Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'League' Player Enjoys Man, Machine Mix

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'League' Player Enjoys Man, Machine Mix

Article excerpt

Chris Hardouin has what surely must be one of the coolest jobs on Earth: He designs Hot Wheels toys for Mattel.

The New Orleans native, 34, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied electrical engineering. At the time, CMU was just beginning to add classes in robotics, so he took those as well.

Upon graduation, the job market was pretty open to him: "It was either toys or killer drones," he said, laughing.

Years later, he is putting those robotic skills to work on the inaugural season of Syfy's "Robot Combat League." Mr. Hardouin and his "jockey," kickboxer Diana Yang, have reached Tuesday's semifinals.

"I really didn't know what to expect going into the show because, obviously, this show is very different from other robot shows you've seen in the past where you have these small battlebots, these little tin-can things," he said.

The robots on "RCL" are massive constructions. Although each begins with the same frame, exoskeletons vary. Mark Setrakian, who designed the robots, told Entertainment Weekly they each cost about $200,000 to make.

Mr. Hardouin's robot, Scorpio, sports a lighter fiberglass and aluminum body, which allows great mobility but is flimsier armor. Nonetheless, Scorpio was able to move in quickly and literally gut its first two opponents. Who knew you could break a robot in half?

"We didn't," Mr. Hardouin said. "We didn't expect any of that. There is a flash moment in the first fight where cameras show the pit area where Diana and I are after Commander goes down.

"I'm looking to the judges and the producers and thinking, 'Oh my god, I am so out of this competition because I have just crashed somebody's Lamborghini, basically.

"We thought we broke the robot, but they were like, 'Nope, good job!' "

By luck of the draw, Mr. Hardouin and Ms. Yang won the right last week to choose first among new weapons. They got the one everyone else wanted: a drill-shaped implement studded with small sharp barbs.

Next week, Scorpio takes on Crash, which is piloted by a father- daughter team.

Top prize is $100,000 to be divided between the team members. …

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