Where Robot Gladiators Fight to the Death

But what if the fighters aren’t human?

Humans box, wrestle, and knock each other senseless, much to the delight of audiences. Last year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) drew 2.75 million viewers for a live event and 3 million people tuned into the Premier Boxing Championship debut. Around 1.6 million people even watched WrestleMania 31. While some would rather watch Weekend at Bernie’s 4 than subject themselves to such spectacles of violence (and sometimes camp), since the gladiatorial days of ancient Rome, humankind has celebrated fighting and marveled at what the human body can dish out and take. But what if the fighters aren’t human?

In 1994, Robot Wars debuted as a live event in San Francisco. Four years later, the BBC began broadcasting the show by the same name. Most of us are familiar with the premise: people build remote-controlled fighting robots equipped with spikes, hammers, axes, or some other weaponry, and then the robots throw down cage-match style. A victorious bot wins by immobilizing its opponent for 10 seconds, pushing it into a hazard area on the floor, or knocking it into a trench. The robots defend themselves from attacks by dodging or shielding, and many can right themselves if knocked askew.

Humans’ fascination with fighting robots continues to grow. Perhaps that’s attributable to our taste for increasingly sophisticated and varied entertainment, or perhaps these battles hold a glimpse of the future. Drones, as well as surveillance and supply robots, have been used in warfare for a while, and infantry robots are on the way. Twenty-first-century warfare specialist P.S. Singer believes that because of robots, “mankind’s 5,000 year monopoly on the fighting of war is breaking down in our very lifetime.” Among other things, battling robots may condition humans to the changing landscape of war. Or maybe this is robots’ way of training themselves for the uprising, and for the day when they’ll remotely control us.