Art of War

Robots always get a bad rap. They're bad-mouthed for stealing jobs from hard-working folk, and they get exploited as man's obedient servants. Then human-centric Hollywood portrays them as cold-blooded killers, or, worst of all, lets the likes of William Shatner outsmart them and thwart their nefarious schemes.

Now the robots' day has come.

Industrial Light and Magic's Marc Thorpe founded an underground engineering event in San Francisco called Robot Wars. After it ended, BBC licensed the name and polished the concept until it was ready for prime time. The show, which featured human-built machines duking it out in a hazardous ring, was so successful on BBC that Public Broadcasting Stations brought it to the U.S. where it's been so popular that Comedy Central created its own version called Battlebots. Now KERA-Channel 13 offers 20 episodes of the third season of Robot Wars during two pre-Super Bowl marathons.

The shows begin with an assault course called The Gauntlet, where robots try to make it through mechanical obstacles. Round two features the Trials section, with a variety of challenges for the robots, and the main event, where they battle either one-on-one, in a multiple-bot melee, or during a grievance-settling grudge match. And don't forget the house robots, creatures such as Sergeant Bash, Matilda, and Sir Killalot (which has a single on the U.K. charts called "Android Love") equipped with lances, flamethrowers, and battering rams that try to obstruct the competitors during matches.

Robots have earned man's respect (but not autonomy; these bots are radio-controlled) not with discourse, but with hatchets, axes, and chain saws. However, they have broken Isaac Asimov's second robot rule (don't harm another robot unless it harms a human first), so it may not be long before they discard rule number one (don't harm humans) to increase their ratings. Maybe in 10 years a robot tag team meeting the reunited cast of American Gladiators in the ring will be the common bill.

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