back in 2017, it was a technological test bed that still needed to be hooked up to an external power supply and suspended from wires hanging from the ceiling to keep from falling over.
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to have been much movement with the Method V2. Vice got into the V2 in 2018, proving that it still works, but we haven’t seen any announcements about any sales, a final product, or even possible applications. The whole thing really seems to have just made a splash and then disappeared. Even the official site is down.
One potential reason for that could be ballooning development costs. According to CNBC, the Method V2 didn’t cost $8 million, but actually $100 million--a price that Method V2 creator Hankook Mirae Technology might not have been able to afford. There are some unconfirmed reports that the company went bankrupt and all development has ceased since 2019. A financial audit from 2021 could support this theory, but companies can be audited for lots of reasons beyond bankruptcy.
Megabots and Kuratas
The highlight of these two bots came in 2018 when Eagle Prime Mk. III finally fought Kuratas in a live online broadcast that was… frankly, disappointing. Neither side really wanted to damage their robots, so the combat felt a little disingenuous. Don’t expect Solaris VII in the above video.
Today, MegaBots is trying to raise enough funds to build another giant robot to do it all over again. To that end, they’ve co-developed a mobile game called MegaBots Battle Arena where you can build your own virtual deathbot to fight other people online. There’s also an associated line of NFTs that are on sale, but with the crypto crash, that probably isn’t worth much these days.
The Kuratas has seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth. I can’t find any mention of the bot since its fight against Eagle Prime. In all likelihood, it’s sitting in a warehouse somewhere in Japan.
Boston Dynamics: Spot and Atlas
With the bad news out of the way, here’s the good news. Boston Dynamics has continued to innovate in the field of robotics and has since produced Spot, a four-legged robot that has multiple potential uses. We’ve also seen Atlas go from merely walking to running obstacle courses and putting on acrobatics displays.
Spot first went on sale in 2020, and since then has been iterated to fulfill numerous tasks thanks to its modular attachments. You can give Spot an arm to have it interact with objects, or give it visual sensors to provide on-site eyes and ears wherever it’s too dangerous to send people. This obviously has a bunch of military applications, although not quite as many as Boston Dynamics’ earlier BigDog robot.
In many ways, Atlas has been the more dynamic of the two robots. The way Atlas can move far surpasses anything we’ve ever seen out of a remotely operated device and seems to be the closest we’ve come to ‘Mech ambulation, albeit in a much smaller package. Atlas, however, isn’t for sale yet.
Boston Dynamics also now sells a giant robotic arm that’s intended to replace warehouse workers, but that’s probably the least interesting thing they produce.
Yokohama Gundam Factory’s Giant Gundam
I know Gundam’s aren’t BattleTech, but they share a lot of history. Plus, this is easily the biggest giant robot ever built. It even seems larger than how Gundams are depicted in various anime and manga.
Yokohama’s giant Gundam debuted in October of 2020 as a 60-foot tall robot that could actually move. At least, in a limited sense. It still had to be connected to the massive gantry, but it could move its legs, arms, head, and various individual panels to make it look like it was the real thing. The Gundam has 24 degrees of freedom, has a working walk sequence, and can even kneel down.
Tourism seems to be the main deal with Gundam Factory Yokohama, the location where you can purchase tickets to get up close and personal with the giant Gundam. Tickets are 1,650 yen for adults over 13 and 1,100 yen for children. Note that you don’t get to actually go inside that Gundam--you just get to walk up the gantry to watch the Gundam do some poses and walk for you.
This Gundam certainly gets points for scale, but it loses points on freedom of movement if it has to remain tied to a gantry.
New Canadian ‘Mech From Exosapien Technologies
Quad-walkers get a bad rep in BattleTech, but let’s be honest: four legs are more stable than two. With four legs, you can walk without needing to rely on a gyro to keep you stable. This is exactly how Prosthesis from Exosapien Technologies operates.
Prosthesis first made a big splash in 2020 with interviews with CBC and CNET. It’s billed less as a ‘Mech and more like a big exoskeleton--a look complimented by all those metal tubes. Those two big “tusks” at the front of this walking elephant both keep objects from striking the driver, provide a leveraging surface if Prosthesis gets stuck, and keep the exoskeleton from tipping over like a turtle on its shell.
Just like with BattleTech‘s quad ‘Mechs, Prosthesis is a bumpy ride, so the pilot sits suspended in the cockpit. Moving your arms moves your front legs, while the back legs are controlled by your feet. As you move, Prosthesis moves. And you get about an hour of movement from 550 lbs of lithium-ion batteries.
“This is a dream I’ve had for about 14 years,” Exosapien Technologies co-founder Jonathan Tippett told the CBC back in 2020. “It’s intended to create a new experience for humans.”
Prosthesis was awarded the Guinness World Record for the largest four-legged exoskeleton, and the company is still offering “pilot experiences” for anyone willing to come out to Vancouver.
There’s also a new exoskeleton on the way. Exosapien’s dream has always been to create an exoskeleton racing league, and it looks like the Exoquad VX1 is aimed at high-speed agility over rugged all-terrain walking. Unveiled back in February, the VX1 is described as a motorcycle crossed with a mech suit. Much like Prosthesis, the VX1 has the drive suspended from the cockpit, although the pose is more reminiscent of a race bike. Don’t expect to see the VX1’s prototype until sometime in 2024.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.