Clash of the robots

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A competitor debugs a robot during the Roborave Asia 2018 held in Beijing. [Photo by Hou Yu/China Daily]

Machine battle reality show set to make debut.

The fighting arena weighs up to 2500 tons, boasting bulletproof glass that can withstand the blast of a bazooka and reinforced steel protective plates.

Visitors are repeatedly reminded not to take photos, adding to the secretive nature of the surroundings.

But this is not a military base or sci-fi movie set - the studio on the southern outskirts of Beijing is actually the site of Clash Bots, an upcoming reality show featuring battles between robot combatants.

More than 500 teams of up to four people each from home and abroad are gathering for the program by, one of China's major video-streaming media platforms.

While the show is set to go online in March, its producers are still keeping most of the details under wraps. But there are clear similarities with US TV series BattleBots, in which competitors design and operate remote-controlled armed and armored machines to be top gun in battles lasting three minutes.

Still, Chen Wei, vice-president of iQiyi and chief producer of Clash Bots, wants to develop something new for Chinese audiences, many of whom have little knowledge of what the games are like.

The Chinese arena, for one, is said to be larger than its US counterpart.

"I'm only a few months earlier than the general public in China to really know what robot combat competition is about," Chen says, smiling. "But it's worthwhile to have a shot because the game can help showcase young people's struggles and their energy."

In April 2017, when Chen's team first contacted the US side to express interest in the show, those in the West had their doubts. "Do you have robot combat in China?" one of them asked.

Chen himself was surprised to find out there were already dozens of teams ready for robot combat all over China.

"Robot combat may have decades of history in the United States and Britain," Chen admits. "But we don't want to copy others' established models."