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Pick The Best Fighting Robot Design

BattleBot veteran Jerry Clarkin (Team Hammertime) in the starting square with his super-heavy chucker-bot, “Bounty Hunter.“ This photo gives you some idea of how big these 340-pound competitors are.

BattleBot veteran Jerry Clarkin (Team Hammertime) in the starting square with his super-heavy chucker-bot, “Bounty Hunter.“ This photo gives you some idea of how big these 340-pound competitors are.

You know they say that a pet owner ends up looking like their pet and the same thing can be said about combat robots…each roboteer will usually end up designing and building a robot that reflects his or her personality. So what kind of personality do you have?

There are many different RC fighting robot designs and implementations, but most robots fighting in the combat arena today are all derived from one of a few basic design concepts. We’ll look at these different robot types and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then you may be able to decide which one fits your personality best!

THWACKBOTS, LIFTERS, WEDGES, SPINNERS AND MORE!

THE BASIC WEDGE-BOX

Bounty Hunter is a pneumatically powered bot-chucker. It doesn't simply lift its opponent or flip it. It tosses the bad guy several feet into the air. That’s another flying 340 pounds!

Bounty Hunter is a pneumatically powered bot-chucker. It doesn’t simply lift its opponent or flip it. It tosses the bad guy several feet into the air. That’s another flying 340 pounds!

I like to call the simplest type of combat robot a battle box instead of a BattleBot because this design invariably ends up looking like a pizza box. Many newcomers to the sport dream about the impressive and destructive designs they see on TV, and while they hope to build one some day, most beginners will start with a simple box. A battle box has no frills, just the basics: a frame, drivetrain, and LOTS of armor. Most roboteers will quickly upgrade this box with the most basic form of weapon–a wedge. That is why I group these two related types together and call them wedge-boxes.

Many roboteers will scoff at the simple wedge-box because it is easy to design and easy to build, but this design persists in combat because it WINS. No matter how much money you might have, every roboteer also has a weight budget. How will you ‘spend’ your weight? Most seasoned builders will refer to items on their robot as if pounds were gold coins. “That motor cost me three pounds.” That is because every pound you spend on one item is a pound that comes out of another area. The wedge-box builder spends his entire weight budget on drivetrain and armor. The result is a tough, maneuverable robot whose builder has had a lot of driving time before the event. A very tough combination to beat, but also one that doesn’t get many screams of excitement from the crowd.

A wedge-bot has to be very tough to beat a powerful spinner. We all know that scissors usually beats paper, but here, the triumphant wedge-bot (Devil's Plunger) surveys Falcon–a vanquished drum-spinner bot.

A wedge-bot has to be very tough to beat a powerful spinner. We all know that scissors usually beats paper, but here, the triumphant wedge-bot (Devil’s Plunger) surveys Falcon–a vanquished drum-spinner bot.

GETTING THOSE HOWLS OF APPROVAL

We all love to hear shouts of excitement from the audience and we thrill to the crowd’s applause. To get this kind of response you need to toss your opponent around or take some chunks out of it. Unless your battle box is spectacular in some other way, you will need some kind of weapon to visibly damage your opponent.

The show that used to air on Comedy Central, BattleBots, had weapons built into the arena. Battle bots could generate screams of excitement by using the weapons supplied by the Arena.

Unfortunately most of the local competitions around the country do not have arena hazards (arena weapons). You need a weapon to get that audience raving. What kind of robot and weapon is right for you?

“Shovelhead” is a good example of a robot that has made the transition from being a simple wedge-bot to being a lifter bot. The “Shovelhead’s” solid six-wheel drivetrain and very effective lifting wedge is shown in action against another lifter bot–”Black Knight.”

“Shovelhead” is a good example of a robot that has made the transition from being a simple wedge-bot to being a lifter bot. The “Shovelhead’s” solid six-wheel drivetrain and very effective lifting wedge is shown in action against another lifter bot–”Black Knight.”

THWACKBOTS

Thwackbots are nearly as easy to build as a box, but can have a little more offensive potential. Essentially a thwackbot is a battle box with a hammer or axe attached to it. The robot can drive around like the basic box, and some can spin in place to get the hammer up to speed for an attack.

The only real problem with this type of attack is controlling the thwackbot and its hammer while the entire robot is spinning in place! All the opponent has to do is avoid coming within reach of the spinning robot. Experienced roboteers will just sit there, outside the thwack’s reach, and simply wait for it to stop spinning.

Some thwackbot builders have attempted a specialized driving technique—spinning the entire robot while it moves in a straight line.

One early proponent of this idea dubbed this maneuver ‘Melty-Brain’ and the term has stuck. So far there have been only a few builders that have been able to get their robots to move in a straight line while the entire bot spins on its own axis, and none have done it particularly effectively.

Backlash is a classic vertical-disc spinner, and JRCV is a classic wedge.

Backlash is a classic vertical-disc spinner, and JRCV is a classic wedge.

OVER-HEAD HAMMER BOTS

Another crowd favorite is the vertical hammer bot (a robot that swings a hammer and tries to bash an opponent or poke holes in the top of an opponent). Not many people have been able to make a bot hit hard enough with a hammer (or axe, or pick, or anything) to do much damage to the relatively lightly armored top of an opponent, so if you can perfect this technique you will probably have a winner.

SPINNERS RULE

Next we have my personal favorite design, the spinners. Even Carmen Electra agreed with me in a post-fight interview that “Spinners Rule.” Spinner bots that are easiest to make include the bar and disk spinners. A bar spinner is similar to a disk spinner in the way that it hits and in the way the robot reacts when delivering a punch, but it weighs less. You can spin a bar or disk vertically or horizontally and each method has advantages and disadvantages. For a vertical spinner, nearly all the roboteers will spin the attacking side from the ground up so that when the weapon hits the opponent it throws the opponent into the air.

“The Judge” is one of the few effective hammerbots, and boy, oh boy, is this one effective! This 340-pound robot can easily pierce 1/2-inch-thick steel. Here, the impact force of the hammer actually throws 340 pounds of robot several feet into the air.

“The Judge” is one of the few effective hammerbots, and boy, oh boy, is this one effective! This 340-pound robot can easily pierce 1/2-inch-thick steel. Here, the impact force of the hammer actually throws 340 pounds of robot several feet into the air.

But vertical spinners do have the liability of gyroscopic precession. When these types of bots try to turn while spinning a fairly heavy mass they have a tendency to lift up on one side or the other. The tilt can come at very inopportune times and rob the bot of its driving power (by lifting a drive wheel) or reduce the bot’s turning rate.

You can also spin a disk or bar horizontally. This eliminates the gyroscopic lift of the drive wheels and actually helps with overall stability. Of course when the horizontal spinner hits the opponent, usually both robots go flying in opposite directions.

DRUMS AND THRESHER SPINNERS

Another kind of spinner similar to the vertical bar/disk spinner is a drum spinner (a spinning cylinder shaped like a rolling pin or a barrel; thresher types may have chains or protruding rods). A drum will give a bigger hit than a blade or bar because it typically weighs more. It also can have the advantage of a lower profile that allows strikes closer to the opponent’s base. This design still suffers from the gyroscopic precession prevalent in vertical spinners.

You need only the basics to build an effective wedge-box. Inside “Devil’s Plunger,” note the motors, speed controllers and batteries.

You need only the basics to build an effective wedge-box. Inside “Devil’s Plunger,” note the motors, speed controllers and batteries.

FULL BODY SPINNERS

My favorite type of spinner is a configuration that has the entire external body rotating. It is the most effective for many reasons. Combat robotics is all about efficiency. Some build with exotic components and high-tech, high-dollar items. Many builders spend their weight budget armoring their bot and then add a weapon, or vice-versa. I think it is a really good idea if the armor is the weapon. By completely surrounding the robot with high strength material that is also used as the weapon, you have solved two problems at once. There are other spinners that whirl some weight around, but none spin the same ratio of weight (compared to total robot weight) as a full body spinner. Moreover, none are as well armored as this type.

This is a great example of why wedge-boxes are effective. Look at the damage that the Devil’s Plunger’s front end sustained in one match. At a tournament, your robot has to be able to take this kind of punishment repeatedly for two or three days.

This is a great example of why wedge-boxes are effective. Look at the damage that the Devil’s Plunger’s front end sustained in one match. At a tournament, your robot has to be able to take this kind of punishment repeatedly for two or three days.

LIFTERS, FLIPPERS AND CHUCKERS

The next step that most builders make after the wedge-box is to make a lifter bot. The lifter bot is a robot that simply lifts its wedge to get the other robot off its driving wheels. If you add more power to the lifter, it becomes a flipper: You will be able to flip your opponent over. Now take a flipper and add even more power. This ultimate lifter bot is called a bot chucker because it will chuck the opponent many feet into the air. If the hit doesn’t kill the airborne bot, the landing usually does.

ROBOT DESIGN SOURCES

There are many books available to review these basic designs in more detail. Take a look at Chris Hannold’s “Combat Robots Complete” and “Combat Robot Weapons,” or Grant Imahara’s “Kickin’ Bot.” There are many web sites to peruse for design ideas like RobotCombat.com or TeamDelta.com, and once you get on those sites you will find hundreds of links to other sites. You can also get online help most of the time as many builders hang out in the Robot Fighting League’s forum: http://forums.delphiforums.com/THERFL/start.

CONCLUSION

Choosing your robot’s configuration will come naturally as you review your personality, your engineering skills, and your building ability. Robots with complicated weapons are exciting but hard to keep running throughout a long grueling event. It’s worth the effort though, as nothing can replace the thrill you feel when the crowd is roaring for you. Hey, the design that you are inspired to pursue could turn out to be quite a crowd pleaser, but you won’t know until you build it. So get out there and just do it!

LINKS

Battlebots

 www.battlebots.com.

RobotCombat

 www.robotcombat.com

Robot Fighting League

 www.botleague.com

Words by Brian Nave