The BattleBots Report


It has been said that watching a BattleBots competition releases the kind of human emotion witnessed in the Roman Coliseum but without the empathy of human combat.  Well, I don’t know if that is true but I can report that whenever one robot knocked some parts off the other robot, the crowd roared.  As each contest would start, the robots would try to maneuver for position and then close on each other to begin pushing and shoving to try to gain some advantage.  The crowd remained relatively quiet during this period but if one of the robots managed to slam the other up against the wall, or turn the other robot upside down, or tear some parts off the other robot and throw them across the arena, the crowd roared.  If one of the robots was knocked to pieces the crowd loved it all the more.


The BattleBots competition held in Las Vegas used the same television set as the BattleBots show on Comedy Central.  Each of the four 4-hour sessions was sold out (about 500 seats).  There were about 200 people in line to get in when the doors opened a full hour before the start.  This competition was actually a taping for the TV show.  Lots of TV cameras, stagehands, and bright lights.  The same 40 ft. square, bulletproof glass- enclosed arena was used although it has been enhanced by new hammers in each corner.  The new hammers look like big steel mallets.  The head of each hammer is about 10” in diameter and 18” long.  The handle is about 5 ft. long and each has a 6” air cylinder to swing it down against the steel floor.  Two guys outside one corner of the arena control the hammers, kill-saws, and other obstacles during the match.  The hammers became so popular during the weekend that the hammer controller, a guy named Pete, developed his own cheering section.  Chants of Hammer, Hammer, Hammer erupted whenever a robot had the misfortune to find itself under the punishing blows.  If the hammer smashed the hell out of one of the robots and finished the match, then chants of Pete, Pete, Pete were followed by tremendous cheering and much laughter.  One time, a robot named RA was caught under the hammer.  RA was built into a car tire lying on its side.  When they picked it up at the end of the match, all the broken parts fell out on the floor and they literally had to sweep it up with a dustpan and put it in a bucket!


 The wide range of robot designs and capabilities are just too numerous to mention.  Some of them are simply a low box with wheels on two sides and a wedge or plow on one end but the majority have a wide variety of weapons from engine driven saws to mechanical arms.  Some have great names like “Diesector”, “Overkill”, and “Vlad the Impaler” while others are more for laughs like “Evil Fish Tank”, “Shish-ka-bot”, and “Doorstop”.  Some robots are strictly designed to disable their opponent like the viciously effective “Ziggo” that looked like an upside down stainless steel mixing bowl but with cutting teeth and a very powerful motor to spin the bowl of teeth.  Others were designed for crowd appeal like the very popular “Buddy Lee Don’t Play In The Street”!  Buddy Lee was basically a red fire truck body with a big-headed doll driver and, inexplicably, 4 stuffed dogs in the back of the truck. 


However, the most perfect example of my BattleBots experience is illustrated in the following story.  A very successful Art Car builder here in Houston decided to enter some robots in the competition as a way of publicizing his metal sculpture business.  This guy calls himself ScrapDaddy and he has a web site if anyone is interested in his work.  He had a robot in each of the four weight classes but they all looked and operated in a similar fashion.  Anyway, ScrapDaddy’s first robot committed the unpardonable sin of delaying the event.  In its first match, the engine driving his saw weapon refused to start.  Then he got it started and as soon as they got the door closed to start the match, it died.  They got it restarted but it died again.  After the third restart, it stayed running long enough to start the match but then died again.  Later one of his robots broke something internally and spread oil on the floor of the arena further delaying the events because of the cleanup.  All of his robots had starting problems in spite of a crewmember spraying big doses of ether into the carburetors.  By the second session, ScrapDaddy was being booed whenever he was introduced. 


So, in this most perfect match, ScrapDaddy (the robot) had to fight the extremely aggressive Ziggo.  ScrapDaddy got his engine started and the match began.  They circled each other for position; they made tentative faints at each other.  Ziggo cut one of ScrapDaddy’s wheels.  Then they closed on each other and the spinning teeth on top of Ziggo caught ScrapDaddy at just the right angle and ScrapDaddy was literally thrown through the air across the arena and it came to rest right under the hammer in the corner nearest my seat.  Pete, the hammer man, was ready and when he brought the hammer down on top of ScrapDaddy, the crowd went wild!  I mean they went WILD!  Everyone was standing up, everyone was screaming, everyone was shaking their fists in the air… and the hammering didn’t stop.  Pete hammered that robot into “roblivion”.   He must have hit it 20 times, he smashed it down to the ground and only its lizardlike outer skin kept it from being broken into pieces.  After a count of 10 from the referee, the match ended and the cheers for Pete began.  It was such an incredible emotional release that after they carried ScrapDaddy out of the arena everyone had to sit down to catch their collective breath.  What an experience… I can’t wait to go again!

The Lawnbot Concept


The Lawnbot is being designed to mow large rectangular spaces with minimum wasted motion. It’s Cartesian coordinate steering system will use dead reckoning and distance measurement along with a few sensors to make a single pass over the entire area. Mechanically, the robot will have two sets of four wheels, set 90 degrees to each other. The robot will travel forward or reverse on one set of wheels. The second set of wheels will provide lateral motion after a set of linear actuators lifts the mower and the travel wheels off the ground. When the travel distance counter reaches the preset limit, the travel stops, the mower is lifted, and the lateral wheels move the Lawnbot over one space. This cycle is repeated until an obstacle is detected. If an obstacle (typically a tree) is detected, the Lawnbot will back up a short distance, make one step to the side, and attempt to travel. If the obstacle is again detected this cycle is repeated. If no obstacle is detected the Lawnbot will advance a present distance then stop and step laterally back to the original path. Power will be provided by the mower engine driving an automotive alternator and charging a car battery.