I could take ’em

I watched that terrible Giant Robot Duel. They were slow, clumsy, and stupid, with nothing but ginned-up drama to add some fake excitement to cumbersome machines poking at each other in slow motion. It was like old television wrestling slowed down to a tenth of the usual speed.

At least I realized something. An old flabby guy in glasses, like me, could easily defeat these monsters. All I’d need is a pair of cable cutters to go in and hack random wires and tubes while they plod around, and victory! I’ll say this for the old FAF wrestling nonsense, I know that Rowdy Roddy Piper or Hulk Hogan or any random luchador would flatten me in a heartbeat and with a laugh. These robots were contrived and pathetic.

Also, we already have manned fighting robots. They just aren’t poorly designed to appear anthropoid and aren’t equipped with feeble weapons like paintball guns or chainsaws. Here’s one:

We’ve been working on battle bot technology for about a century now. These things aren’t pathetically awkward and inefficient and useless.

I also don’t think I could take an M1A2 with my aged nimbleness and some wire cutters.


  1. Matt G says

    To defeat the tank, you just need to ride up on a horse and jam a rock in the barrel. It worked for Indiana Jones.

  2. danielrutter says

    One: This “fight” was horribly fake and scripted, as well as slow and plodding and boring. Apparently it was filmed over WEEKS, because the machines are THAT unreliable.

    Two: “Combat robots” (scare quotes because they’re not real robots, they’re not autonomous, they’re radio-controlled), of the Robot Wars, BattleBots, ComBots, sort, could probably actually defeat these horribly palsied multi-ton things. Ray Billings’ “Tombstone” or “Last Rites” could probably smash the bottom out of every one of the Robot Duel contestants.

    Three: If you like mechanical destruction, watch the most recent BattleBots series. These things are getting scarily awesome. It’s NOT scripted, it’s NOT fake, and hundred-kilogram robots get shot HIGH into the air, or turned into giant sparky chunks that scare the commentators, quite often.

    (Robot Wars is also still alive today, but far too many of the combatants get hit in a minor way and then shut down. I think it’s something to do with the safety-links that humans are supposed to be able to reach and activate in order to turn off one of these terrifyingly powerful smash-machines, but which for some reason in the UK show are really susceptible to breaking when the robot is hit. But the current Robot Wars compere is Dara Ó Briain, which just by itself is 30% of a good reason to watch it.)

  3. felicis says

    We have also been developing anti-robot tactics for about as long. The basic strategic considerations are:

    standoff – if you can hit the robot from farther away than he can hit you, do so until it is destroyed.
    mobility – if you can reduce/eliminate the robot’s mobility, that makes it easier to standoff and destroy it
    main-gun capability – if you can damage the main gun or its movement, that also makes it easier to get into a position to pound it until destroyed

    other tactical considerations –

    use of mines and obstacles – while these vehicles can be very capable across a wide variety of terrain, it is possible to block their movement (or to create a large enough risk of movement – anti-tank mines only have to blow off a tread to be effective – anything damaging the legs of walking robots will likewise provide a mobility kill. See battle of Hoth for some examples.

    Surprise – for a manned robot – the response time is limited to the effectiveness of human responses (to some extent). Human reflexes are already slow – they are slower still if you have to try to remember which button to push to make your robot respond in the correct way.

  4. cartomancer says

    Perhaps the US military ought to invest half a trillion dollars in PZ with his bolt cutters. They’d probably get more combat effectiveness than the F-35s for that.

  5. says

    I did an interview with Roger Schell, recently, for my column at SearchSecurity – he’s one of the founders of the field and has generally been 3 or 4 decades ahead of us. In the 1970s he was designing military communications systems predicated on the requirement to resist software subversion. Given what we know about the NSA’s attempt to subvert the world’s software loadot, there is a good chance those bots are already carrying embedded backdoors. A lot of interesting things could go wrong, there. “Radio control” made me giggle: what’s the crypto on the link and why isn’t it fair play to jam your opponent and pound them while they are offline?

    In a pinch there’s always EMP.

  6. says

    Thing with pretty much all “giant robots” is that they don’t make “servos” that big. Heck, we can barely manage something close to the exoskeleton for power armor at this point, and no one has yet actually built such a thing (its the same reliability issue. How the heck do you swap out, never mind make easily swap-able parts, which you don’t have to bloody take 90% of the armor off to get at, to replace?) Think, ironically, Fallout came up with an interesting one for that – the armor is bolted on to the thing outside, where all the mechanics are from the inside, but still, no one is building this stuff. Giant anything is going to use hydraulics – which scale up well with power, but the bigger the damn thing gets, the slower it is, since you can’t reasonably speed up the flow of the fluids, past certain limits. Its never going to be fast, short of someone actually inventing artificial muscle, and even then.. who knows what a 20 foot strand of that stuff would be able to “actually” do, compared to a 20 inch section, on something vastly smaller. I tend to suspect that the “reliability” and “speed” issues will, even with that, not scale well.

  7. Matrim says

    Eh…our military “battlebot” technology is good at dishing it out, but any yahoo with a PG-7 that they picked up for a couple hundred bucks could take one out.

  8. microraptor says

    whheydt @9: Modern tanks laugh at burning gasoline. The jet turbine engine an Abrams uses burns far hotter and its armor is designed to protect against burning plasma.

    The idea of humanoid fighting machines is really a joke. I’ve been playing Battletech since the 90s, and while the idea of piloting a Battlemech the size of a building is cool, it’s just never going successfully stand up to a tank as long as the Laws of Physics stay as they are. There’s too much frontal surface (making armoring it effectively weight prohibitive), the center of gravity is too high, it’s got too high a profile, and feet really aren’t as good at spreading out weight as tracks are on soft surfaces. And then there’s the issue of all the bullet traps that the joints cause (areas where incoming projectiles will tend to deflect toward vulnerable points in the armor instead of away from them).

  9. jack16 says

    It is my understanding that the A-10 aircraft pretty much made the tank obsolete. It is still a big item in air support countering many types of ground installations. Air Force brass hated the “Warthog” vehicle because it was efficient and there was no need to spend money to replace it!

  10. rietpluim says

    Robots are fun only when humanoid. Everything else are just machines. More effective, but not fun.

  11. says

    Makes me think of all the “arguments” when Pacific Rim came out. In reality, giant robots (or giant humanoid fighting vehicles) are basically really dumb. And pointless. But, in imagination (and movies, stories, games) they are AWESOME!

  12. archangelospumoni says

    ” old television wrestling” I’m crushed CRUSHED that Dr. Myers would dump on pro wrestling. WTF! What about the Sheik of Araby and Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy and Haystack Calhoun? Dory and Terry Funk and their father Dory Funk Sr? And Andre the Giant?
    Jeebus. Now I’m all bummed out.

  13. stwriley says

    What an awful excuse for “robots” these things are. They’re really very poorly designed waldos that a skilled operator with a backhoe could take out in about 10 seconds flat. They’re giving robots a bad name. I’m the mentor for my school’s First Robotics team, a competition that stresses actual robotics for high school students. My team would be embarrassed to produce something as poorly designed and clunky as these machines.

  14. microraptor says

    jack16 @12:

    No, the A-10 didn’t make the Main Battle Tank obsolete. Close ground support aircraft like the A-10 can be very effective at destroying enemy tanks, but they don’t perform the same role that tanks do.

  15. says

    No, the A-10 didn’t make the Main Battle Tank obsolete.

    But the F-35 is so expensive, it killed off the A-10.
    The new M1 MBT is actually almost a complete re-design of the old one; the only thing it preserves is the basic shape.

    I used to think that the ideal vehicle was a battle-sphere, but then I realized that tanks have evolved to be tank-like for very practical reasons. Battle-spheres would be cool but they’d be too high profile. Sigh.

  16. zetopan says

    I watched over half of it, pretty much in agony. My best summary would be “brain death”, for both the producers of this tripe and those “enthusiastic” viewers (assuming that they were not simply shills).

  17. chrislawson says

    Further on the limitations of heavy mechanical weaponry — one of the reasons the Germans didn’t push into Dunkirk to wipe out the trapped Allied forces was that Dunkirk is surrounded by marshland and the German generals estimated they’d lose a huge proportion of their tanks into the terrain.

  18. whheydt says

    I had pretty much assumed that some time in the last 70 years, it had occurred to tank designers to defeat the idea of getting burning gasoline into the air intakes, thus countering the use of Molotov Cocktails.

  19. methuseus says

    @rietplum #13:

    Robots are fun only when humanoid. Everything else are just machines. More effective, but not fun.

    I don’t know about that. I’ve had more fun with tank battle games than all the MechWarrior (and other mech type) games combined. The humanoid battle robots are just so clunky they make no sense. I know about suspension of disbelief, but I just can’t suspend it that far.

  20. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    I expect I’ve been added to yet another watchlist by viewing that video, but whatev.
    Seems the T-72 autoloader is crap that keeps the breech open for several seconds while loading the two component round (discrete projectile and propellant casing), during which time the gunner, the commander, and the unprotected ammunition carousel on which they are sitting are all left completely exposed via the barrel. The spent propellant casing is also automatically ejected out of the turret through a small port that briefly leaves them exposed to the outside environment, so a molotov cocktail might manage to cause some issues through that.
    The M1 fires single component rounds (projectile and propellant in one package) and lacks an autoloader, so the breech is not required to be open for several seconds during loading. Not sure the M1’s turbine is super well protected against ingesting flammable liquids, but the ammunition is stored in a sealed compartment with blowout panels to prevent crew casualties during a hit or cookoff event. So if a grenade did manage to get down the barrel and past the breech into the turret, there would be casualties among the loader, gunner, and commander but probably won’t have any critical damage to the tank or the driver.

    Pretty sure most tanks do have some precautions against a handful of molotovs causing engine problems, but not so sure they can handle a large barrage of them engulfing the engine compartment and its immediate surroundings in flames, fumes, and smoke starving the engine of oxygen. Once the fire dies out, the engine would probably start up again easily enough unless the fumes manage to cause damage via severe premature combustion. Thinking it was acetylene gas that can be used to cause a reciprocating engine (only diesel-cycle engines?) to self-destruct should much of it get pulled into the intake air charge, but getting it ingested by the engine is a bit of an open problem. Of course, not all fighting vehicles use treads and if it uses any rubber tires for traction then molotovs will still be quite effective regardless of how well armored it may be.

  21. wcorvi says

    Chainsaws are incredibly ineffectual against anything besides wood or human flesh. Rocks, metal, etc would dull the chain almost immediately. Reminds me of the Star Wars Stormtroopers who can’t hit the broad side of a barn with their completely ineffectual blasters.
    And WHY would anyone fight with a sword, when phasers are available?

  22. microraptor says

    MattP @24:

    I was actually just in a discussion on this subject with a former M1 driver. According to him, the M1 is pretty resistant to Molotovs for the following reasons: the turbine engine already burns hotter than gasoline, so no risk of engine overheating. The volume of air it sucks through is high enough that the amount of liquid in a Molotov or three isn’t going to risk suffocating it. Theoretically, you could suffocate it by hitting it with enough Molotovs at once, but the sheer amount needed makes it a difficult enough task that the crews aren’t really concerned about such tactics.

  23. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Yeah, I was thinking the only way Molotovs would be mildly effective against a post-1940s tank is if it just sits there and lets itself be pelted by a stream of Molotovs that might possibly choke the engine. The armored vehicle charging the protester barricade in Kiev in 2014 was more or less what came to mind, where they had already prepared dozens of Molotovs and just kept hitting it. Molotovs were only effective there because the vehicle used rubber tires and did not keep itself in motion to avoid ingesting smoke and oxygen-deprived air.

  24. Akira MacKenzie says

    Back in my youth, when military service had some appeal for me, I wanted to get into the armored cavalry. To this day, tanks fascinate me.