Thursday, December 20, 2012

Detritus of the Robot Age

Snow Day today, robotics class cancelled.  Next update on the Robot Dragster Project will be in January.

Sometimes, oddly, my interests overlap.  In fact they step on each other's toes.  While cleaning up the workshop recently I realized that I was basically involved in archeology of the days when my son and I built combat robots.  Artifacts sometimes got spared the trash can and the recycling run.  Some for sentimental reasons, others because they still had some inherent use, a few just fell back behind a bench somewhere.

The "armor" shell of our very first robot, Brave Little Toast.  Really just sheet metal covered with electrical tape and various warning labels, but that was about right given that the robot proper was pretty much an RC truck with a cordless drill on the front.  Tipping the scales at about 9 pounds in a weight class up to 60 pounds it did about as expected. But my 5th grade son and his buddy kept patching it back together for the entire event.  I was impressed.

We ran a couple of lawn gnome themed robots.  Here are a few chipped up pilots that survived the wars.  I imagine them sitting around the workshop when I am not there, sipping on oil and telling exaggerated old war stories.

One time we built a 60 pound robot for a public TV kids science show.  Dragonfly was pretty much pure offense, just a starter motor spinning a big honking blade.  The entire defensive armor was this snazzy bit of recycled fire engine bumper that was on the leading edge of the machine.  Surprisingly effective we rebuilt it several times, eventually scaling it up to a 220 pound monster called....

Nurse Nancy.  So called from the creepy ceramic nurse figurine on its prow.

In this picture "Nancy" has been reduced to debris because of a minor miscalculation on our part.  We had two motors spinning a six foot long section of sharpened road grader blade.  Like ferocious Vikings of old we had painted it red to strike terror into our foes. Alas, had we a smidge of metallurgical smarts at that point we would have known that road grader blades are very abrasion resistant but more than a little brittle.  Nancy's combat career lasted roughly 45 seconds.  At the 15 second mark we laid a mighty hit upon our opponent in which our blade shattered into crimson shards. We did leave a foot long section embedded in the enemy robot, but they are dangerous when wounded.  Very shortly thereafter Nancy was in turn chopped into shiny bits.

This was all of Nancy's protective armor, fashioned from an industrial baking pan.  A surviving bit of road grader blade got saved as a cautionary reminder....

Ah, fun times over the years.  It was a sort of deranged father-son Pinewood Derby out of control.  We both learned a lot.

I can't even recall the entire stable of machines we tossed together over roughly six years. But the list is something like this:


Brave Little Toast
Nurse Nancy
Arbor Mortae-The Tree of Death
Tank Commander Barby
Borg Queen Barby
UH2-the only survivor of the bunch, this was an audience “U-Drive Em” robot that was just too much fun to scrap.
Newton’s Claw


Professor Richard
Swamp Thing
Senor Jorge
Mr. Ouchy

Many were more for fun than mayhem, consider for instance, Gilligan:

He never fought a match.  We just kept him on our pit table and would send him over to gently tap people with his impressive looking, but low energy cleaver.   'SKIPPERRRRR....!"

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