Sunday, 31 July 2016

Robot Wars 2016 Review, Episode 2

Seeing how all-over-the-place my last review was, I'm going to try to give a slightly more coherent approach to reviewing the second episode of the new Robot Wars...

Will they have fixed the timer? Will they have fixed the music? Will the fights be just as exciting? Will they resolve what live entertainment was shown during the intervals? Also is there a Shove replacement (see Robot Wars Wikia)?

I like the new trophy, although it still has nothing on the old one. Good to see the variety of intros they can do- last week didn't we didn't really get to grips with the arena weapons!

Oh my goodness, so many returning robots, including Northamptonshire's finest, Thor (heavily rebuilt), and one of the most controversial robots in the old series, Tough As Nails (good to see foreign competition regardless)!!

Wow, I didn't realise how old the crowd is compared to the old series, when it was mostly mostly families! Probably the kids have all just grown up...

What a battle we have here in the first round! Disconstructor spins itself out with some appalling driving, and Tough As Nails being thwarted by Shockwave and Thor (eventually)! That was a close one though, Tough As Nails were very impressive early and could've pitted Thor without Shockwave's interference. That makes me happy but what a shame we're going to miss them... Shockwave one to watch? That timer though, it needs to be a bit more consistent (either have it on all the time or don't have it!)

Second battle: 4 completely new robots, maybe except for Draven, who looks like a mix of Tiberius and S.M.I.D.S.Y.. Chimera looks a bit like Stinger but the team seems to have no connection with the former Nottinghamshire based team. So much for my analysis that nostalgia wouldn't overburden the new series... ok, some of those facts about the teams were directly lifted from the website, but hey, some real nerds in the tournament! Good on them. M.R. Speed Squared did some real damage to Chimera! Bye bye exposed wheels! But where's Dead Metal? Foxic staying wisely out of the way of MR Speed and Draven taking most of the damage. MR Speed Squared looks like a good rival to Carbide, last week's winners. Overall the slowest fight in the series and JP shows he can commentate without losing his marbles! 

I still don't think that 2 hours is strictly necessary to repair a robot but then the complexity of the robots these days probably justifies the repair time...

Head to Head 1: Thor versus MR Speed Squared. Thor's experience shining through here, stopping the spinner easily here and pushing MR Speed Squared around. Disappointing with the overall outcome but a great result for experience over youth... but wait? The floor flipper factor comes into play!!! tohr is flipped upside down! That will count against them if it goes to the judges! And Mr Speed is fighting back here, but with no working weapon! Unfortunately MR Speed eventually fell into the pit after some clever driving from Thor.

Head to Head 2: Foxic and Shockwave. 2 flipper bots here, a first in this series. For all their fighting experience, Foxic may look pretty but their current battle form is not winning many hearts for not getting stuck in. Shockwave the favourite... and it starts with a surprise, the small size of Foxic proving to be an advantage, until they get caught in the flipper of Shockwave! Nice double team on Dead Metal there, but how much damage did they sustain from the saw? Shockwave getting better as the battle goes on and finally proves that size is everything as they pit Foxic while their flipper was stuck upwards. Entertaining battle overall!! The highlights package after each might need a bit of tweaking, they didn't really show the impressive shove on Dead Metal by Foxic. 

Head to Head 3: Shockwave and Thor. Winner v winner, axe versus scoop. Good to see that interchangable weaponry are allowed, so long as we don't have an anti-pit device I'm reasonably happy with interchangable weaponry! Those graphics still need modifying as well. Thor looking stronger early on,even without the axe! Shockwave in all sorts of trouble. Wow! Thor's axe has some power but they did same that it is only made of some plastic piping. Thor looking very strong overall. How are they going to fix that?? Thor getting approval from the crowd. That said, no real damage to the actual body of Shockwave. But, Thor making another mistake here, getting hit by Matilda and losing armour, unlike Shockwave! Judges have got their work cut out now... and Thor should win. Do they? Yes they do! Worthy winners in the end. Nice to see how the judges base their decisions. hove would have his work cut out to get all that rubbish out of the arena...

Head to Head 4: Foxic v MR Speed Squared. Is Foxic low enough to avoid that terrific spinner on M Speed? Looks like that may be a moot point as the spinnger isn't working and Foxic is focused on getting revenge on Dead Metal. Not good for aggression and control for Foxic. Foxic are just way too much into acting like children around their toy if it doesn't work! Angela picking up on their lack of action between the two competitors. Good to see MR Speed Squared win. Foxic is just too focused on trash talking rather than fighting. Where's their experience?

Head to Head 5: Foxic v Thor. Is "bloody" a swearword? Discuss. Pre-watershed so that could lead to complaints. Foxic really not endearing themselves to me with their attitude at all! If they make it through this heat... Evenly matched in terms of pushing power but again Dead Metal getting involved on Foxic! Foxic focusing too much on one tactic here and they are in big trouble! Dead Metal proving he's top dog in this arena. Matilda having the last word after the klaxon, pushing Foxic into the pit! The trash talking is just putting me right off Foxic, happy to see the back of them. Will there be a yellow card for Matilda? I guess there's no refbot, so no rules! Thor looking the favourites here in the final.

Head to Head 6: Shockwave v MR Speed Squared. No expense spared with the commentating here, the cut on the team member's hand being shown off. I shouldn't be so surprised that Shockwave got the scoop fixed. Poor old MR Speed! Taking damage from both house robots but Shockwave in trouble for losing their drive train! Nicely done by Shockwave to tip MR Speed onto their side and almost immobilise them in the process! Eventually pitted, Shockwave advance as finalists.

Final: Thor v Shockwave. Now this is a good fight. Immediately Shockwave went onto the attack without putting the scoop up (this is what Foxic should've done) and by chance knocked out the electrics in Thor, proceeding to push them into the pit! Fantastic shock result, enjoyed by all. Home in time for tea. With such a high score in the head to heads, surely we'll see Thor as the wild cardentry? Sorry Behemoth...

Overall, another entertaining show, lots of action with only one dud fight (even Judge-God Noel Sharkey saying it might have been the worst fight he has ever seen, and he saw 3 Stegs to Heaven taking on Eleven, the slowest walking robot ever known to Robot Wars!) still needs a bit of work on the graphics, some errors in camera control seem to be creeping in (particularly the head to heads, which is surprising) and maybe tell teams to be respectful of their opponents (looking at you, Foxic). I know it was filmed 6 months ago but there is still time to edit the footage! The presenters are really holding their own and the judges telling us more about the world of robotics is actually really interesting. You never saw trash talking (or judges opinions) in the old series, you only saw Plunderbird and Sir Chromalot dancing in the arena. To be fair they had class (as much as I had hated them back then)!!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Festival of Archaeology 2016 contribution: Have a Go at Photogrammetry!

To celebrate the end of the Festival of Archaeology 2016 (brought to you by the Council of British Archaeology) I've dug out some files I've been working on a side project to demonstrate how easy it is to get involved in archaeology, even from your bedroom (which is where I'm writing this from!).

My side project has been experimenting with photogrammetry to see what changes occur to monuments over time. What is photogrammetry? Well, according to a quick google search, it is "the use of photography in surveying and mapping to ascertain measurements between objects". Historic England recommend using terrestrial photogrammetry (as opposed to aerial photogrammetry) when you want more than 1,000 points per object (for reference, consider that an image from a camera can contain millions of pixels) and the object is less than 100 metres in size. Traditionally archaeologists used aerial photogrammetry, where photographs taken from the underside of a plane are placed side by side, and seeing if they overlap, creating a much larger picture of a landscape and comparing features from different times of the year. A bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle! This is still done today sometimes. However, in the last 20 to 30 years, the digital revolution has allowed digital images to become a lot more detailed, and software has become very sophisticated too, and they can start to analyse these images with algorithms, allowing the process to be automated. When you combine these ideas together, you can start to see the potential for photogrammetry, particularly applications like Google Earth, which now have a large number of 3-D models created by photogrammetry. These are often buildings, which have been "rendered" by specialist software from these images and then exported into Google Earth, so you can see buildings that are both in the real world (what you and I see) and the virtual one (i.e. Google Earth)! In these 3-D examples, which I will show you my example later, the user doesn't have to be in the air. They don't need expensive cameras (but it helps!) and you don't need expensive software. All you really need is a steady hand, a good eye for detail and some time for processing the images!

But why photogrammetry? It is cheap and relatively easy to use, unlike laser scanning or other means of digital recording, but why should we photograph everything and put it in a 3- dimensional digital format? Well, there are times when you need to preserve a monument or archaeological resource digitally because it is about to be destroyed, whether that is commercial development (such as housing), vandalism, pollution, or extreme weather events. For most objects in Britain hopefully this won't happen! If we destroy something, then it isn't coming back, particularly if it holds a lot of value or information about something, such as a Roman military collection, or a rare set of Saxon gold. A digital model can also help us with new interpretations about the past, and answer questions about how an object was made, or what materials were used, or even who made it! A very detailed model of a stone axe could show cut marks that reveal how it was cut or made that are difficult to see with the naked eye. You could even use it to create a mesh (to represent a geometric object as a set of finite elements) that can be 3-D printed, and then used as an educational resource.

However, you should consider whether it is the right thing to do by conserving an object digitally. Not everyone feels that objects should be conserved. Cultures around the world deliberately destroy things, even though they may be very valuable, because it is their tradition to do so. Even you might destroy things to forget about them! In a digital format, it is much harder to delete an object permanently because it is so easy to create copies, especially if it is on the internet. Of course, above all else, photogrammetry shouldn't really be used on its own (unless other methods are not available to you); it needs to be used as part of a wider project to achieve maximum benefit. You should, for example, write down what you see in an object (such as distinguishing features), measure it yourself before survey (if possible) and make use of other resources (such as Historic England's list of listed buildings and scheduled monuments). Think of what you want to ask about a monument or archaeological object and then see if photogrammetry is a good idea.

By coincidence, it is also 100 years since World War One, and there is a monument dedicated to the soldiers not far from where I live, so I have decided to see if there are any changes to the monument over time by creating models at different times of the year. This could help inform other archaeologists and conservation specialists what work needs to be done to the monument, if any, such as cleaning the monument, repairs, etc. However, if you can think of any questions that can't be answered by everyday techniques, such as (for example) "what is the volume of metal in this monument?", you could measure the space in the model when it has been edited and use to to work out how much metal was needed to make the monument.

What you need:

1 x camera (mine is a Vivtar Vivicam, it's rubbish but its cheap). Even your phone will do if you can download the images to your computer!

1 x means of recording what it is you're recording, when you recorded it, and how you recorded it (or the metadata of the project)- usually a spreadsheet on a laptop but pen and paper is fine. Just don't forget to do it!

1 x object to take images of. It doesn't even have to be outside, you can practice with things inside your house!

1x software package- I'm using Autodesk's 123D Catch, but there are lots to choose from. As with a lot of programs they all require a certain amount of playing around to achieve the best results. This is where the magic happens, and your "capture" becomes a mesh you can edit and make videos out of it. A mesh is used because it can be edited and processed, then later exported for other applications.

Take pictures of your object. Now, this is where you have to be careful, because you can't just take a few pictures. You have to make sure that you have a lot of overlap between the images, and a lot of zoomed-in photos to capture details! You need to find what are known as "reference points"- points that are very clear in a lot of you photos, such as an irregular edge, a different coloured part of your model, or some text that is distinguishable in multiple photographs. You can have a go at making you own reference points (such as small archery targets on cardboard) and place these around the monument/object if it helps. Even though the monument I've used it less than 5 metres high by 2 metres wide and deep, I've taken at least 50 photos of it for my "capture". Needless to say, be careful of what is around you (such as steep drops, cliffs, bins etc) to avoid injury while doing fieldwork! Other factors to consider are the direction of the sun (right angles to the sun are good, directly into the sun or in shade will make a difference with poorer-quality cameras). One of the advantages of using photogrammetry software is that they know where photographs were taken, relative to the monument. However, it is worth noting where you took the photos by making notes on a map or a spreadsheet, which will help you when it comes to processing the data.

Location of the War Memorial in the nearby cemetery (Copyright:Historic England 2016). You could use a detailed map like this to show where you took your photos.

NOTE: always ask permission to take photographs if the monument or object is on private land!


When you have taken enough photographs and you are happy with the quality of them, then you can download them to your computer and edit the photos with the software. If you have taken you photographs at different angles, you may want to adjust them so that they are all in the same angle (with Paint.Net or a similar graphics software). Now, a number of the photographs may not necessarily register at first; these may have to be stitched manually, but the software should give you some help with this.

The Results:
The end result before deleting points.

The War Memorial in a photograph... compare with the above model!

On the plus side, you can tell it's a war memorial, with the writing being clearly visible and the statue of liberty (not sure, I think it's liberty) being obvious. However, there are a few issues with the Thornton War Memorial model. Mostly its because the angle of the sun made the statue shine, and the shininess of the surface made it hard for the software to work out what was statue and what was sunlight! So sometimes you will have to delete bits which are not "correct" or representative of the model. In particular, small details that are quite far away, such as the outline of the wreaths, proved to be difficult to capture in the software.
Also, the ground surface was not as lumpy as it is shown here. This is because there was a lot of foilage around the base of the monument that  interfered with the algorithms in the software, so it just shown a very lumpy surface, whereas in fact the . One of the other problems I had was trying to get an aerial photograph, as the top of the monument is about 5 metres high and I don't have a ladder!

Bits in red are the areas that the software couldn't tell were part of the model or not. A quick check showed that they were caused by the sun's reflection on the metallic surface.

The quality of the image depends on many factors, such as the number of photos taken and the angle of the light source.

One of the many things that you can do with the completed mesh is export it for use in an animation (123D Catch has its own animation suite), and for use in other programs that could flesh out the model properly. An animation can really sell your model to an audience, particularly if you use a good flight path to highlight areas of detail or interest and overlay it with audio. You could export the mesh to a software program that can 3-D print your model if you want to! this would allow you to examine a scale model of you model, without having to visit the real thing, which could be difficult to access or has been destroyed. It could even be used as part of a video game!



This bit is often overlooked and doesn't get published (no one wants to see 5,000 data entries on the same thing) but it shows that you didn't copy anybody else's work, you followed correct procedure and showed what software you used so that other people can repeat your surveys and attain similar results. The Archaeology Data Service provide an excellent format for you metadata if you use a spreadsheet. Don't forget to record the position of your photographs!

Overall, there is a lot of room for improvement. The Thornton War Memorial is not quite as jagged in the model as she is in real life, but with better conditions, and better equipment, much of the quality of the model can be overcome. In short, always be prepared! However, compared to even just a few years ago, for a free software package, I am impressed with the quality of the model in some places, and I look forward to creating a second model in a few months time to compare the difference in the models (although I suspect the differences will be caused by the angle of the sun, causing glare).

So, if you want to have a go, just look at this wikipedia page for some free photogrammetry software! A lot of these provide sample meshes to play with. However, what you need to do before you take your photos is to think about why you want to preserve or publish a video about this monument- are there other ways that you could achieve this, or has someone already done it? Other ways might be better, other ways might be more expensive or time consuming.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Robot Wars 2016 Review, Episode 1


(credit to the Official Wars website for the image)

After all the hype, the promotional ads on the BBC (which have been very nostalgic at times, especially when they teased the house robots for the first time!) and the new website, we have finally seen the first episode of Robot Wars. So was it any good?

The BBC, for all that it has done a good job in the build up, nearly ruined it by putting Real Steel, the film starring Hugh Jackman about a former boxer piloting giant rock'em sock'em robots, before the show. Maybe they're trying to appeal to the family crowd? It is pre-watershed after all, much like the old series. While Robot Wars is ultimately a family show, this didn't really set the dark yet sometimes comic tone that the old series had going for it (I like to think the final act of Hobo with a Shotgun). So not a great start? Hold on, we haven't even got to the show yet...

The remainder of this review was written during the show, so it will sometimes flow, and sometimes will jump between different themes very quickly. You have been warned (again).

The introduction: er....what? I didn't enjoy the speech and intro about the robots before the logo was shown. It had none of the action of the old series of weapons and fire. This was in particular due to the use of the slow motion cameras, which are great but aren't given much of a shoe-in elsewhere. But the music has the right tone. I like the trophy and the logo though! Dara and Angela's intros on camera were also fairly good at building atmosphere. I would've liked an emphasis on SSShunt though (personal taste). 

The format: it was very similar to the later series of the original Robot Wars, with no gauntlets, no football or tug of war (although part of me wants to see those again). I have previously mentioned I liked the new arena. The head-to-head format wasn't explained too well before the show, even on the website, although the points system adds another element of competition.

Pits: The banter has changed somewhat, with Dara and Angela seemingly both are doing work in the pits, talking with the teams and actually, I'm getting Phillipa Forrester esque vibes from the way Angela talks with the easy-going manner with the teams. Dara seems a little stiff in his presentation, which is a bit of a surprise. Overall, I think they've struck a good balance by not doing a promo video of each robot, and only making a fleeting reference to the previous series!

Jonathan Pearce, are we going to have good commentary this time? Nice to have the judges given their own introduction. Well, now I see why Real Steel was  shown before, they don't use the viewing tower until the end of the fight so all of the competitors are on the ground floor! The voice-over is suitably dark and robotic, not too dissimilar from the original series, but making a distinct difference. I do miss the lack of Holst-remix music though. The info about the robots are slick but a little light on the "data" such as weaknesses or whether it's electric or petrol driven motors.

First round Battle: Firstly, what on earth happened to the timer? It disappeared after 5 seconds. The robots are so much faster so any comparisons with the old series is difficult, and Jonathan really couldn't keep up with the action (I'd like to see anyone try and mkake some sense of it all!). But my goodness I really enjoyed the carnage and the speed all the robots were going made the battle particularly ferocious. Nuts is through?? Forget what I said about low quality robots, there will be some big, one sided fights if this continues to happen. Terrorhurtz showed some fantastic power but really the axe head should be a pickaxe to cause more damage. Razer out in the first round though (taken down by Kill-e-Crank-e), has that ever happened before???? No real action for Matilda for the first fight. Having Dara and Angela in both roles of pre-and post-fight interviews, that will show if both presenters can really cut and so far they are holding up well.

Oh Dara, Dara, Dara, that isn't how you pronounce Behemoth!! If that's the nadir of the presenting gaffes then I am very happy with that. Next fight- the floor spikes coming into their own there. Behemoth demonstrates how powerful all the robots have become in 10 years. The timer is becoming inconsistent already, unless it's only shown once. Now, the graphics (e.g. the info) could easily add weaknesses, I know I bang on about this but it wouldn't be too difficult, surely? The General's wheels were demonstrated to be their Achilles heel, for example.

Head-to-head: they get HOW LONG to fix their robots?? 2 hours?! What sort of live entertainment is being put on the arena in the meantime for the poor audience? Robo-Babe? Liking the judge's analysis though of not underestimating any of the robots. The only issue about this format means that the robots can potentially face each other 3 times in the same heat. But it is a fairer system and with the pace of the battles, they can fit 9 battles into the hour, which is great for the viewer, although you might suffer from burnout at the end of it. But surely the audience aren't sitting around looking at Robo Babe for 2 hours between battles??? 

I spoke too soon about the promo videos. At least they're keeping them reasonably short before the head to heads. Those graphics though, they really didn't give them enough time to really take in the values of the attack and strength. Wow, Sir Killalot looks like something out of the Fallout series or the Plague from Hobo with a Shotgun)! Carbide looks impressive (Fluffy-esque, who almost, almost beat Pussycat) but can it make it to the final after a loss to Terrorhurtz? Again, the speed of the battles in this round are making them entertaining, there's been no nitty gritty battles between two heavily armoured robots... yet.

Now a point about clusterbots (Nuts being the first clusterbot in this series). I think the rules are that you still have to immobilise only one of them to count the whole robot as out? They didn't really explain that 2 house robots are put in the arena occiasionally. The flipper is really struggling to makean impact, although I like that it gets more action against moving robots than just immobilized robots. I'm finding that Jonathan can keep up with the action when it's just two competitors, which seems to help his style a lot. It's also clear that they felt that the judges could incorporate the old style category into control and aggression, so there's only 3 categories to mark on.

Professor-roboGod Noel Sharkey gets an nice little interview, explaining how the world of robotics has evolved so much in the last few years. The drone bartender though, I think shows how family friendly the show has been made by exploring the world outside of Robot Wars. Previously the judges were treated almost as revered dieties at times, barely being used and their decisions taken as final. Now they seem a lot more friendly!

The cameras in action in the arena perform about as well as the original series, which didn't really need too much tinkering, although with the clusterbots or multiple comeptitors you often end up missing the action in the old series. The new arena though, seems to have cameras in places where you can see all of the action, probably because the arena looks a bit more square, rather than the camera angle making the old arena seem a bit rectangular. On a side note, some of the laughter from the audience sounded a little canned, particularly in the battle between Carbide and Nuts? Also nice to show how dangerous Robot Wars is by displaying the shrapnel that is going around. Good thing they've got bullet proof glass.

I always maintained that Behemoth's scoop was nigh-on indestructible for some reason. Not any more...possibly the best battle of the programme overall?

Final: I won't reveal too much but it goes much the same way- the main problems are the timer being inconsistent, the cameras being excellent, the speed being frantic, and another shock result!

Overall, there was less of the dark and comic humour of the old series, but it felt more family-friendly at the same time.  The problem with saying that is that I couldn't help but make comparisons to the final scene in Hobo with a Shotgun (see below), with some shocking robotic carnage at times reminiscent of some of the most one-sided conflicts, and that's just what we all came to see! Nostaliga didn't weigh it down as much as I thought it would, which is great to see as I really worried that this would be the thing that would ruin the show. The fleeting references weren't overpowering, in part because the battles take your attention! Some of the graphics could be improved, the promo videos really need to be done for every robot and they need a bit more music, or at least to up the volume a little bit (but not too much, listening to some of those weapons produces an amazing feeling of awe for me). The frantic pace of the fights is exciting; the new arena and Jonathan Pearce's commentating is much improved now, adding to a fantastic experience. Dara O'Briain and Angela Scanlon do add their own style, the formatting helps and there seems to be a bit of a nod to the old commentators too by putting the competitors on the spot and the occasional wit. I also think I've got a new favourite robot of this generation, and (to quote Craig Charles) they're NOT FLUFFY!? (but Carbide). I will definitely tune in to the next episode with the old spark that I originally watched the show for, although I might be playing Holst's Mars suite in the background to make up for the lack of music during the fights.

Fun Fact Special: 5 fun facts about Robot Wars

Robot Wars (the UK version that happened around the turn of the millennium) was a show that involved competitors sending robots against each other, often in a fight to the death. With its dark, post-apocalytic atmosphere, occasional humour and some incredible competitors, here's 5 fun facts to celebrate the reboot tonight (24th July 2016)!

1. One of the few people to make an appearance on every show was the voice that said "Cease" or "Stop, and deactivate Robots" was Stuart Macdonald, the director of Robot Wars, and highly decorated individual in his own right.

2. Jeremy Clarkson supposedly left the show because of a technical malfunction, where one of the house robot's weapons (probably dead metal's circular saw) came off and embedded itself into a concrete wall just inches from Jeremy Clarkson's head! Say what you like about Jeremy Clarkson, but we may never have had a revived Top Gear without him.

3. Before Phillipa Forrester worked for Robot Wars, she was on CBBC and Tomorrow's World, as well as being on a few episodes of Techno Games and covered the BBC's coverage of the solar eclipse over the UK in 1999.

4. The venue for Robot Wars appears to have been a closely guarded secret, with little information known about it. However, it may have been filmed in a warehouse in the midlands.

5. Many people consider the fight between Razer and Tornado for the 6th Wars championship as the most controversial match in the show's history (for the modifications to both robots, but mostly due to the anti-pit device on Tornado). However, in the 7th Series, there are accusations that the pit raised up with Tornado inside it and cease not being called, with this being cunningly edited out by the cameras! Later on in the same show for the Grand Final, Typhoon 2 destroyed the arena sidewall, which forced the match to be postponed, perhaps allowing Typhoon 2 to be repaired but perhaps with no time for the other robot to be repaired!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A history of Robot Wars and why the reboot could fail (as much as I want it to succeed)

12 years ago, Channel 5 showed the last episode of Robot Wars, which was a cult favourite among a large number of millenials and nerds/geeks. Repeats have occurred sporadically on various free to air tv channels, but no new official series has been on TV since then. With a huge amount of merchandising, it was in the mainstream conscience right through the millenium, it inspired kids to think that the future will be fun and all about large chunks of metal hitting each other really hard (alongside Techno-Games, which tried to be more about the sporting benefits of robots, but it had a couple of robot wars competitors in there too). It even inspired a small number of individual episodes from later TV series such as Phoenix Nights, where they decide to host a Robot Wars themed evening at the Phoenix! Now, the BBC, who originally made the series before 2002, are bringing it back, promising to be bigger and better than before. What made it so successful then? Will it be susccessful now?

To start with, the feel of Robot Wars has always been one of a dystopian, Mad-Max style future, where only the fittest robots survive. It doesn't matter if it's appropriate for kids or adults, they just want blood (or in this case, Diotoir on fire?). Just look at the first series and some of the challenges they had: a gauntlet that wouldn't look out of place in Smash TV from Total Recall, including a somewhat obsolete Sentinel (an unofficial house robot?), a tug of war against the house robots and finally a fight to the death between the competitor's robots. These are not dissimilar to some scenes in various post-apocalyptic films. Ok, not all the events were dark in their concept, there was a football themed and a bowling alley challenge, which were more harmless compared to the tug of war, although one couldn't help but think of the underlying overtones of the atmosphere while the robots were trying to do their thing. The atmosphere was enhanced by the intro sequence and music - all metallic and dark colours, music that is given a retro refit from the Mars-Bringer of War out Holst's Planets suite, in itself made during World War One. Very fitting, in one sense! Speaking of House Robots, they had a life of their own, from the almighty Sir Killalot to the wacky Cassius Chrome, who arguably made the show distinct from the USA counterpart, where there are no real comparisons to the house robots.

The presenters themselves contributed a lot to the show, with their wit and insight into the battle. How they came up with all those phrases at the start of the show before settling on "master of mayhem" I will never figure it out! Each presenter bought their own opinion to the show, although of course Craig Charles as a happy-go-lucky and enthusiastic presenter, along with Phillipa Forrester are the most memorable for being the longest serving hosts (and Jonathan Pearce as commentator, although the judges are harder to remember). In terms of technical knowledge I actually prefer Jayne Middlemiss over the other 2 presenters, since she was a bit more competitive than Julia or Phillipa, but that's personal preference. Their clothing was sometimes a little outlandish (Craig Charles's overcoat was a classic over-the-top look) but what got me thinking most about the comparison to Mad Max was Phillipa Forrester's slightly revealing corset in the Fifth Wars. Whether that was an inspired choice by herself or by the costume department to add to the atmosphere we may never know, but I think it added a deliciously dark (if slightly sexy) undercurrent that you only find in Mad-Max, where the only thing you are doing is surviving, and if you're not being killed, you are killing. If you think Phillipa was tame in her outfits though, look no further than the mighty Robo-Babe, who made live appearances and the official magazine but never actually made it into the TV series (possibly for the best, given that you can see some non-PG bits in that armour)! I'm not sure Robot Wars would have been shown on the 6:45 Friday evening slot if she was on it. She even had a single with Sir Killalot, you be the judge of how good/bad it didn't make the top 50 when it was released back in the day. I have reservations about Jonathan Pearce, but he put the cherry on this very dystopian cake by having some memorable moments, such as Hypno-Disc's first filmed fight in the arena, his infectious cackling laughter as Hypno Disc made its name by eating the poor Robogeddon (but just listen to that spinning disc, how terrifying, how much it adds to the incredible atmosphere of the match!). However, there were a number of times when he would say something that didn't make sense, like a weapon that wasn't working when in fact it was, or if he failed to notice when a robot wasn't working. Nonetheless, all these factors together made for an excellent spectacle, even if the live performances and the televised stuff were not always in sync.

In terms of weaponry, I've always seen Robot Wars a bit like football- a tactical evolution between defence and attack, or in this case, destructive weaponry (spinning discs) versus flippers, with ram-bots pretty much all but outlawed now (you have needed at least one active weapon since the 6th series). As flippers got better (starting with Cassius, the Hades/Lucifer of all robots for beating Roadblock... carrying on with Chaos 2, Gravity, Thermidor etc.), other robots had to counter flippers with schrimechs or innovative designs. Alternatively, robots have had to counter the incredible destructive power of robots like Typhoon 2, 13 Black, Pussycat, Razer, etc. This battle looks set to continue into the new series, with some returning robots and new designs, but it looks like there may be more emphasis on complete destruction.

Was it/is it dangerous for the participants? The first series of Robot Wars was hosted by a bullish Jeremy Clarkson, who had a witty retort for every robot that came into the arena. However it turns out that the theme of the post-apocalypse memo was taken a  bit too literally by at least one house robot, whose weapon detached itself and nearly embedded itself in Jeremy Clarkson's head, despite him standing on the gantry!!  This theme of near death experiences seems to have carried on into the new series too. Start as you mean to go on... However the new arena has considerably more bullet proof glass, and given the power of these new robots that's probably for the best!
To my left, the old arena in gauntlet form.  To the right, the new one (credit to the robot wars website for the latter image).

So why do I worry for the new series? Until we see the new show in its entirety then it's hard to judge. However it might be trying too hard to be too many things. Let me explain. Does the new series want to be an exact copy of the original series? If so, they've done well to bring back a number of old competitors, keep the arena largely similar to the old one, with the spikes from the 1st series added to the flame pit, flipper and pit from the later series (with some much needed changes like a wall that stops opponents winning by flipping the robots out of most of the arena and a floor made of steel, not wood), keeping at least one of the original judges and having Jonathan Pearce as commentator. However, we live in a time where nothing can be forgotten, and any fault in the new series will be compared to the old series, particularly any controversies (can they top Tornado's anti-pit device?). If I'm going to be pendantic, I was surprised that they've decided to put Robot Wars on a sunday night 8pm slot, rather than the friday evening-prime-time-so-you-have-to-scoff-your-dinner-down-really-quickly-so-you-can-watch-robot-wars time of 6:30pm. To be original is actually one of the hardest things to do, so any new ideas that give the show a boost should be seen as a good thing if they work. But, with the new advancements in technology, a few considerations come to mind. For one, the technological differences from even just a decade ago are so great and the rules have changed so much (a new weight limit, limitations on weapons etc.) make it difficult at best to compare old with new. Even the returning competitiors have made significant alterations to their robots, and that's not even mentioning the house robots, who are all now a lot heavier, meaner and more dangerous! Further, we probably won't have any relatively weak robots like Granny's Revenge or Robogeddon, so will we see any one-sided carnage on that scale again? Will this make it less exiting for not having such memorable moments as the competition could be so tight that it will only appeal to those people who actually enjoy the tactical battle that was determined by the criteria of style, control, damage and aggression? Can the presenters bring their own unique style to the arena like the previous presenters did? 

That said, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Maybe the old ways have to be emulated because nothing is better than the original. However, Robot Wars was far from perfect, particularly some of those camera shots missing some of the action.

The new presenters, Dara O'Briain and Angela Scanlon, could be an excellent partnership, especially since Dara has a similar career path to Craig Charles before his run (comedy, with a bit of extra documentaries on the side), and judging by Angela's relative anonymity, she could well be an up and coming star. She has already made an appearance or two to talk about the new Robot Wars on talk shows. She seems to have the charisma needed to put people at ease before going into the arena, which is something that Phillipa and Julia arguably had (on screen anyway). It looks like it could work, but it's always hard to predict. With Jeremy Clarkson leaving after Series 1, history shows that nothing is set in stone in Robot Wars.

Ultimately the pros currently outweigh the cons- the build up has been largely focused on nostalgia but with such large technological developments, a lot of the newer competitors look like they could put on quite a show, so long as there aren't too many technical issues! The new arena should give us more action (and less flips out of the arena), and the presenters seem promising. Nostalgia could be the biggest weight around the neck of Robot Wars (see the revamped Top Gear, with falling ratings and presenters leaving).

Watch this space for a review on the new series after it has aired!