In the late 90s, robot death matches became a national sport. Geeky dads and engineering students worked furiously in their garages to build machines, designed to do one thing: destroy other robots. When “Robot Wars” went off the air, our metal friends thought their long nightmare was over. But it turns out it was just passed on to the next generation. Joey Dauod’s documentary, “Bots High,” follows three teams of high school students in Florida, as they prepare their creations for the national championship.
For the egghead kids with designs on attending M.I.T., there isn’t much in the way of traditional extracurricular activities to compliment their skill set. Fortunately, several schools around the country have started offering a sort of robotics club, with a robot battle as the end game. It’s a great way for them to experience a practical application for the math and science they’ve learned, as well as get to know other, like-minded teens. Besides, a geek is a lot more daunting when they have a killer machine under their command.
“Bots High” introduces us to such contenders as Fluffy II (whose predecessor self-destructed), Famous Last Words, El Cholo and Lil’ Kanye. Their creators are some astoundingly smart teenagers, including several very capable girls. Now, I’m not surprised that the ladies are up to the task, but apparently the engineering field has a huge gender gap. Only 16% of engineering students are women. Here’s hoping this film, and the increasing prevalence of robotics clubs, will inspire more girls to put down the Gucci and pick up a wrench.
While it’s not going to win any cinematography awards, Dauod’s film is a lot of fun. Interspersed interview segments and stock music lend the film a reality show quality. But it has all the elements necessary to weave a compelling story. It has suspense, as one of the teams just can’t seem to apply themselves to the task, working up until literally the last minute at the competition to get their robot up and running. There’s a bit of romance, as the guys and gals flirt in the workroom. One particularly opportunistic fellow is great at working in comforting hugs when the girls experience setbacks. There is camaraderie as the teams band together to help each other with mechanical issues mid-competition. And, of course, there is plenty of robot carnage.
I don’t know whether to look forward to a future in which these kids are creating machines that will protect us and improve our quality of life, or fear their potential to bring about the robot apocalypse. Regardless, I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them build robots that kick ass.