Artisan’s Asylum makerspace, one of the largest shared workshops in the United States, saw the birth of MegaBots, the mega-robot of which, EaglePrime, fought its Japanese rival Kuratas on October 17. Visit.
Somerville, special envoy
At 4am on Tuesday October 17, many watched the fight of EaglePrime against Kuratas on Twitch. These two robots fought each other in a disused steel mill in Japan this summer, one designed by the American start-up MegaBots, the other by the Japanese Suidobashi Heavy Industry. Even though MegaBots has been operating in California since 2014, the fun mechatronic adventure began in Summerville, in the suburbs of Boston, at Artisan’s Asylum. Barely a mile north east of Harvard University, this giant makerspace is located in a former industrial warehouse without windows, along railway tracks, with Brooklyn Boulders Somerville climbing amateurs’ community space and the Aeronaut Brewing Company as neighbors.
The EaglePrime robot from MegaBots:
A makerspace for robotics engineers and artisans
In 2010, Gui Cavalcanti, robotics engineer, amateur of science fiction and the video games BattleTech and MechWarrior, worked for Boston Dynamics on the robots LS3, Petman and BigDog. He dreamt of a space and tools to develop fantasmatic robots. He then co-founded Artisan’s Asylum with his friend Jenn Martinez, costume designer, who was looking to share textile machinery, in order to federate the experienced makers and artisans of the area.
Derek Seabury, present executive director, takes us on a tour of this 3,700m2 space, initially dedicated to robotics but rapidly turned into a pooling place of machines and know-how.
“Everything is done on trust”
Seven years later, and after several extensions, the makerspace hosts twelve “shops”: electronics, jeweler’s craft, cycles, wood, laser and metal cutting, CNC, painting, textile, precision metal works and two multi-purpose workshops. It has 400 members and each member can come at any time, day and night. “They are at home, here,” says Derek.
This associative makerspace offers classes, learning, personal micro-studios, storage space and support on production projects. “There are no decreed rules, everything is done on trust, explains Derek. We want people to be good listeners, to hear the ‘hey, you shouldn’t do it like this, you could injure yourself’ or ‘why don’t you rather do it like this’.”
The equipment and consumables are often pooled. “The idea was that everyone brought here all the equipment that had been lying around for ages, explains Derek. You always say it will be used one day, and you keep stuff for years sometimes without using it…” In the electronics workshop, you find anything you want. “With shipping costs, it costs almost the same to buy one hundred items than the twenty we will need here. Here, we share the surplus. All that needs to be done is fix the limit between electronic waste and donations.” Derek affirms Artisan’s Asylum is the opposite of the spirit of fablabs, the headquarters of which are located close by, at the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms in Cambridge: “Our objective is not to have the prohibitively expensive latest machine, but rather to fight gentrification by offering classes, trainings and a workplace shared between the people in the neighborhood.”
From its creation, Artisan’s Asylum has thus welcomed a variety of robot fans, old machines and supporters of artistic and hand-crafted know-how, 3D printer and other CNC developers (like the Black Cat Labs), skunkadelic tinkerers (aeronautics skunk works) who designed crazy creations for events like The Somerville Hungry Tiger Festival, the July 4 festivities, Burning Man or still repeated editions of the Maker Faire.
From Artisan’s Asylum to MegaBots
In 2012, the Artisan’s Asylum team of robot engineers raised $98.000 on Kickstarter to develop Stompy, a giant hexapod robot (with six legs) that can be ridden by two people. This especially allowed the makerspace to equip itself with a Multicam industrial CNC, a ShopBot, a water jet cutter and a plasma cutter, in other words the necessary equipment to cut out the elements of the robot legs and body. The giant mechatronic robot adventure was launched.
In 2014, Gui Cavalcanti created the MegaBots company with Matt Oehrlein. The two men dreamt of launching an international sports league for battles between giant robots piloted by humans and managed to raise funds up to 2.4 million dollars the following year! Artisan’s Asylum became too small for MegaBots…and the company moved to California.
In 2016, MegaBots challenged its Japanese rival Suidobashi: a confrontation on the battlefield of their choice between EaglePrime, their 4.9m and 12-ton giant robot, and Kuratas, a 4m featherweight for 6.5 tons. “Building something big and equipping it with weapons is so American, replies Kogoro Kurata, the founder of Suidobashi. But giant robots are part of the Japanese culture, we can’t let another country win!” The two companies gave themselves one year before the big fight. In the meantime, MegaBots raised $500.000 on Kickstarter to update its robot. Let the show begin…
The challenge laid down by MegaBots to Suidobashi: