It was the end of an era on Jan. 2 as a semi truck pulled into Oakland to pick up Eagle Prime, one of the two giant fighting robots built by Matt Oehrlein, Gui Cavalcanti, and a team of engineers at the Oakland company MegaBots Inc. The 15-ton robot had just sold on eBay for $29,900 to the monster truck show producer Straight Up Racing, to became part of the company's fleet of vehicles.
The robot had cost the company $2,500,000 to build.
MegaBots' other robot, Iron Glory, which happened to be in Japan, was sold to one of the company's Japanese investors, thus saving on shipping costs to the far east.
In spite of MegaBots' super viral popularity, the company has been forced to close down. Its video challenging Suidobashi Heavy Industry to a 2017 battle between giant fighting robots, spread across the Internet like wildfire, as did the Twitch stream of the fight itself. But Megabots co-founder Matt Oehrlein grudgingly conceded that the company's business model was not sustainable, even if it did capture the dreams of a generation and seemed to represent the beginnings of a new international sport.
Following layoffs and the resignation of staff at MegaBots, Oehrlein said the company received a bank loan, spent the money, and was unable to pay the interest, which forced it into liquidation.
"In some ways, I am glad there was this 'hard stop,' otherwise I may have just kept working on this forever with a flawed business model, never making any money," Oehrlein said. "I think I can be persistent to a fault."
Oehrlein admits that he won't miss some things about the business. As incredibly cool as his company's 'bots may have been when seen in real life at a festival or exhibition, Keeping them running was an ongoing challenge.
"I will not miss desperately hoping the unreliable, multi-million-dollar robot does not break down in front of cameras rolling, or crowds watching and become a 15-ton paperweight," he reminisced. "When we do appearances with Eagle Prime, I just remember constantly thinking 'If the engine stops working, I honestly do not know how I would get this thing back to the shop.'"
Oehrlein also expressed relief that the 'bots had gone to good owners who can give them the considerable love and attention they need. In the case of Eagle Prime, which wound up in the hands of Bill Payne's Straight Up Racing, Payne, an engineer, tinkerer, showman by trade, and current owner of no less than six monster trucks, could be the perfect new caretaker for Oehrlein's giant metal baby.
As for Oehrlein himself, he seems to be content with stepping back from giant fighting robots and letting other things fall into place.
"I own a few apartment buildings in Oakland which allow me the freedom to take some riskier bets and not have to go get a day job," he said. "I may experiment with some backyard experiments/Mythbusters-style YouTube videos, or who knows maybe it will just become my personal channel and I'll teach people about real estate!"
There may still be a few tricks up Oehrlein's sleeves. In addition to admitting that he would be willing to help other people or companies who might want to start their own giant robot fighting league, a recent video posted on the MegaBots Facebook page cited that while the Delaware-based MegaBots Inc. had been dissolved, Oehrlein had negotiated with the bank and investors to buy back all of the MegaBots social media accounts, trademarks, and the Megabots.com website to operate under the MegaBots name without any investors or debt. Towards the end of the video, Oehrlein states that he was "able to save one last thing out of the liquidation," the footage showing Oehrlein building something as Oehrlein invites viewers to turn on notifications for further updates.
"My feelings are mostly that I am happy I was able to have this experience at all," Oehrlein said. "What we did was incredible by all measures. Yes, it didn't turn out the way we all wanted/expected, but I am a big believer that if you are not experiencing any failure in life, you are working seriously beneath your potential."