The following story appeared in the Vancouver Sun Newspaper, late January, 2001:
Patricia Bailey Vancouver Sun
Derek Young will be the only Canadian appearing in the Comedy Network's televised show Battlebots, where remote controlled robots battle each other.
Jay Leno competes with Chin-Killa on the Comedy Network.
An ingenious, robot-obsessed Burnaby engineering student is the only Canadian to appear on the upcoming Comedy Network series Battlebots, where home-designed, remote-controlled robots butt metal to the delight of a screaming crowd.
The series -- which makes its Canadian debut Friday night on the Comedy Network -- is billed by its American promoters as a futuristic sport that combines comedy and "death, destruction and metallic mayhem." Others equate the crowd-pleasing silliness -- the homely tank-like creations smash it out in a small arena while fans sit behind a shatterproof glass barrier -- to all-star wrestling.
To the novice viewer, Battlebots looks like demolition derby for techies. Ramming in to other robots is a chance to work off testosterone while simultaneously demonstrating engineering prowess -- the more sophisticated a machine's design, the better the chance of victory.
The weird -- predominantly male -- pastime is generating big-name buzz. Talk-show host Jay Leno competed with his robot Chin-Killa when the series was taped in Las Vegas last November.
Tonight, Burnaby's Derek Young, 23, will demonstrate his 51 kilogram Battlebots warrior Complete Control, on Open Mike with Mike Bullard.
People are attracted to Battlebots because it's like watching sports bloopers, says the dark, semi-dreadlock-haired Young, as he sits in the cluttered basement apartment he shares with his girlfriend."I think people like watching mechanical stuff break."
After reading about Battlebots in Wired magazine, Young built his first robot, Smashy, in 1997, but the contest was cancelled that year. In 1999, he built Son of Smashy, and he took a road trip California to compete; he won the middleweight face-off.
Battlebots has four weight classes ranging from 25 to 488 pounds (11 to 221 kilograms): lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight. Powered by batteries, hydraulics and internal-combustion engines, the pudgy little machines aren't designed like the more sexy, human-like android because "form follows function," in Battlebots, says Young. "You have to keep them low and wide so they don't get knocked over."
According to the robot designer's particular weapon proclivity, the machines are equipped with buzz saws, spikes or blades to incapacitate opponents. The robots are manipulated ringside from "the pit," where designers and technicians are on standby to make repairs and adjustments. To enhance the battle's drama, the arena floor contains surprise hazards: pop-up saws, blades and trap doors.
Young describes Complete Control as a "clamp-bot with the ability to slam," in reference to the powerful lifting fork jutting out of his machine's aluminum armor. And the billing doesn't disappoint. In one televised sequence, Complete Control nimbly scooped up its opponent, Super-Chia-- a goofy squat machine covered with branches and leaves to replicate a Chia-Pet -- and repeatedly slammed it down until victory was pronounced.
Although contestants have to meet the weight requirements, the criteria for entering remains loose. "It's still about fun. You just have to build a great robot," says Young.
But not everyone makes it on TV. While Young's battle was viewed as TV worthy, a second Canadian, Erik Hagman, 32, competed but won't appear on the televised series
The Battlebots series was inspired by an annual tournament in San Francisco run by and for "gearheads" like Young to show off their home-built robots. While the highly edited, campy TV series has tarted up the original idea with flashing lights and mini-features about the participants, the production quality remains low.
Despite its home-video look, there is big coin behind the scenes. One of its co-creators is Edward "Trey" Roski III, the 35-year-old son of multimillionaire sports tycoon Edward Roski Jr., who owns the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers.
The younger Roski, who grew up crashing an array of high-priced remote-controlled vehicles, told a San Diego paper that Battlebots was about "education and kids." The high-minded Roski is even shooting for gender parity. While Battlebots competitors are almost exclusively male, Roski plans to recruit a few women and teenaged girls for future installments.
There is also a British version of Battlebots on BBC, called Robot Wars, which has inflamed the debate about televised violence across the Atlantic. The popular British show has 6.5 million viewers, mostly -- surprise, surprise -- boys aged 9-14 and their fathers.
In April, TLC will also launch Robotica, a seven-part series where home-built robots from across the United States will compete to make it through an obstacle course of oil slicks, mazes, and even artificially produced stormy weather. According to its promoters, Robotica will also follow the builders as they conceptualize their robots to help viewers understand how good design separates "the wimpy from the world class."
The first Battlebots made-for-TV competition took place in 1999 in Long Beach, Calif. The second season was shot at the All-American Sport Park in Las Vegas last November. While marketers have worked relentlessly to promote Battlebots as mindless high-tech cockfighting -- there is an aggressive referee, in-your-face colour commentary and a large-breasted, giddy woman to interview the competitors -- for Young, Battlebots is about design.
"Creating the robot is like sculpture. It's an artistic endeavour," says the Simon Fraser University student as he demonstrates the intricate workings of his robot in the basement kitchen he's transformed into a workshop.
Complete Control is his fourth robot. Like most of the designers who appear on the series, Young continues to build robots simply because he adores machines -- next to a photo of his girlfriend are two framed pictures of the 1971 Datsun he's been rebuilding.
"I'm not a violent person. I like it because it crosses different things. There is a technical side and a creative side."
He certainly isn't into Battlebots for the money. Young, who has yet to find a sponsor to cover all his costs, estimates he spent $3,000 on Complete Control.
Young also likes Battlebots because the other competitors are often highly creative, successful techies. "Some of the guys are artists or engineers who work in special effects and programming. They are great contacts for me. One guy is even a ride designer at Disney."
In one match, Young's machine beat a robot designed by Will Wright, the designer of the best-selling computer games Sim City and The Sims.
But the future engineer isn't hoping his experience and contacts will land him a high-profile techie job.
"I don't want to become a cog in some big company. That's what will happen to most people I graduate with."
With his penchant for cars -- he's also an amateur sports-car driver -- Young is contemplating fuel-cell research. He also dreams that his girlfriend -- who is hoping to start a graduate degree in finance mathematics next year -- will be the breadwinner. "She's really really smart, so I hope she'll support me."
The article you just read is from The Vancouver Sun newspaper in Vancouver BC.