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A guide to the appreciation of robotic combat sports

By chroma in Technology
Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:54:18 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Over the course of the past couple of years, the general public has become familiar with the field of robotic combat through such television programs as Robot Wars and BattleBots. These television shows, while good at providing the bandwidth necessary to show the fights with full motion video, have fallen short at describing some of the behind the scenes aspects, including the preparation necessary to compete, the technology involved in each robot, and controversies that have arisen over the years. It's as if tennis coverage lacked commentary on a player's net game, or a football game was shown without mentioning trades and off season injuries.

It has taken human civilization thousands of years to develop to the point where robotic combat is possible. It's a marriage of brains and brawn as complex mechanical creations to try to smash and destroy each other in an arena. It requires a greater application of technology than any other sort of game. It requires great exercise of intellect, imagination, and attention to detail. Yet it includes brutal tests of power where the losing robot must often be swept up and hauled off in a trash bag.

As a builder, I'm often asked questions such as "How do I build a robot?", "Why don't you just jam the other robot's signal?" and "Why are you doing this?" I also hear comments like "That's stupid" "That isn't really a robot" and "I'm gonna build a robot with _______ that will tear any of those other robots in half."

My responses are:

  1. Buy a bunch of robot parts and put them together

  2. It's against the rules

  3. It's fun

  4. Is not

  5. Is too, and what's it to ya, anyway?

  6. Bring it on


People have been building machines for use in competition for thousands of years. The modern sport of robotic combat extends back to 1994 when Marc Thorpe organized the first Robot Wars event in San Francisco. This was the first event dedicated to robotic competition that featured large (180 pound) robots.

Robot Wars continued for a few years until 1997, when it held its last event in San Francisco. This was also the year that the first Robot Wars television program started shooting in the UK. Disputes between Thorpe, the conceptual genius behind Robot Wars, and Profile Records, the financial backers, led to the end of Robot Wars in the US. Robot Wars, the BBC program, continues to be successful until the present.

Eventually, builders from the US decided that they needed their own space to play, and so BattleBots was born in 1999. After an un-televised event and a pay-per-view special, the cable channel Comedy Central began showing Comedy Central Sports Presents BattleBots in 2000. It started as a huge hit for the cable network. My sources indicate that while the show's ratings have declined, Comedy Central has chosen to extend the show's contract though 2003.

In the meantime, local competitions have flourished. While events such as BotBash in Arizona and the North Carolina Robot Street Fight lack the facilities to handle the larger robots, many competitors still show up to do battle with bots weighing up to 120 pounds. This year, at Dragon*Con's Robot Battles, which has been running for over 10 years, a record 26 robots competed.

The Rules

Rules vary between the various competitions. In general, they are directed toward making the event safe and exciting for the audience. Virtually every competition requires that drivers be able to control their robot safely from outside the combat area.

There is a lack of standardization among rule sets, mainly to suit the venue and type of contest. For instance, many competitions held in confined indoor areas, such as Robot Battles and the NERC competitions, disallow internal combustion as a power source, in order not to have to deal with noxious fumes and gasoline spills. BattleBots bans entanglement devices such as nets in order to promote spinning, saw-like weapons. BotBash includes an obstacle course and soccer match, as well as direct combat.

Both Robot Wars and BattleBots feature head-to-head combat. The competing robots will simply attempt to destroy each other. If, within a given time, there there is no knockout (one robot unable to move), the winner is decided by judges. This can lead to some controversial results. Robot Wars, in particular, has been accused of altering the outcome of the tournament by judging the wrong way, seeding the tournament brackets, and interfering by using the and using the "house bots" to make for better (in the producers' eyes) television.

Robots are paired off based upon their weight classes. The most common classes include: 1 pound (antweight), 12 pound, 30 pound, 60 pound (lightweight), 120 pound (middleweight), 220 pound (heavyweight), and 340 pound (superheavyweight).

Some types of weapons are banned almost universally: flamethrowers, explosives, radiation, corrosives, RF jammers (most robots are controlled by radio), noxious gasses, and electrical weapons. Projectiles are allowed, typically on the restriction that they be tethered to the robot.

To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.
Sun Tzu

It's 90% robot, 90% driver, and 90% luck.
A fellow competitor, in the hotel bar after a day of BattleBots

Most fans and beginning builders underestimate the difficulty of building a winning robot. To give you some idea of how hard it is to win, I've been building and fighting robots since 1997, and I'm just now starting to be happy with the performance of my bots in the arena.

What you rarely see on television are the large number of teams who show up to an event with a robot that barely works, then lose right away to a machine that is only mediocre. At the last BattleBots in May, 2002, over 600 robots were entered. Of these, 489 showed up and passed the safety inspection. And it's a single-elimination tournament, so half of these (245) never got past their first fight. So, winning teams show up with a legal robot that works and can continue to work after taking a little bit of punishment.

A robot builder's #1 biggest enemy is time.

The #2 enemy is the weight limit. Keep in mind that when you see a robot fight, it's almost always within 1% of the maximum allowed for its weight class. This means that the designer has optimized it to perform its functions as well as possible within the weight limit. So it's not so easy to add new features, weapons or armor without giving something else up or even redesigning the robot completely. Quite a bit goes into a robot just to make it able to compete: frame, batteries, motors, transmission, electronic speed controllers, radio equipment, wire, switches, axles, bearings, wheels. And to be competitive, a robot should have armor and a weapon, too!

The #3 is enemy is money, though you can earn more money and shop for bargains by spending more of #1. It is possible to design and build a winning robot cheaply. But it doesn't hurt to spend money on the best technology. Magmotor and Dustin electric motors, 3.6 Ah NiCd Sub-C batteries, Thor and RSG speed controllers are all technologies that have been developed for robotic combat or found an exclusive niche there.

Enough with the preparations. What should you look for when watching two robots fight? The smart drivers will attempt to use their robot's strengths against the opposing robot's weaknesses.

Faster robots will attempt to make contact with slower ones and get away quickly.

Bots with weak or no active weapons ("wedges," "rammers,"and "push bots") will attempt to use the arena hazards to damage an opponent. Often, such a contest will be determined by which robot can get lower to the ground. If one machine can lift the other partially off of the ground ("lifters,"and "flippers"), the higher one will have less traction and is vulnerable to being pushed around.

The crowd often favors robots that have high kinetic energy spinning weapons, such as rotating bars and discs. These robots are known among aficionados as "spinners." Spinners like Ultimate Phrizbee or Nightmare can reduce weaker opponent to its component parts. Spinner drivers like to see sharp edges and parts, especially wheels, sticking out of the opposing robot. This gives their cutting edges something to catch on and tear off. While these devices, which can weigh up to 150 pounds and spin at over 300 miles per hour might seem unstoppable, there's a common saying among bot builders: "Spinners beat themselves." The kinetic energy involved is so large, that all or part of the spinning mechanism is likely to break at some point.

The wise driver, when facing a spinner, will try to steer to avoid the weapon. Failing that, the driver will attempt to hit the weapon with the strongest part of his robot. Many spinners are also vulnerable to being tipped on their side or flipped over completely.

There's a third common form among robots, the "hammer bot." Hammer bots deliver their force downward upon their opponents with a long hammer arm. The hammers are typically driven by electric motors or pneumatics (compressed gas). Hammers have a very small contact area, and thus are hard to hit with, but many builders neglect to armor the top of their robots adequately. Additionally, a heavy force from above is typically transmitted to the wheels and bearings of the struck robot, which has the potential to disable its drive system. Hammers do well against low wedges, but not so well against machines with long reach weapons, or spinners which can tear a hammer clean off. Thus, hammer bots are often though of as the third part of a rock-paper-scissors trio which also includes wedges and spinners.

Other weapon variants exist, such as clamps, drums, powered spikes, and thwack-bots, but this is intended to be a guide to the appreciation of the sport, not a comprehensive treatise on strategy.

The Future

The easiest prediction to make is that in the future we'll see improved versions of the robots of today: more powerful spinners, faster rammers. The people who build the BattleBots arena will have a hard time keeping up; despite continuous improvements, someone always seems to find a way to break the BattleBox.

Secondly, many possible designs haven't been implemented properly or at all because of their complexity. One of my medium-term projects is to build an effective projectile weapon bot. My long-term (2-5 years) goal is to build a legged robot that's dynamically stable, so that it can run and jump.

I recently competed at BattleBots season 5.0. The contest will be shown on Comedy Central starting in August. Though I'm under NDA and can't disclose the winners, I will tell you that there's one robot that you'll certainly want to see: Warhead. Built by the same British team that created Razor, it's both a gorgeous work of art and a destructive machine. Bots like Warhead really are the future; if more robots as sophisticated as Warhead appear, the popularity of the sport will be assured.


Voxel dot net
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Related Links
o Is too
o Marc Thorpe
o first Robot Wars event
o Robot Wars television program
o BattleBots
o Comedy Central Sports Presents BattleBots
o BotBash
o North Carolina Robot Street Fight
o Robot Battles
o NERC competitions
o Magmotor
o Dustin
o 3.6 Ah NiCd
o Thor
o Nightmare
o projectile weapon
o legged
o dynamicall y stable
o Razor
o Also by chroma

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A guide to the appreciation of robotic combat sports | 83 comments (77 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why buy when you can... (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by Scott Robinson on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:14:12 AM EST


Virtual On .net

Auburn Virtual-On Crew (Seattle, WA)


Not robots, CARS! (4.00 / 5) (#7)
by paxtech on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:56:12 AM EST

What I really want to see isn't robots fighting in some arena.. I think even better would be to take some cars, and rig them up with remote driving capabilities. Load the cars up with rockets and machine guns, take them out to the desert and let them tear each other up. It'd be like real live Car Wars..

That'd be a show I'd watch for sure. Maybe even use dummies in the driver's seat that "bleed" when shot or blown up. Death sports without the death. Network honchos are you listening?!?!? This idea is GOLD, baby!
"Eggs or pot, either one." -- Ignignot

Scrapheap Challenge did this (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by squigly on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 05:17:20 AM EST

Or Junkyard wars in the US. Radio controlled fighting cars. No guns, but still pretty cool!

[ Parent ]
Damn.. (none / 0) (#42)
by paxtech on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:43:37 PM EST

I must have missed that episode somehow.. Bad Tivo!
"Eggs or pot, either one." -- Ignignot
[ Parent ]
Don't think it's an original idea (none / 0) (#29)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 02:41:00 PM EST

Of course, this is a logical extension of what's been done so far. And I have heard rumors of some BB competitors trying this kind of thing. But there are a couple big hurdles to overcome: 1. Liability. Someone is going to get sued if someone gets hurt. 2. Location. Where could you possibly do this so that nobody gets hurt? 3. Testing. How do you know your machine works without testing it? How do you test without killing yourself?

[ Parent ]
that last one (none / 0) (#36)
by tps12 on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 03:32:16 PM EST

"How do you test without killing yourself?"

That's the real trick, isn't it?

[ Parent ]

Good points (none / 0) (#41)
by paxtech on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:42:51 PM EST

I figure it wouldn't be able to be a grassroots battlebots type thing, it would need some real money behind it...  The teleoperation gear for the cars alone would probably be fairly expensive.

As for location they'd probably be able to find an open stretch of desert somewhere.  the point is for it to be incredibly dangerous, so probably there wouldn't be any local spectators, it'd all be for TV.

Anyway, I don't care really if it's an original idea or not, I just want someone to make it so I can watch it.. :)
"Eggs or pot, either one." -- Ignignot
[ Parent ]

Liability, Location and Testing (none / 0) (#63)
by maroberts on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 03:31:01 AM EST

These points could be addressed by making the battlefield some distance away from operators and indeed any human personnel at all. The only view the duallists have of the battlefield would be through whatever sensors are fitted to the vehicles.

This would be quite interesting, as then you could introduce the idea of hiding on the battlefield as well.
The greatest trick the Devil pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist -- Verbil Kint, The Usual Suspects
[ Parent ]

You can see that type of thing... (none / 0) (#70)
by squinky on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 03:32:33 PM EST

on CNN.

It's called war.

[ Parent ]

Location, location, location (none / 0) (#76)
by rusty on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:07:48 AM EST

2. Location. Where could you possibly do this so that nobody gets hurt?

Nevada. Or possibly West Texas. But definitely Nevada. Man, this idea has Nevada written all over it.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Too bad they're not robots (2.33 / 12) (#8)
by DeadBaby on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 05:10:52 AM EST

They're remote control cars. There is a very obvious difference. I really don't see the hype in watching remote control cars battle each other. TV has really sunk pretty low -- or maybe it was always this bad.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
They are robots. (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by Mysidia on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 06:12:01 AM EST

And remote control cars are robots too.

robot n.
1. A mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance.

2. A machine or device that operates automatically or by remote control.

3. A person who works mechanically without original thought, especially one who responds automatically to the commands of others.

Word History: Robot is a word that is both a coinage by an individual person and a borrowing. It has been in English since 1923 when the Czech writer Karel apek's play R.U.R. was translated into English and presented in London and New York. R.U.R., published in 1921, is an abbreviation of Rossum's Universal Robots; robot itself comes from Czech robota, "servitude, forced labor," from rab, "slave." [...]

Source: The American HeritageR Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000.

-Mysidia the insane @k5+SN
[ Parent ]
then so is a television (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by chopper on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:43:21 AM EST

or a garage door opener.

or a remote-controlled bomb.

(at least, according to definition #2)

give a man a fish,he'll eat for a day

give a man religion and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish
[ Parent ]

Semantic Discussion, or "Yeah, You're Right, (none / 0) (#22)
by virg on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 12:03:00 PM EST

You're right about the definitions. The trick is merely semantic, and by most accepted definitions of the term "robotic" a garage door opener qualifies (A television doesn't, by the way, but the television tuner control does, which is I suspect the part to which you refer). Still, the general public does have a few preconceptions about what constitutes a robot, based mostly on sci-fi film and television, and while a bot fighting in Battlebots and a radio control race car are very similar, the perception is different and so the definition can be used to differentiate.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Coming to Comedy Central this fall... (none / 0) (#49)
by DeadBaby on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 06:11:51 PM EST

Garage Door Opener Wars. It's Garage-tastic.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
[ Parent ]
Actually (none / 0) (#81)
by jred on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 05:25:39 PM EST

I think there was one bot that used a garage door spring to power a spike, and that thing had gobs of kinetic force...
[ Parent ]
Robots will get better (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by willpost on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 01:47:04 PM EST

  Most of the "fighting robots" you see are hand crafted by a person or team.  It might look like a "factory produced remote controlled car" but it takes a huge wad of cash to build and maintain a custom robot that gets chopped up every contest.

  For example, Biohazard has been successful many times but they need a lot of sponsors to pay for the upkeep.  That titanium armor is expensive! http://www.robotbooks.com/biohazard.htm

  If you add legs, eyes, and muscles to the robot then the expense goes way up.  Even the simplest webcam (for eyes), embedded cpu (for balance), and custom designed legs can easily add $5000 to the cost of the robot.  That's a lot of cash to see go up smoke for one performance.  The other problem is a walking robot wouldn't stand a chance against many of those wedges.  I've seen some of them lift metal shopping carts and people with ease.  If you were to use a gas-powered car or model plane in a normal soccer or football game it would be pretty easy to zoom by the other team and score.

  Eventually a contest will be made for walking robots and the market will create a need for mass produced factory robots.  Then things will get more interesting.

[ Parent ]

Oh my. (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 02:43:56 PM EST

You've figured it out the secret. I guess I'll just give up building "robots" now.

[ Parent ]
wedges and ai (4.00 / 2) (#12)
by mpalczew on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:17:20 AM EST

What I would like to see is robots fighting each other that aren't remote controlled, but programed with some kind of ai.

BTW wedges suck.
-- Death to all Fanatics!

You can . (4.50 / 2) (#20)
by squigly on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 11:09:25 AM EST

Robot Wars has an autonomous category.  The idea being to promote innovation.

The problem is that this does have rather slow and non-aggressive robots.  Its just not as much fun as the big ones.

[ Parent ]

Of course (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by retinaburn on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 12:35:45 PM EST

A fast autonomous robot would be sooo dangerous it would be scary :).

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
food (none / 0) (#82)
by jred on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 05:28:59 PM EST

And think about what happens if you don't feed (charge batteries) it fast enough.  If hungry pit bulls are bad, think about having a 200 lb. pissed off machine coming at you would feel...
[ Parent ]
AI and combat robots (none / 0) (#32)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 02:54:09 PM EST

While I believe the challenge of building an autonomous fighting robot is interesting, and that machines may eventually be able to compete with human drivers, I don't think that two computer-driven robots would make for a very interesting fight. It took many years to develop a machine capable of beating the world champion of chess. Do you think it would be any easier to make a machine that can drive as well as (say) Chuck (Gamma Raptor) Pitzer or Donald (Tazbot, Diesector) Hutson? There is a place for more computing power in fighting robots in the near term, however.

[ Parent ]
Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo (none / 0) (#61)
by blablablastuff on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 02:55:20 AM EST

Are you trying to make the destruction of civilization and the enslavement of mankind easier for them?

[ Parent ]
Thanks! (none / 0) (#75)
by khallow on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:16:51 AM EST

So it's just fine if we put you in an arena one on one with Deeppain the robot o' torture and fun or Inferno the robot that incinerates human vermin like we write bad prose? See you next Tuesday!

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

sure. (none / 0) (#67)
by garlic on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 10:09:15 AM EST

yeah it'd be great to debug a 300 pound psychotic AI with a chainsaw. Perfectly safe...

HUSI challenge: post 4 troll diaries on husi without being outed as a Kuron, or having the diaries deleted or moved by admins.
[ Parent ]

I've been designing a spinner (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by Yellowbeard on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:25:12 AM EST

But I just can't seem to actually get to the workshop. I feel like I have some great design ideas, but I suppose I am too lazy. Is there a good way to get motivated more? Or is it just all in the mentality of the builder?

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin

stop that (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by MicroBerto on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:52:32 AM EST

I'm no robot-builder, this just applies to 'projects' of all sorts:

1. Don't be afraid of failure. Failure is necessary (and often funny).
2. You're not going to finish the project today, so don't act like you are or you have to. Just do something.
3. Have a PLAN on what you're going to do today, and do it well.
4. Once you did some work, allow yourself a beer or some treat. That's your motivation. NO beer if you don't do anything.
5. Think of how much more you'll appreciate yourself knowing that you've worked on it.
6. Maybe you need some choice music in the workshop to spice it up.

Remember, the Internet, Television, woman, etc. is going to be there when you return from the workshop. Chances are you're not missing anything anyway, and you can catch up later.

- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip
[ Parent ]

Motivation/Desire (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by willpost on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 01:16:13 PM EST

  You might try attending or starting a Robot Club in your area.  It greatly helps when you have a community of common interest.
  It's also great to have a workshop to even tinker around with.  In my area (Silicon Valley) it's hard to do machine work without someone around you complaining.

  If you feel you are lazy then sometimes it helps to sit down and think about what you really want to be doing.  Are you sure that it would make you happy?  There are also motivational books on getting what you want.
  In the end, only you can decide if you want to focus your time and energy on planning, researching, designing, and building robots.

Here's some other tinkering resources:

[ Parent ]

Here's how (5.00 / 2) (#33)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 03:06:53 PM EST

Find a competition in your area. If you live in the US or UK, there's bound to be one within a few hours drive. Some contests I didn't mention in the body of the article: Twin Cities Mechwars, Mile High Con's Critter Crunch, and the Las Vegas Street Fight.

Don't attempt a spinner as your first robot. They are actually much harder to build than you think. Instead, concentrate on getting something that can move around and ram or wedge underneath your opponent. You'll get the short term success you need to keep you motivated.

As I say in the body of the article, building a robot is a matter of putting a pile of robot parts together. So order some parts off the internet. It's quite easy.

Also, I'm planning to sell a ready to run robot suitable for operation in the 12-pound weight class. Contact me if you're intereseted.

[ Parent ]

Well... (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by Yellowbeard on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 05:11:14 PM EST

The thing is: I have built a car, so I am pretty handy mechanically. I have the main component of the spinner's weaponry already, and I have access to an aircraft mechanic's school (the guy who is going to work on it with me is the son of the head of the school...) I know they are hard (counter-rotation and all) but I think I want to try. Although your point is taken. However... At some point, maybe I could ask some advice?

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin

[ Parent ]
advice (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 06:52:35 PM EST

Ask all you want.

I guess I should let everyone know: my name is Simon Arthur. You can read a little about my bots at http://www.tinyplanet.com/robots.php .

[ Parent ]

Robot types (2.57 / 7) (#14)
by jmzero on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:26:31 AM EST

Spinners lose.  Hammers lose.

The robots with wedges (or just more drive power) win.

I've never seen a rotating blade do any damage whatsoever to another modern Robot Wars type robot.  

BattleBots is really the same competition as Robot Sumo in Japan.  Except people haven't figured out that their spinning blade isn't going to cut anything, their spinning robot isn't going to damage anything (and certainly isn't going to catch anything), and their hammer isn't going to hit/damage anything.

All of the hopeless (or novelty) robots make Robot Wars and its ilk boring to watch.  Remember the giant snake thing?  What the hell?  What was he planning to do with it?  When I tune in, I want to watch two passable robots fighting...

And the wedges are crappy.  There has never been a BattleBot that would have a hope in hell of pushing a decent sumo robot.  

Junkyard Wars - now there's entertainment....
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife

You obviously didn't see (4.50 / 2) (#15)
by Yellowbeard on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:42:29 AM EST

last year's heavyweight championships in Battlebots where a spinner did tremendous damage to all it's competition, including, I believe, biohazard - one of the best wedges I have ever seen.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin

[ Parent ]
Hehe (none / 0) (#17)
by Bad Mojo on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:50:11 AM EST


-Bad Mojo
"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
B. Watterson's Calvin - "Calvin & Hobbes"

[ Parent ]
Yeah! (none / 0) (#26)
by Yellowbeard on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 01:45:49 PM EST

My spinner design is better, though, I think - lower center of gravity and even lower hammers - also my spinning mechanism is /extraordinarily/ tough - like - there is almost not way it would break - just have to get the drivetrain right.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin

[ Parent ]
Interesting (1.50 / 2) (#21)
by jmzero on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 11:11:27 AM EST

It's true that I haven't watched for a while.

I'll upgrade Spinners from "useless" to "boring".
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

Not quite (4.50 / 2) (#19)
by gazbo on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 10:59:19 AM EST

Spinning blades do indeed suck. However, Hypnodisc (Robot Wars) demonstrates that a heavy flywheel tears most any robot to pieces with a good hit.

Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

Spinners (none / 0) (#34)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 03:15:10 PM EST

The British don't seem to have developed the art of the spinning weapon to the degree that the Americans have. This is partially because under Robot Wars rules a robot can use an entaglement device like a net to stop a rotating mass. Several American spinners win consistently: Hazard, Nightmare, Ziggo and Surgeon General, to name a few.

[ Parent ]
Well designed hammers are nifty (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by Quixato on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 03:19:54 PM EST

Although I'm not sure it falls into the category of 'hammer', Razer (as mentioned in the article) is definately the most destructive robot I've ever seen. Razer main weapon is a piercing arm; the robot drives up to the target, and attempts to pinch it between a powerful hydraulic arm and a wedge type bottom (check out this pic).

I've been moderately interested in these Robot Wars shows, but when I happened to catch a match with Razer, I knew that this would be the future of televised violence. It truely was a devastating performance.

"People are like smarties - all different colours on the outside, but exactly the same on the inside." - Me
"Learn to question, question to learn." - Sl8r
[ Parent ]

Razer (none / 0) (#59)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:31:38 PM EST

The Razer guys are something else. At BB in November, they had brought in a toy version of Razer, maybe twice the size of a matchbox car. It was originally intended as a wind-up toy.

They had converted it to be remote controlled. The clamping arm even worked. I don't know how they managed to squeeze a battery, radio receiver, and three motors into that tiny package.

[ Parent ]

Here's how... (none / 0) (#69)
by SDrifter on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 01:51:44 PM EST

The Team Razer website has instructions on how to do it.
It burns!!!
It's loaded with wasabi!
[ Parent ]
Last year's competition (none / 0) (#38)
by blablablastuff on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 03:59:59 PM EST

the heavyweight finals were between a spinner, son of whyachi, and a bot with a fron mounted spinning blade, Mechavore.
mechavore kicked whyachi's ass too, the call at the end of that fight was utter shit. whyachi was disabled for half the fight without being counted out, mechavore gets stunned for a second and they jump in and end it.

[ Parent ]
Cant remember the name.. (none / 0) (#83)
by tonyenkiducx on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 12:05:11 PM EST

..but the final of Robot wars in the UK Two years ago, was between Chaos 2(STILL unbeaten in four years competing), and another robot that I cant name.. But it had a large, very heavy rotating disk with two pieces of twisted metal on the side of the disk. Allthough it didnt look much, because of the weight and the gyroscopic affect of the disk, it absolutely tore all the other robots to pieces, literally. Only Chaos 2 beat it, by throwing it out of the arena after about thirty seconds :P

Talking of Chaos 2, have any of you americans heard of that bot? They got so bored of competing normally that RW UK started putting them up against three other contenders working together at the same time.. They still havent been beaten.

I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called utopia. And I see us invading that planet, because they'd never expect it
[ Parent ]
What I don't like are... (2.33 / 3) (#24)
by What She Said on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 01:09:48 PM EST

...stupid 'bots like dolls in toy firetrucks, or large pink mice, or that one really dumb spiral snake-like thing that couldn't do anything. Looked like it took a lot of work to make, but it didn't DO anything.

Control systems? (5.00 / 3) (#28)
by KWillets on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 02:19:49 PM EST

From what I've seen these "robots" (I'll leave that debate to another thread) run on regular RC transmitters and servos.  The movements of the vehicles seem crude and uncoordinated due to the clumsy control systems.  The typical move seems to be:  accelerate, spin out, accelerate, spin out, accelerate, try to hit opponent, miss, spin out.  Likewise attempting to target an opponent with a hammer or other weapon is an exercise in futility; they never seem to get within ten or twenty degrees of the right direction.

It seems like a more responsive and maneuverable bot would have an advantage, but I don't see much innovation in the controls.  Wouldn't, eg, a higher-bandwidth wireless link be more useful?  Is there a rule that they have to use stock controls?  Has anyone attempted to make a more responsive machine?  

Driving (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 03:54:30 PM EST

>Wouldn't, eg, a higher-bandwidth wireless link be more useful?

I don't know that more bandwidth would help you. After all, you're just sending a signal that says "go at x% throttle" each wheel.

> Is there a rule that they have to use stock controls?

Stock radio control systems, either those used for hobby RC cars (made by Futaba, Airtronics, JR, etc.) or the more sophisticated Isaac system by IFI robotics are encouraged. Custom controllers are allowed, but are inspected more closely and have to pass more rigorous tests. I don't think that the

>Has anyone attempted to make a more responsive machine?

I don't think that responsiveness is really the issue; most robots react within a few milliseconds of an issued command.

The big problem that you're seeing is one of control. An over-excited driver will tend to oversteer.  Two wheeled robots are hard to drive straight due to their physical characteristics. Robots with motors that have advanced timing will pull to one side. There's a host of similar physical control issues.

Some people have added such elements as gyroscopes in order to help with control. Steven (Voltronic) Felk swears by gyros. The new lightweight robot The Prosecutor uses optical encoders on each wheel to keep track of its speed.

Others seem not to care for them. Both Tony (Wedge of Doom) Buchignani and Rob (Death by Monkeys) Farrow are considered to be very good drivers, yet don't use gyros and attribute their driving success to practice.

I've got a button on my remote that, when held down, slows my robot down. This prevents accidental oversteering. I may look into getting gyros at some point


[ Parent ]

Idea (none / 0) (#44)
by KWillets on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:59:40 PM EST

The feedback sounds good.  Maybe an optical mouse would be a good way to get some cheap control information.  You might have to change the focus to work at a different height, but I think it would work.  

By "high bandwidth" I meant using more sensors and more actuators, or more precise ones, and possibly a computer base station to manage the process.  

[ Parent ]

control systems (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by NFW on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:01:39 PM EST

The accelerate, spin out, accelerate, miss, spin out sequence sounds like the everything is too responsive already. The more responsive and maneuverable something gets, the harder it is to control it precisely. Precise control is easy with stuff that moves slowly, but moving slowly is a drawback in itself. I'm not sure different controls would really help. Even with more bandwidth, it still comes down to the operator working the controls just right.

There's stuff you can do with the RC systems to get a little more precise control: exponential response, dual rates, throttle curves, etc... there's even gyros to help tame steering a bit. But still, mostly it comes down to practice.

Practice, and on-board targeting / tracking systems. That would be cool.

Got birds?

[ Parent ]

Clarification (none / 0) (#43)
by KWillets on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:51:56 PM EST

Yes, generally higher bandwidth wouldn't do anything directly; I should phrase that differently.

One specific example I thought of is targetting.  Aiming a hammer, etc., at a specific point is hard from the third-person viewpoint.  Wouldn't it help to have a camera on the vehicle to help line up the shot?  That's the type of high-bandwidth control that might make a difference.  Combine that with accurate maneuvering and you have a much better platform.

WRT responsiveness, you're right that it tends to go against stability.  This situation is the same with fighter aircraft, and fly-by-wire was invented to combat the problem.  

Probably what I meant is maneuverability in different speed/turning combinations, without losing control.  Most of what I've seen is turning or accelerating, but not doing both accurately at the same time.

[ Parent ]

cameras, control, practice, etc (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by NFW on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 05:29:36 PM EST

I bet a camera could help, but it raises some interesting issues. I think you'd still need a driver to watch from the third-person perspective to get a big-picture sense of what's going on. Looking back and forth between the monitor and the arena could be a pain in the butt... With one person watching through a camera and one watching from the edge of the arena you might get the best of both worlds, but it might take a lot of teamwork (read: even more practice) to avoid back-seat-driver problems.

As far as speed/turning combinations, my guess is it's largely a matter of practice. Of course, having never built or driven a battle-bot, guessing is all I can do...

But, flying radio controlled helicopters for the last few years has given me a huge appreciation for what practice can do for similar control problems. Hovering is like holding a piece of glass and guiding a marble around by tilting the glass... (only worse, because when the glass does a 180 your left is it's right... and then there's inverted stuff). It's near impossible at first, but after enough practice you can fly circles doing pirouettes and its no big deal.

One of my RC heli buddies is pretty keen on building a battle bot. He's positive that he can out-do 99% of the bot drivers, basically because he has been practicing hard, for years, with stuff that (he thinks) is harder to control... I think that's optimistic, but I'm still sure he'd have a huge head start over people who spend more time building that practicing driving.

Got birds?

[ Parent ]

You need a WSO (none / 0) (#65)
by dorsai on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 05:19:44 AM EST

or Weapons Systems Operator in that scenario... of course, then the critical factor become crew coordination... another cutesie idea would be for someone OUTSIDE the arena to designate the enemy bot - and have autonomic weapons go after it (of course, I have no idea if this is legal - or if it would remain so for more then one contest).

Dorsai the sigless

[ Parent ]
The Prosecutor (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 06:17:30 PM EST

The Prosecutor had a small sensor that would trigger its hammer whenever something was within range.

Some teams use one person to drive and another to control the weapon.

When I build my projectile spewing bot, I want it to have a laser to light up the target, and possibly a camera to allow the gunner to see where the cannon is aimed.

[ Parent ]

That brings up a question (none / 0) (#54)
by KWillets on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 08:34:29 PM EST

Can the operator use a laser illuminator to target the opponent, thereby "controlling" his vehicle in the same way a laser-guided missile is controlled?

[ Parent ]
Laser targeting (none / 0) (#60)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:53:08 PM EST

Yes, this is explicitly allowed for in the rules. There are some restrictions, like you can't use a 100 MW laser.

[ Parent ]
IFI Robotics (5.00 / 1) (#53)
by Merk00 on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 07:37:49 PM EST

The majority of control systems used in Battlebots (at least) are made by IFI Robotics (also known as InnovationFIRST). These are almost the same controllers used (and originally designed for) the FIRST Robotics Competition. The difference is that the IFI model has the radio modem and robot controller integrated together and is designed for 24-volts as opposed to the 12-volt InnovationFIRST model.

The controllers are based around three Parallax Basic Stamp 2SX's. These in turn are based around PIC microprocessors. One Basic Stamp is dedicated to input, one to output, and the third is user programmable. The processor is programmed using the PBasic programming language. The programming of the processor is fairly limited as it basically just runs in a continuous loop of polling for new input and then outputing based on the input (20 times per second). Also included in the control package is a 900 Mhz radio modem. I don't remember exactly how much can be transfered in one cycle but approximately 10 analog inputs and 10 binary (these are basically just guesses from what I remember). There are also an equivalent number of inputs on the robot itself for sensors.

I just wanted to say that my experience with these controllers comes from the FIRST Robotics Competition.

"At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
- FIRST Mission
[ Parent ]

Control systems (4.00 / 1) (#66)
by Razitshakra on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 09:20:55 AM EST

I think the problem is that most robots are controlled like the tanks in the old arcade game Battlezone. That is, you independently control the wheels or threads on the left and right side. In order to spin left, you go forward with the right side and backwards with the left side. The angle the robot turns is determined by how long a time you do this, which is a problem if you have got a fast robot.

If I were to build a robot, I would go for a fly by wire setup where a paddle like the one in the old arcade game Arkanoid is used to indicate the desired angle of turn. This would be translated into control signals for the motors. Add a forward/backward control and the robot should be much easier to steer.

A lot of references to old arcade games in this piece, but i think they illustrate the point well.

Lets ride / You and I / In the midnight ambulance
- The Northern Territories
[ Parent ]
Steering (none / 0) (#68)
by chroma on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 12:59:46 PM EST

Most bots are either set up to go "Battlezone-style" or "Combat" style. If you take the setup you're describing and move the steering to the L-R axis of the forward-reverse stick, you end up with Combat style. Either way, you will still need 2 degrees of freedom to control the robot.

[ Parent ]
Paddle for steering. (none / 0) (#71)
by NFW on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 04:41:16 PM EST

You mean, use a paddle control the amount of turn rather than the rate of turn? That's a pretty cool idea.

You'd still get control reversal on the forward-reverse axis but practice would clear that up, and it would probably be easier to deal with than the steering control reversal.

Got birds?

[ Parent ]

Getting around the left/right reversal (none / 0) (#79)
by salsaman on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 11:23:21 AM EST

Why not use the paddle as a direction controller - turn it to the top, the bot turns until it's pointed away from the controller, turn it to the bottom, the bot will turn to face the controller, left or right and the bot moves in a circle around the controller.

OK, you'd need some more sophisticated electronics to do the triangulation, but I wonder if it would be possible/practical.

[ Parent ]

Running and Jumping (and SSP) (5.00 / 2) (#30)
by NFW on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 02:43:31 PM EST

I can certainly relate to the dynamically stable walking/running/jumping robot idea. I wanted to build one for a while, but right now I'm having fun just designing them and simulating them... I wrote some software that lets me 'sketch out' a robot and its control system, and then watch it go, with a joystick to control it. It's in 3D and has pretty realistic physics.

I've got a robot in the sim with a dynamically stable gait, but it doesn't quite run yet - it just walks really fast. It jumps, but it only lands on its feet about half the time. When I get a design that I'm really happy with, then I'll start looking into actually building something... but for now the simulator is pretty fun in its own right.

The sim is free, and though it's not open source (yet?) I am totally open to suggestions for improvements and new features. I'm working now on importing .3ds files at the request of another user, for example.

My sig has a link to a web site with screen shots, movies, downloads, etc.

Got birds?

SRL (5.00 / 2) (#40)
by elemental on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 04:05:56 PM EST

The modern sport of robotic combat extends back to 1994 ...

Take a look at Survival Research Laboratories. Mark Pauline has been doing this stuff on a much larger (and more dangerous) scale since the early 1980s or so.

Of particular interest are the show pages. Most (if not all) of them have a link to photos taken at the performance. Unfortunately their site is kinda hard on the eyes and the navigation is even worse, but the pictures and videos are worth the time.

I love my country but I fear my government.
--> Contact info on my web site --

Not to mention... (4.00 / 1) (#72)
by fluffy grue on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 05:20:59 PM EST

If this has been happening at Dragon*Con for the last 10 years, that kind of makes it predate 1994, no?
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

History (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by chroma on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 06:06:48 PM EST

There are a bunch of things which predate RW. RC boat and airplane enthusiasts regularly stage battles. The 1980's Transformers TV series and movies featured fighting robots. Rock'em Sock'em Robots were a popular toy introduced in 1966. Automotive demolition derbies have been going on since at least the 50's. Nicola Tesla invented the first remote controlled robot. The ancient Romans and Persians fought with chariots.

And so on.

[ Parent ]

Well, yeah (none / 0) (#74)
by fluffy grue on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 08:27:30 PM EST

I was just pointing out an inherent contradiction in the article itself, without having to even delve into external information. :)
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

Fight? they even can sell.. (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by 216pi on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 05:32:42 PM EST

did you see these?
They claim to build autonomous acting, humanoid sales robots...
You can see some images of the bot and even tell him what he shall say...
Several German news sites posted images of the bot.
You can see the bot moving at the end of this video showing his middle finger. If this helps selling?
collecting pr0n? use this.
here's my guide to appreciate battlebots: (3.50 / 4) (#48)
by voltron on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 05:45:09 PM EST

  1. although a robot might look cool, don't root for it. the cooler a robot looks, the quicker it will get demolished.
  2. although a robot might have a big hammer that it tries to bring down on opponents, at no time during the match will they every come remotely close to hitting the opponent. in fact, if the hammer mechanism doesn't break in the first minute of the match, it must be considered a small victory.
  3. robot operators will invariably mix up left and right when their robots are facing them. i can't explain this one.
  4. the common design of "flipping an opponent over" seems effective, until you realize that 80% of opponents are designed to drive both on their tops and bottoms.
  5. another common design, the wedge, is absurdly boring to watch.
  6. spinners, although bearing the promise of some crushing hit, will break and stop spinning within the first minute of the match.
  7. if nothing else breaks, the RC receiver will break, leading to the heart-pounding excitement of a lump of metal sitting on the floor while a rolling wedge tries to slide under it but keeps missing (see 3).
  8. the "killsaws" have never killed anything.

Control reversal. (none / 0) (#55)
by NFW on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:10:47 PM EST

robot operators will invariably mix up left and right when their robots are facing them. i can't explain this one.

Ever messed with an RC car? When it's facing you, your left is its right. Pushing the throttle stick away from you doesn't move it away from you anymore.

It takes practice to be able to 'project' your sense of direction into the car (or airplane, or helicopter, or robot, or whatever) so that you work the controls correctly without thinking about orientations and control reversals.

It's not enough to just know, in the academic sense, that the controls will seem reversed. You'll still screw up because your reflexes will have you moving the controls before your conscious mind kicks in. You just have to practice until your reflexes do the right thing every time.

Got birds?

[ Parent ]

Your criticisms (3.00 / 1) (#58)
by chroma on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:25:47 PM EST

  1. Except for Warhead and others
  2. Except for The Judge and others
  3. We drivers just suck
  4. Except for Toro, which won the SHW championship, and others
  5. Except for fast, well driven wedges like Bad Attitude and Maximus, and others
  6. Except for MW champion Hazard, and others
  7. What makes you think tha RC receivers break that often?
  8. Except for a bunch of robots

[ Parent ]
Season 1 and 2 (none / 0) (#77)
by rusty on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:12:24 AM EST

These criticisms sound like they apply to the first two seasons of BattleBots, which, be honest, weren't as exciting as they should have been. The last couple seasons have been bad-ass though. The level of competition, and scale and frequency of destruction, have improved enormously. And Bill Dwyer is cool. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
the killsaws in BB (none / 0) (#62)
by blablablastuff on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 02:58:32 AM EST

actually for the first season they were pretty pathetic. maybe the first 2, i forget if the show is in the 3rd or 4th season. anyway, before last season they apparently quintupled the horsepower on the killsaws. and the sledgehammer in the corner also. I've seen the new, upgraded killsaws pick up robots and send them flying across the arena, often in multiple pieces.

[ Parent ]
Not robots (5.00 / 2) (#51)
by lelitsch on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 06:27:31 PM EST

The main thing that irks me is that these bots are not robots as in programmatically driven machines. All I have seen on BattleBots are remote controlled vehicles without any built-in intelligence. A robot battle between autonomous machines similar to the Robocup (www.robocup.org), now that would be cool.

Bzzt....there are lots of fields in robotics (2.00 / 2) (#56)
by gte910h on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:13:39 PM EST

Popular culture, The Dictionary, and Academia all concur that they are in fact doing robotics, and you sir, are wrong.

There are remote controlled robots(usually no sensors, and controlled at short range by a radio sensor [e.g. a BattleBot]), tele-operated bots (sensors and controls done at a distance via radio link [e.g. like some of these] or autonomous robots like this one. They all have their places, and they all are robots. They aren't human looking, and even the most "intelligent" and impressive autonomous robots have a long way to go before being that useful. They usually do a highly speciallized task, and not as well as a human could. Teleoperated robots are big for the military and search and rescue missions.

[ Parent ]
Berating the obvious (1.00 / 2) (#57)
by Grimmtooth on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 09:15:19 PM EST

<RANT> Nothing bugs me more than someone that doesn't bother to read the article before posting something like this. He even posted a link to the definition of the term robot. Does he have to hand-carry a dictionary to your place of residence, too? </RANT>

[ Parent ]
Why you need to know this (3.00 / 1) (#64)
by Lode Runner on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 03:56:25 AM EST

As is the case with baseball, even the uninterested must grasp the nuances of robotic combat sports if they are going to participate in the contemporary (American) discourse.

I'm serious, without chroma's superb article, analogies like this will continue to elude you.

Razor (none / 0) (#78)
by salsaman on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 11:09:21 AM EST

You mention the robot built by the same team which built Razor. Is Razor itself not in the competition ? If not, why not - is the new robot simply a successor to Razor, or is there some kind of licensing problem which prevents Robot Wars bots from entering BattleBots ?

If it's the latter then that is a real shame.

Razer in BattleBots (none / 0) (#80)
by chroma on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 07:42:51 PM EST

> Is Razor itself not in the competition ?

No, it is not.

> If not, why not - is the new robot simply a successor to Razor, or is there some kind of licensing problem which prevents Robot Wars bots from entering BattleBots ?

Yes, it's a licensing problem. Both BattleBots and Robot Wars want the exclusive right to use the competing robots in toys, video games and the like. Yes, it's a shame.

[ Parent ]

A guide to the appreciation of robotic combat sports | 83 comments (77 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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