War and peace
In response to Robert Crease’s Critical Point article “Combat robotics” (May 2021), which describes the use of physics in the TV series BattleBots, where weaponized robots fight each other.
Do we have to glorify destruction to get people interested in physics? An electric motor is an inspired, beautiful and useful invention. It’s made of precious resources (copper, steel, maybe rare earth elements) that people have struggled, and possibly damaged the environment, to mine and prepare. Robot Wars [the in-person events on which BattleBots is based] teaches that it’s fun to destroy them. Is that the lesson we want people to learn? Is it not too close to destroying another inspired, beautiful and useful “invention”, human beings?
I am aware that we have to make the world of physicists more diverse and inclusive, and that I am criticising from the side lines. I do want to ask, though, does Robot Wars attract women? None are mentioned or shown in the article.
Robert Crease replies:
I apologize for not having included more women’s voices in the article, and for not mentioning the extent of female participation in the sport. According to its organizers, BattleBots has around a 30% participation of women builders/teammates. Female team captains include Andrea from Witch Doctor, Leanne from Valkyrie, Jen from HiJinx, Zoe from Chomp (winner of the Grant Imahara Award for Best Design), Adrian from Malice, Julia from Ferocity, Lais from Black Dragon, Elaine from Rail Gun Max, and Sarah from Nelly the Ellybot. Many teams also have female co-captains and/or women in vital teammate roles (WAR Hawk, Skorpios, Mammoth, Whiplash, to name a few). The letter also raises interesting points about the meaning and value of the BattleBots competition in the teaching and training of physics in different educational contexts. But that’s a complex topic for another time.