Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Competitor - Why Do We Fight Robots?

Written by Ravi Baboolal of All Black Robotics

With Battlebots back on television
We delve into the mind of a combat robotics competitor.

Weeks of design work
Meticulously collecting parts and sourcing materials
Dedicating hours of time in the shop
Burning hard earned cash on new parts
Driving cross country
Sleeping under pit tables
Soldering circuits in the hotel
No sleep, no food


This is the life of a robot fighter.

To say they are a special breed is an understatement. It takes a special person to build and compete in robotic combat. Its much more then a hobby, its a way of life.

Once you begin you will never look at a scrap yard the same. 

At the end of the day the combat builder is willing to pour hundreds of man hours into a robot knowing it may be destroyed in the blink of the eye.

When your injured in the shop or the pits (it always happens) wrap it up in electrical tape and push on. If your in a pinch forget it, blood makes the bot look better anyway right?

There is no pay cheque at the end of the day.
There is no thanks.
Chances are there is no prize either.

So why do we do it? 
Why push man and machine to the limit?

Part of it is because we are makers meaning we create purely for the passion of it all.
There is something to be said about creating a unique machine and testing it in brutal combat against your peers. As skills develop builders are constantly pushed to better their machines in search of victory.

I remember starting out when I was perhaps 12 years old. After watching battlebots on TV I decided this was for me and began learning a few basic skills. My father found a local robot fighting competition, it was small and hosted 1 and 3 pound robots. Perfect for the young kid just starting out. 
A friend and I built a bot, a small 2 wheeled one pound fighting robot. 

We had no fabrication skills to speak of and knew little regarding electronics. 
We purchased 2 small gear head motors, some PVC sheeting (something we could cut with scissors), a cheap AM radio controller and a small 2 channel electronic speed controller.
Piggy banks and sock drawers drained.

We built the bot, I don't recall if there was any design work but rather a mash up of available parts.
We used two rechargeable 9volt batteries for power and a piece of galvanized construction steel.

I remember trying to drill a hole in the pitiful steel plate only to snap the only drill bit I had using a borrowed hand drill. It was 2am, instead of packing it in we used a nail and hammer to make the hole, filing the edge so it was flat.

The robot was intended to fight in the 1 lb weight class but weighed nearly 2lbs so we had to punch above our weight. This did not end well, on day one the robot was torn apart and we had to rebuild it over night. On day 2 the very same happened and we went home with a box of scrap parts.

Here is a video of those fights, my first robot is the small 2 wheeled yellow robot.

Strangely this is the only video or picture I have of this robot.

After that day I was hooked. I worked with plastic for the longest time because I could work it using simple hand tools and wood working tool. Materials like Lexan and UHMW became staples for me, these materials can still be effective for combat robotics.

The robots got bigger. The materials soon became aluminum and steel.

Now its 120lb robots and weapons more dangerous then a loaded firearm.
You really don't understand what horse power means until a 2HP robot slams full force into a wall.

Have you seen Tombstone?! 

What have I learnt?
I know I can work for 48hrs straight with no sleep and little food, but only on a robot and before competition.
I know that the only thing limiting the project is how inventive I can be with parts/tools on hand.
I know that in a pinch my power tools can be repurposed into robot parts.
I know that JB weld is godlike and should be worshipped.

There is no feeling better then entering the arena with a cheering crowd. Nothing more exciting then hearing the sound of tearing metal. The guttural chest deep impact of two robots colliding at full speed is unique to our world. 

Two robots, two drivers out for blood and oil. I want them dead and they want me dead. Its how I imagine the gladiators felt, just without the life, death and servitude...

Its an amazing feeling and amazing event. There is nothing but hate in the arena during a fight. We WANT mayhem, we WANT to put on a show, we WANT to show you what we can do.

That being said, the combat robotics community is the best maker community I've ever known. Outside of the arena we will drop everything to help someone repair a robot. We will offer up hundreds of dollars worth of spare parts if only to get you back into the fight. 

There is also an unspoken rule of combat. Avoid doing damage that cannot be repaired.
Get approval from your opponent for that last crippling blow if only to put on a good show.

It's a brotherhood.

We are all in the same boat, sleep deprived, injured, hopeful.

Then when its all over, we enjoy some well deserved beers.

This is the life of the combat robot builder. 
The endless strive for greatness.

Are you ready?

-Ravi Baboolal
All Black Robotics

Bot Brawl Event #1 won't be quite as brutal.
But it will be awesome.

Event Date: September 19th 2015

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