Tech Transformers

Giant robot fighting: Next billion-dollar sport?


Japan and the U.S. are going to war and the weapon of choice? Giant battling robots.

Japanese robotics firm Suidobashi Heavy Industries this month accepted a challenge from U.S. rival MegaBots for a duel next year between their human-piloted giant robots armed with cannons that shoot giant paintballs at speeds of over 100mph.

There are no concrete details on what a robot would have to do to win or lose the fight, but the founder of MegaBots is convinced that it could kick off a sports league and a billion-dollar sport.

"In terms of the revenue and how big it can be, I think the sky is the limit. I believe that the MegaBots league that we're building will become one of the top three sports in the World within 10 years in terms of global audience, revenue, and engagement," Brinkley Warren, co-founder of Megabots, told CNBC by email.

"The MegaBot league which will be similar to the World Cup of giant human-piloted robots, and that's where I think it gets really exciting."

In a video released earlier this year, the U.S. team showed off their 12,000 pound Megabot Mark II and issued a challenged to Suidobashi. The Japanese rival responded in a video with their 9,000 pound Kurata.

Iron Man-Quidditch cross

Fighting robot competitions aren't new and have gained mass appeal in the past. TV program "BattleBots" has recently returned to ABC in the U.S. while "Robot Wars" was a very popular show in the U.K. last decade. These shows involved competitors making their own robots with different weapons and fighting each other.

But Warren has a very different vision about the future of the sport.

"Looking 20 years out, I definitely imagine a kind of flying exo-skeleton game environment that's an amalgamation of soccer, football, martial arts, boxing and paintball -- imagine Iron Man combined with Quidditch from Harry Potter," the entrepreneur told CNBC.

Human impact

But any giant robot fighting league or sport will face a number of hurdles to seriously get off the ground and become a billion-dollar industry. The sport would need to attract serious advertisers as well as lucrative broadcast deals to appeal to mass audience. In addition, live events will form a key revenue driver which will need attractive ticket prices, and the organizers will need to find ample arenas to hold battles.

Getting the sport of the ground might take longer than the organizers expect. Neville Upton, the CEO of Gfinity, the company behind the U.K.'s first e-sports arena, said MegaBots would have to take several things into consideration.

"I think because it is a new sport and new ideas there is a lot of pioneering to be done. It's going to be a long journey," Upton told CNBC.

"There is so much in terms of branding, awareness and marketing that you need to get right find the combination that works for the public."

Still, amid the entertainment that the MegaBot and Kurata could put on, Warren said there is a serious point to it all.

"Through sports we will be able to develop the world's most advanced robotics technology that IS capable of assisting humans in disaster relief efforts, and so even though we are focused on entertainment, we are definitely a high-tech robotics company developing cutting-edge technology that will make massive positive impact in the future," the MegaBots co-founder told CNBC.