Edinburgh University professor to become Robot Wars Judge

Sethu Vijayakumar who is joining BBC  Robot Wars.
Sethu Vijayakumar who is joining BBC Robot Wars.
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With their killer instinct, vicious weapons and a lust for hunting down the opposition, Robot Wars became a hit television show.

It faded off screens 12 years ago, leaving the infamous Sir Killalot and the evil Matilda in cold storage.

Sethu Vijayakumar in the Robot Wars arena. Pictures: Mentorn Media Scotland

Sethu Vijayakumar in the Robot Wars arena. Pictures: Mentorn Media Scotland

But now the robots are back with a vengeance – and an Edinburgh University scientist is among the experts who will try to maintain order amid the heavy metal chaos.

The programme, which at its peak attracted six million viewers, returns tomorrow with Professor Sethu Vijayakumar, a renowned expert who has worked on some of the world’s biggest robotic projects, joining the judging panel alongside presenter Dara Ó Briain.

But his role could have been over before it began, after shrapnel flying from one damaged robot battered against the bulletproof glass which protects the judges.

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He said: “A piece came off a high-speed spinning rotor and shot through the air straight towards us. It actually dented the bulletproof glass.

“It turned out the piece of metal was flying at the speed of a bullet. It was one way to find out that the protective glass really was doing its job.”

The show brings together teams of amateur robot lovers who have laboured for months creating hi-tech machines only to see them smashed and battered in the arena.

Some spend thousands on their creations yet once in the arena, the robots have to overcome various obstacles designed to trip them up.

But even if they find their way through, they still have to battle past rival teams’ robots and the deadly house robots.

The show, which is filmed in Glasgow, launched in 1998. Viewers became hooked on the effort put in by the robot creators, who were often left fighting back tears as their hard work was demolished.

Prof Vijayakumar, who appears alongside veteran judge Prof Noel Sharkey and fellow newcomer Lucy Rogers, said advances in technology and robot-building skills mean the latest creations are more advanced than the originals.

He said: “I’ve helped send robots to Mars, but some of these robots are so well designed for the job at hand that I can’t confidently say I could create one that could go out there and beat them.”

The series restarts tomorrow and will run for six episodes.

Prof Vijayakumar has worked on the Honda Asimo humanoid robots and the i-limb prosthetic hand. His latest project involves a collaboration with Nasa Johnson Space Centre on the Valkyrie humanoid robot being prepared for unmanned robotic pre-deployment missions to Mars.

He added: “I’m excited to join Robot Wars. This show goes a long way towards getting people interested in robots, thinking about their potential and their limitations.”