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Attack, Pulverize, Destroy, Fundraise

MegaBots Inc. paves the way for a giant robot fighting league — at least if the money holds out.

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However, Eagle Prime's huge size advantage turned out to be an unforeseen yet key variable in the fight. "When we met in that warehouse in Japan, that was the first time we ever saw their robot," Oehrlein said. "We just had a way bigger, more powerful robot. I don't think there's anything that they could have done short of disrupting our electronics somehow."

But that wasn't all that the contestants discovered. It was only after the first battle that the true costs of their endeavor could be fully understood. The entire three-round match, which was gripping yet oddly anti-climactic, had taken just three minutes and twenty-four seconds. Yet it cost MegaBots roughly $5,000 just to replace the bumpers that were damaged when Kuratas charged Eagle Prime in the third round. Based on the devastation that Eagle Prime's chainsaw exacted upon Kuratas, Suidobashi's repair costs were probably much higher. And all of that was nothing compared to the cost of disassembling, transporting, and reassembling the giant robots across the ocean, along with the costs of travel and accommodations for the 12-member MegaBots crew, the two pilots included. Oehrlein said those costs approached $100,000.

Since the battle, which was recently awarded a Guinness World Record in the category of "Largest Robots to Fight," other potential competitors from several countries have expressed interest in building a fighting robot or creating a challenge of their own. Perhaps most prominently, MegaBots has been called out by the makers of a Canadian robot named Robo Dragon, a giant, diesel-powered, car-eating, fire-breathing dragon.

"There are a number of teams around the world that are interested in fighting. The tricky part is financing it," said Oehrlein, who cited no less than three different teams in China he'd be excited to fight if given the opportunity. "We're considering things like 'Do we just build all the robots ourselves or do we have a bunch of teams build them?' The advantage of building all the robots yourselves is you can get economies of scale and control how the events look and feel a little bit better. But then you lose a little bit of uniqueness in the robots. What people especially like about BattleBots is they get to see all their favorite teams come up with these creative designs and it's kind of like a 'may the best design win' type of thing."

By itself, a robot fighter can be constructed for about $500,000, Oehrlein said. But the total costs of this line of work are significantly higher. Even with $3.85 million in seed capital from corporations such as Autodesk and assorted venture capital firms, MegaBots now finds itself needing additional capital to make its long-term goal a reality.

"We can definitely build incredible robots, we can make some great YouTube videos and we can get some attention, but now we need the expertise on the team and the capital to turn this into a global touring phenomenon," said Oehrlein, who estimates that a sum in the $50 million range might be necessary to make a robot-fighting league self-sustaining. "It takes a lot of investment to get to that point. But it requires an investor with an incredible vision to invest meaningful amounts in something that is only starting to generate interest and traction."

Now that Oehrlein is more cognizant of these challenges, his company has entered a period of restructuring. Cavalcanti parted ways with MegaBots in 2018 to build aquatic robots at Otherlab and his own new startup, Breeze Automation. Oehrlein, meanwhile, has made some money investing in apartment buildings, conceding that it's a steadier vocation than MegaBots, while only taking up a fraction of his time. The time away from MegaBots has allowed him to put some things in perspective. "I haven't made any plans for a vacation yet," he said, "but they can be useful for disconnecting from the day-to-day and assessing things from a 10,000 foot view."

Looking ahead, MegaBots plans to branch out and create additional income streams before it builds more robots, Oehrlein said. Sponsorships, event appearances, lines of both toys and apparel, a MegaBots video game, and reality shows involving the pilots and pit crews are all on the drawing board. The company has been able to raise more than $700,000 in appearance fees, alongside paid rides, YouTube ad revenue, sponsorships, paid appearances on TV shows, merchandise sales, and video licensing. In the meantime, Bay Area residents can help the cause by backing MegaBots on the fundraising website Patreon, Patreon.com/MegaBots.

MegaBots still needs to figure out whether its vision is economically sustainable. It may or may not be the company that ultimately makes a giant robot-fighting league come to life. But it wouldn't be for lack of trying. MegaBots laid the groundwork and paved the way. And whether its finds the resources it needs or others pick up where the original duo left off, giant fighting robots have arrived. And if MegaBots gets its way, Oehrlein and Cavalcanti's dream could come true: a world where one of the entertainment options on a Saturday night includes your favorite giant robot fighting its opponents to the roar of tens of thousands. 

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