Machine memories

Robot Wars – the metal-crunching hit television series of the 90s – returns to the BBC on Sunday, following a 13-year break.

Back on the judging panel is Professor Noel Sharkey, a robotics expert who featured on the programme for five years.

Sharing memories of his time on the show, he told the BBC he was initially hesitant to take part…

I was a very reluctant judge for the first series of Robot Wars.

I was concerned that being on a popular TV show might damage my reputation as a university professor and as an educator.

Even after the first series, I thought that I should opt out – but then something quite remarkable happened.

When I toured around giving talks to young people, their questions were much more informed than before.

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Noel with fellow judges Doctor Lucy Rogers and Professor Sethu Vijayakumar

Thanks to Robot Wars, the kids wanted to know about motor types, gearing, torque and about how robots worked. The inspiration to take up innovative engineering was clearly evident.

On the programme, the evolution of the machines was startling – almost unbelievable.

In the first series, the judges could sit with their feet in the arena. By the third, we were hiding under our table from a barrage of nuts and bolts.

Today, the arena is caged by a massive see-through bullet-proof box.

Image copyright
Noel Sharkey

Image caption

Noel has been getting to grips with the new house robots

I meet engineers all the time that say Robot Wars changed their lives and set them on the path to engineering.

It certainly changed my life and the way I looked at education. But it was probably the competitors who most inspired me.

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