The history of robots fighting for our entertainment is a long and storied one. There was, of course, the OG robot punching game in Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. And then who could forget the classic stoner deathmatch show that was “BattleBots,” or the 2011 movie “Real Steel” where Hugh Jackman played a fighting robot trainer or something.
Robots fighting in popular culture has come a long way and it was only time before a company brought a fun, consumer-forward robot that blends video games and AR. This is exactly what Reach Robotics has done. Since 2013, Reach has developed and produced MekaMon, a gaming robot that doubles as a toy and educational tool.
A customizable quadruped robot, MekaMon is, according to Reach, the world’s first gaming AR robot. Controlled with an app on your smartphone, users can make MekaMon move and interact with the physical environment and in the game on the app. It is a canny fusion of a physical device and a virtual world that Reach has gone to painstaking lengths to create.
The MekaMon has a backstory that players can immerse themselves in and the app comes with several modes that players can select including story mode, arcade mode, or battling with friends.
What makes MekaMon and Reach more impressive, though, is the company’s ability to adapt and deliver a product that their customers want. After Reach pushed out the first run of MekaMon robots, customers who bought the first one wrote feedback which Reach designers took into account.
What resulted is the current model of MekaMon, which has streamlined the AR experience and MekaMon’s overall intelligence. Users scan the area they are in and the app creates a virtual battlefield for your MekaMon to roam. Moreover, each MekaMon has a unique personality and reacts to players’ touch. It also has a host of animations it acts out when left idle. Players can also customize MekaMon’s movements and maneuvers in the app by recording and moving the robot’s legs for a complete hands-on experience.
“You’ve got this robot that’s got four legs — really agile, lots of personality, lots of character,” says Reach co-founder Silas Adekunle. “You control it from your smartphone or tablet. The more you play with it, the better it gets. You can compete with other people.”
The Reach Robotics Team
Now in its sixth year as a company, Reach Robotics was founded by Adekunle, John Rees, and Chris Beck. Adenkunle was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.K. when he was 11. The son of a chemistry teacher and a nurse, Adenkunle began making robots as a kid and eventually moved onto making robots in his dorm in Bristol. That gaming robot prototype, made from hand-molded plastic, was the initial seed for what eventually developed into the first MekaMon.
“I always wanted my own personal robot,” Adekunle told CNBC last year. “You watch ‘Transformers’ [and you think], ‘I wish I could have Bumblebee in real life.’”
Beck, Rees, and Adenkunle are making that a reality for gamers around the world, with some help from Apple. In 2017, Reach and Apple signed an exclusive distribution deal which sees the tech giant stock MekaMon in its stores and online.
“As a startup launching a product for the first time, and for them taking it on board, that is a huge badge of approval,” says Adekunle of working with Apple. “That just shows the quality of the product.”
MekaMon Also Educates
But beyond AR robots, Reach also has a greater aim by opening educational doors. Along with the aforementioned MekaMotion that users can record and tinker with, MekaMon owners can also learn to code as they are playing with their robots. Using an iPad and Apple’s Swift programming language, players can code in the MekaMon Playground. Altogether, it falls into Reach’s mission of “Using robotics technology to create products that entertain, inspire, and ultimately educate.”
When people typically think of robots in the future, they rarely think of how robots and humans can come together for fun and simple leisure activities. MekaMon is an example, and perhaps a look at how humans will use the potential of robots and AR in our everyday lives down the road.
For more information on MekaMon and Reach, visit the official website here.