What Happened to MegaBots?, Qatar, Mushroom Packaging – 12/28/2018

Technology

Credit: MegaBots Inc

MegaBots emerged years ago as an entrepreneur in the robot fighting business. Gundam and BattleTech are obvious inspirations for the genre in addition to Robot Wars and there was even a robot boxing film called Real Steel a few years back. The inspiration for this form of robot combat has existed for quite a while which led to the expected excitement amongst fans. Displaying some of the first oversized robots we’d ever seen in real life fans were excited to see the MegaBots Kuratas clash. Gradually the hype built up, MegaBots unveiled Eagle Prime and the fight was finally scheduled in Japan. Raking in huge views the fight was criticized for slow moving robots (despite few mentioning that this was the first real test and hadn’t been done before but hey, they would do better right?) but exciting to those of us, including myself, who’d been dying to see it. In the wake of the successful event a Kickstarter was launched and a future league of fighting robots in development. This would turn out to flounder because the Kickstarter failed and Matt Oehrlein, a co-founder and current CEO announced they had run out of money.

Unfortunately, the company has now been stripped bare bones, bereft of employees (I think they still have a few) and operating on a minimal budget as Matt tries to keep the dream alive. There has been a noticeable shift in the video style since previously it had either been demonstrations or conversations but has now shifted to a vlog style, featuring Matt as he travels. Some of the videos have included meeting the founder of Robot Wars, showing off Eagle Prime some more, featured on the Discovery Channel, hosting live events and more personal Crush It events where they destroy things, you know, for fun. One of the more important videos was a meeting between Matt and the members of the Monkey King and FutureWise teams although none of them came up with a concrete idea for another fight and as of now there are no future plans.

Credit: MegaBots Inc

Jay Leno even got a chance to pilot one. Given his affinity for classic cars I’d assume he’d scoop up a mech from MegaBots. C’mon Jay don’t keep us waiting. All the relevant links are below and on their website you can buy merchandise, reserve a time to pilot a mech or pay to have an item of your choice destroyed. They also have a Patreon, as odd as that is, where you can sign up for the normal perks. Their Instagram feed is also becoming filled with reports of innocent machines being crushed to death. Soooooo…if you’re into that; hintity hint hint.

Nation-States

The State of Qatar is currently undergoing serious tensions with its Arabian neighbors which could potentially become far more difficult. Saudi Arabia is currently considering bids to develop a canal along its border with Qatar. Called the Salwa Canal, it is named after the Saudi town on the border. The canal would be 70 km long and be used for tourism, resorts and commerce. The issue with a canal is the location. Qatar is a peninsula and if the Saudis dig a canal on their border it will cut Qatar’s land connection and turn Qatar into an island. Due to the high tensions it appears to be a political play to “cut” Qatar off Saudi Arabia as well as create an easier shipping lane next to Saudi Arabia which the UAE and Bahrain can use to stay away from Iran. However there’s also another issue at hand.

Can you, as a nation, legally create a canal across your border if it would separate another country from the mainland? The ethical issue of changing a peninsula into an island should be considered before any action is taken yet the current feud makes that route unlikely. The width of the canal wouldn’t actually separate Qatar very much though I’m sure they would try to make a legal case out of it. Current nations which could have this happen to them include Denmark, the Koreas or the part of Malaysia on the Asian mainland. It is either in the bidding phase or is being prepared by a company yet details on development are a bit lagging. If it does go further in earnest you can expect an avalanche of criticism and a media firestorm.

Sustainability

Credit: Ecovative

When you have a product shipped to your house you’d normally expect one of a few types of packaging. Bubble wrap, plastic with air pumped into it, cardboard paper or Styrofoam are some of the common options but what about mushrooms? Not the most common material to cradle your valuables in yet Ecovative Design decided years ago to begin addressing the mounting piles of trash generated by shipping. Their material, MycoBond, uses the mycelium from mushrooms (a mushroom’s mycelium is the same as a plant’s roots) to create a compostable alternative to the petroleum derived foam we still use. Since Amazon alone can show the staggering scale of products which are shipped from online purchases these days biodegradable alternatives are badly need to curb obscene amounts of trash.

Ecovative grows their mushrooms in a customized mold and the mycelium grows through discarded agricultural waste to form the material. The agricultural waste is purchased from local farmers, giving them an additional income stream and reducing its presence in landfills while also reducing plastic and Styrofoam being used which in turn helps to reduce CO2 since it prioritizes plants which consume carbon dioxide instead of using products which were made by creating carbon dioxide. The product is then cooked and dried to create the toughened material which can be used in a variety of ways. Some of the options include tiles, coolers, packaging, insulation, planters and grow-it-yourself kits as well as prototypes they offer to companies to test their potential designs. If it is kept dry it will last for a while but after being exposed to water and dirt it will begin to decompose. It is a far more preferable solution to using more plastic and can easily be disposed of. Get ready for a box full of mushrooms with your gifts!

Credit: Ecovative

Space

Orbital ATK is no longer an independent space and weapons contractor. As of June 2018 the company has been acquired by the military weapons developer Northrop Grumman and will be renamed Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. This will form Northrop Grumman’s fourth business division to handle space, aerospace and related industry fields. Orbital ATK was known for the Cygnus spacecraft (used repeatedly for ISS resupply missions) and the Antares rocket used to launch the Cygnus. Orbital ATK itself was a merger of Orbital Sciences Corporation (which had acquired numerous space companies over the years) and Alliant Techsystems. Orbital had long been a facet of the space industry, working with NASA, developing missile systems and creating satellites, spacecrafts and rockets. Alliant had worked on much the same. The merger had conditions though. Apart from Northrop Grumman, the only other company to produce solid rocket motors is Aerojet Rocketdyne, and those days may come to an end.

Currently, the Air Force is trying to replace their older ICBMs with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) and are searching for a suitable company. Aerojet had also been supplying boosters to the United Launch Alliance but Orbital-ATK had taken that contract from them. If they don’t have a role in GBSD they could withdraw from the business and leave Northrop Gumman as the sole provider of these motors in the United States. Due to this issue, the FTC made Northrop Grumman supply solid rocket motors without discriminating between companies. This was done since the only other company which even does this is Aerojet Rocketdyne and competition is almost non-existent. The solid rocket motors will form a separate business owned by Northrop Gumman and the DoD will oversee it. This is likely because the Pentagon is concerned that this monopoly will result in increased costs, less research and higher risks. This isn’t an unexpected outcome however; these companies have been getting larger for years.

Orbital ATK had been merging with companies for decades and it is common practice for companies to outcompete or buyout their competition to the point of forming trusts or monopolies. Another hurdle for the industry is money. Unless you’re Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos creating one of these companies is prohibitively expensive and funding difficult to acquire over the entire development cycle. Could a new company hypothetically surface in the following years to challenge Northrop? Possible but don’t bet on it. The odds are far more likely that they’ll dominate the field for a long time and the U.S. will become reliant on them. A more possible alternative would be another major competitor to them creating a department which would develop similar technologies. With this merger and the lack of any real choices the future of this industry continues to narrow.

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