The giant fighting robots have left the Bay State

The Mark II in its old digs in Somerville.
The Mark II in its old digs in Somerville.

Last fall, Gui Cavalcanti made a big splash by suggesting that the next big action sport will involve giant robots, piloted by humans, shooting one another with paintballs. Cavalcanti and two co-founders began working on prototypes in Somerville and Worcester, and they offered a sneak peek at last year’s New York Comic-Con show.

But a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign didn’t bring in the $1.8 million that Cavalcanti had set as his goal. Venture capitalists and angel investors were intrigued by the concept — but not quite ready to cut checks. Now Cavalcanti’s MegaBots team has relocated to San Francisco, where they’ve attracted support from the CEO of a major design software company.

I caught up with Cavalcanti, one of the founders of the Artisan’s Asylum “makerspace” in Somerville, yesterday afternoon. He said that MegaBots co-founder Matt Oehrlein had also moved west with him in December, but the third co-founder, Andrew Stroup, peeled off from the startup earlier this year to serve as a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the White House.

mega-conceptartCavalcanti says that he bumped into Carl Bass, chief executive of Autodesk, at a conference last May, and showed him some of the MegaBots concept art (at right). Autodesk, headquartered in San Rafael, California, makes product design software. Cavalcanti recalls that Bass “was like, ‘That’s amazing — what would it take for you guys to build that with Autodesk products instead of SolidWorks,'” a competing design system. (SolidWorks was founded in Massachusetts, is headquartered in Waltham, and is a part of the French software company Dassault Systémes.)

Together, Autodesk and MegaBots launched a design competition that invited anyone around the world to design armor and other elements of the robot — like a cannon that would attach to the robot’s left arm. MegaBots and Autodesk are building the winning designs and plan to unveil them at Maker Faire in mid-May, in San Mateo, California.

Autodesk also invited MegaBots to use space at its Pier 9 workshop on San Francisco’s waterfront, which is outfitted with milling machines, drill presses, 3D printers, and water jets that can cut through plate steel. “We’re getting access to incredible amounts of tools and equipment,” Cavalcanti says. While Autodesk has provided the company with substantial financial support, Cavalcanti says that the software company isn’t an equity investor in MegaBots.

Cavalcanti’s vision is to eventually build enough fighting mechs so that they can face off in competitions around the country — creating a new sporting league. So he says that while the company is designing and building robots, he really sees it as an entertainment company.

“We’ve been making some pretty amazing contacts out here,” he says. “There are so many entertainment and gaming companies out here that are far more friendly to us.”

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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