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Monday, November 10, 2014

No Holds Barred: Mark Setrakian on the Future of Robot Fighting 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with robotics expert Mark Setrakian.

Besides being the designer and creator of the robots on the Robot Combat League, which aired in 2013 on Syfy in the U.S. and on Space in Canada, he has been involved in robotics and animatronics since his youth. He started his professional career at the age of 19 at George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic. Besides developing animatronics for numerous major films, he has been involved in several robot fighting ventures including Robot Wars, BattleBots, and RoboGames, which is still holding events.

We spoke with Mark Setrakian right after he made a presentation on Saturday, November 8, entitled "Making TV and Movie Magic with Robots" at the Engadget Expand New York 2014 event at the Javits Center in New York.

At present, the Robot Combat League TV show is in limbo. It received disappointing ratings last year on Syfy, and was not renewed, or, for that matter, officially cancelled. Numerous problems in the positioning of that show led to a decline in its ratings as the season progressed.

"We went in with the intention of creating a sports show," he said. The Syfy network, however, is more "skewed" to running what are called (usually inaccurately) "reality shows".

"It became more like a reality competition and less like a sporting event," he continued. "And as a result, I think the tone of the show came off inauthentic enough that people who were tuning in who really wanted to see the sport aspect of it were really disappointed."

We discussed the status of that show, which he also noted did not draw a big enough audience to survive, and was not promoted well. However, there has been a change in leadership at Syfy, so there is a glimmer of hope that it can be revived.

Whatever the fate of that particular show, he is committed to robot fighting.

"I can tell you on my own, that I have been thinking about it non-stop since the show was on," he said. "I am still very much intending to go forward with some form of humanoid robot fighting. I really believe in that format."

Right now he is in the process of developing new robot prototypes. We discussed how close we are technologically to the creation of the kind of self-contained humanoid robots seen in the popular fictional movie "Real Steel", which was set in the future.

We also discussed events like RoboGames which do not use humanoid robots, whether one day robot fighting can at least partially replace combat sports which have people fighting, why it is "inevitable" that there will be successful humanoid robot fighting shows and events, and much more.

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