Suidobashi Heavy Industry vs Megabots Inc

So we finally had the long promised Giant Robot Duel. Seeing part of this blog’s thing is to comment on mecha designs, it’s only fitting to comment on real world giant robots.

While we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I can’t help but give some feedback on the outer appearance from the get-go.

Their first robot, Iron Glory MkII is outright dirty. This is certainly by choice and often fits the whole worn-out industrial look Megabots wanted to go, but in a publicity stunt like this, they could’ve cleaned it up a lot and tweaked it to simply be more eye pleasing. The earthy tones here give a look of something that was dug up from a hole somewhere. It also looks unbalanced. Without a doubt it’s designed to stay upright and move around without the height becoming an issue, but we’re talking about a fight here. It’s going to get pushed around, and any mass that’s outside the region directly above the tracks it has will sway it if push comes. As long as it stays as low as possible, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Those arms may be neat for target shooting, but as the video makes clear, this is a hand-to-hand battle, meaning they’re more or less useless.

 

Kuratas on the other hand is painted showy red, and during the pre-fight interview, we see its left hand constantly opening and closing. While useless, it does give off a certain attention to detail. While Megabots is traditional American dakka and looks the role, Kuratas follows rather unorthodox Japanese design. No legs to be seen here, Kuratas rolls on wheels. The clawed right arm could’ve used more red paint for sure, at least for its shoulder. The welding do look sturdy and up to standards.

Well, let’s get to the first fight.

Here we see how small the treads on Iron Glory MkII are. Kuratas’ design has spread the mass rather low while Iron Glory MkII decided to stand up and make itself a sitting target.  The blow Kuratas delivered easily tipped Iron Glory MkII over. This may have been prevented with the treads extending further back, or adding a pivoting action. Like with tanks that keep their turret to one direction while the lower body pivots on place. However, I doubt Iron Glory MkII would’ve had enough power for that otherwise. Kuratas seemed to be pretty good on straights, but that mass must be hard to direct to another direction without slowing down.

Furthermore, it looked like the cockpit for Iron Glory MkII was not designed to fall, and the pilots clearly got rather serious shock. There was no head support or harnesses to speak of. That’s dangerous, and anyone who wants to make their own mecha, please make sure whoever pilots it is secured in place and has the necessary shock absorbents around.

Iron Glory MkII was just a warm-up though. Its design has loads of problems that simply won’t work in a competitive fight. Megabots’ Eagle Prime was specifically designed to for this contest, and it shows.

Eagle Prime has twice the mass either Kuratas or its predecessor has. This alone makes it a bit harder to tip over. However, they stuck with the rising legs idea, meaning it’ll spread its mass again between low and very high points. However, it is stated to be bottom-heavy with 60% of its mass residing on the lower half. It also stands in the middle of the treads, making it much harder to topple over.

In terms of offensive, it’s right hand is an industrial claw that is more designed to crush than punch, but that’s not really important. The mass of the whole thing is enough to be worried about. It’s left hand’s cannon is useless, unless it manages to paint Kuratas’ to the point of  pilot being unable to see outside. A definitive upgrade, and another very American design.

Let’s not forget that is movement macros it has, but onward with the second fight.

The second round was more about the environment. Kuratas launched a drone that got knocked out of the air and Eagle Prime utilised the environment. This sort of slow-paced fighting isn’t exactly Kuratas’ strength, and in close combat they got stuck to each other. Most damage was done to Kuratas, not by Eagle Prime’s claw or shots, but with the barrels of the cannon. So, what’s the next most American choice of weapon after your guns fail?

I admit, I did not see Megabots going so far as to install a chainsaw. Because live ammunition is not an option here, might as well go straight in cut. Kurata’s plan in this second round was to blind Eagle Prime’s cameras, but as we already saw, cannons do jack shit. For whatever reason, neither Megabots or Suidobashi had well designed, accurate paint ball cannons with them.

The problem in using a chainsaw that was intended to cut stone is that you need to have it revved up at full speed before you can cut through. With low velocities like this, the blades simply get caught and rip pieces off rather than cutting them. On a more smoother surfaces, like the main body of Kuratas, the chainsaw mostly skims cross before hitting the shoulder.

With this, the American Megabots was announced the victor. Nothing really came out of this, outside all the money that went into production of these things, and some stupid fun. Kuratas never really had any chances against Eagle Prime, seeing it was few weight classes lower. Without some sort of puncturing weaponry or something else to mess with the opponent’s system, the sheer weight difference made it lost. Maybe having a high-yield flamethrower or a blowtorch of some sorts could’ve delivered victory by frying off the exposed electronics and piping, but that would’ve been too easy and not hand-to-hand combat. That’s why a close-combat torch might’ve been a good call.

Both designs of Kuratas and Eagle Prime do show us the reality of giant robots. We can’t have them walk around on two legs, because that is largely unfeasable. Strength and speed are all relative, and while all this may have seemed slow, there was large amount of power behind each hit. The plating on Kuratas was stripped right off rather easily by just one direct hit and some chainsawing, something we barely every see in fiction. An idea of having as unified armor as possible with no corners or holes for the enemy to have anything to latch on, might be a good idea overall. A smoother surface would also make bullets skim off easier if their angle is low enough.

The whole content probably was scripted to a degree, but hey, at least got to see metal turned to scraps.

Mecha design; manipulators

Consider your hand. You control all those 27 bones through muscles and tendons. The nerves give you feedback and send your commands down the like, commands that you are not even conscious of. Twist your hand, and you see it twisting. The large muscles come through the skin, but all the fine motion is lost unless we specifically look for it. It can grab and hold things in a wide variety of positions and ways, some that we don’t even know before someone else teaches that. These hands can build and destroy in equal amounts, they are our the tools of our creations.

Transferring that to a giant robot is a bit of a hassle.

Much like with a lot of other direct transfer elements with human body and giant robots, adapting hands 1:1 is an easy concept for sure. The idea of similar multi-use manipulator is attractive from the get go, but depending on the setting, human-like hands might not be the best option. A human-like hand requires far more parts, development, maintenance and simple tech than a say a pincer or more simple manipulator. Of course, the main argument for having a hand for a giant robot is its versatility, especially when it comes to weapons. However, that’s something that could be easily done with hardpoints where weapon is being mounted. We should also question how versatile does the hand of a giant mecha be, especially for a war machine.

Broadly speaking, all human-like hands with mecha follow the same basic idea, there isn’t much deviation. It’s either smooth or cubic. Using this example from a VF-19 serves as a good showcase.

VF-19 hand

While it looks complex, it’s more about the layered elements that make it look complex. Inner functions are of course barely thought, they’re not important. The fact that it looks like it could work and has plausible design elements, like the knuckle guard and fingers’ segments layer on top of each other when bent, is more than enough. Studio Nue has always preferred rounder elements to their design (sometimes dubbed as Bubble hands), especially with their older works. In Gundam, Sunrise and Bandai have preferred using more cubic hands, although exceptions are aplenty.

Gundam MS fed manipulator

The above generic Mobile Suit manipulator was designed for the models, but seeing how Bandai and Sunrise design their mechas models in mind nowadays, it’s a good example of a hand that’s more or less designed for wielding a gun and a beam sabre. It’s a bit more straightforward than VF-19’s, less well-rounded. The question of course is, if this hand is largely made for weapon carrying, why isn’t it designed as such?

The answer is, of course, because of Rule of Cool. When mechas are designed as characters, they’ve almost always given large amount of human characteristics in order to showcase dramatic events. Hands are no different in this. Beam sabre battles would be less dramatic and interesting if the manipulator would be specifically designed holder than a hand.

Controlling a hand like this has basically three options, direct 1:1 input, control macros or brain wave input. Variations and combinations do apply. While a “glove controller” would be idea, that’s pretty much what you do then with that arm. It’ dedicated for that arm, and the rest of the controls are either automatic or left other arm or legs. We discussed control macros previously, and this is most likely the best option overall, if brain wave scanning tech is not available in your setting.

Designing mecha’s hand really isn’t anything hard; just look at your own and mechanise it. Give it details for something to grab attention and some panels for easy access.

Giant robots don’t really have a need for similar level of sophistication when it comes to their hands, a simple grasping arm should be enough with some level of modification to suit the needed purpose. Hardpoints add a lot of versatility as well.

These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too
These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too

Of course, fiction doesn’t need to play by the rules of reality all that much, and if technology is advanced enough in a fiction to produce these things, why not? They could of course build better and simpler manipulators, but sometimes you do seek more complex solution for the sake of all the options it could give you. A gripping manipulator above doesn’t really offer many ways to grasp a thing.

Some franchises mix human-like hands with specifically designed manipulators, Muv-Luv popping to my mind foremost.

To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped
To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped. It’s a pretty good example of a very specific manipulator arm that works in junction of the main hand, something that I personally would like to see done more

Another one would Mobile Suit Z Gundam‘s The O with its assisting manipulators underneath its skirt. These manipulators question why would The O even need human-like hands, when the three-prong manipulator does everything they do. The answer to this is, of course, because the human design does not use that sort of hand. In a way, mecha in general should always be contrasted to armoured knights of legends, but that’s another topic.

Hands are ultimately something that Japanese inspired mecha design does. For giant robots, America has always preferred more built-in options. MegaBot’s Mark II is a good example of this.

maxresdefault[1]

American vision usually attached the weaponry onto a pre-fixed arm that may have some freedom of motion to it, but is always more dependent on the movements of the main body. Compare this to Suidobashi Heavy Industry’s Kuratas and the difference in approach is notable.

The idea of having this built-in approach and lack of manipulators is just as valid.  While it lessens on-the-fly options and puts some limitations, it eliminates loads of moving parts that would require maintenance. The most prominent film example of this sort of thing would be our good old friend, ED-209.

I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.
I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.

Unlike with mechas with arms and manipulators, you can see ED-209 guns are its arms with no manipulators, as it needs none. It’s a robust little connector that looks sturdy and serves only to take the beating from the cannon’s recoil and swivel enough to shoot whoever full of holes.

Keep an eye to hands you see in mecha films and shows. Take notice how they are portrayed and how they function. Rarely you will see them doing things outside the capabilities of human hands, and showcasing how they are actually controlled is even rarer. Sometimes they take advantage of what a machine hand can do, like how Gundam washes clothes by rotating its wrist 360-degrees in repetition.

Washing machine Gundam