The following interview appeared in Comedy Central's Newsletter on October 17 2000:
INTERVIEW WITH A SCIENCE GUY
Cris Sales, Alone At Last With BattleBots' Bill Nye
America's favorite science guy sat with us down to talk nuts and bolts about Comedy Central's new hit, BattleBots.
Q: How did you get approached to do this?
BILL NYE: The folks at Comedy Central approached me and asked me if I wanted to do this. It makes sense, since I'm a mechanical engineer. This is big fun for me.
Q: Would you ever want to compete?
BILL: Yes, but it would be difficult for me now, with my relationship to the event and what people expect of me as a science guy. You also have to set aside a lot of time.
Q: What was the most outlandish thing you saw?
BILL: There was a lot of lexan [used by the competitors], which is a polycarbonate plastic, that surprised me. By choice, most people were using the clear lexan which looks really cool, but can't take the punishment of sharp corners. I was fascinated with the weapons - the one that I thought would be most successful ended up being the winner - but I'm not going to give up that information! But let the record show that I predicted would win, did!
Q: Did you find that certain weapons or strategies worked better than others?
BILL: When you get a machine that's unapproachable because it's spinning, I have to say, that's cool. A spinning housing or blade stores a lot of energy within your weapon before you even encounter the other robot. When you've got all that energy, all you have to do is wait for the other robot to come to you. Also, it was kind of surprising how much difficulty the competitors had steering their robots. All of them. I think the cause of that was limited time, effort and resources in terms of putting together a solid steering system.
Q: I noticed that there are no booby traps on any of these robots.
BILL: Yes - I was quite charmed by the guys who hid their circuit boards, not wanting the others to see their circuitry. But booby-trapping is hard to do - it's not a bad strategy, but you have to have one heck of a weapon. As you compete in the heats, as soon as you deploy the weapon, it's no longer a secret - always a problem in warfare.
Q: It must be fun to see these people get so excited about what they're doing.
BILL: Oh it's cool! For me, they're kindred spirits. The kind of people who become mechanical engineers like to build things. People like to compete in a physical way; your craftsmanship and design versus his. It's fun! It's very much like sculpture. Bear in mind that whenever you look at a designed item - for example, everything you see in front of you right now - came out of somebody's head. That shape existed in somebody's brain before it became a physical object; it came out of someone's dream. It's cool. From an engineering standpoint, [BattleBots] is a worthy competition. We all go to work in cars, subways, planes -- all of these shapes were designed by people who are charmed by machines. That's why I was attracted to the competition. It is, in its own little engineering way, art.
Q: Are you looking forward to the next round of competitions?
BILL: Oh yeah - the mistakes that these people make the first time, they get rid of the next time. The rookie mistakes are always 1) high center of gravity, and 2) a weapon that is too directional. I think that the best is yet to come. Where it will get out of hand is when people get access to certain resources, like if someone gets a titanium sponsorship - you follow me? That's when people will start talking about the good old days.
I think that in about two more rounds, when those that are competing now have the opportunity to make subtle, beautiful changes, that's when it'll be at its absolute height. I think the golden age is coming up... I would love to see a Russian robot - in that culture, everything is overdesigned, robust and durable. I'd also love to see a German one - the precision.
Q: Is that the next step? Take BattleBots international?
BILL: Oh I think so!
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