Monday, September 8, 2014

Robot Combat - 2014

It is fall.  The kids are back in school.  Summer is slipping off to southerly climes in the near future.

So it is time for my annual middle school combat robotics class.

I think this is my 14th year of teaching it.  And it was an offshoot of previous adventures building larger, more imposing combat robots for the "RobotWars" type competitions that sprang up all over in the late 1990s.  Pretty much they are all gone now, but "Machines Behaving Badly" not only endures, it thrives.  Sign up fills at the first opportunity.

In part the concept has stood the test of time from its sheer simplicity.  We have them build 3 pound robots out of very simple, cheap components.  Here is my staging area as I pack up for class.

A big box of servos.  The class fee covers snacks, two servos per student.  If you want four wheel drive we improvise.

A large tub of robot guts.  This is a mixture of destroyed robots from past competitions plus the occasional batch of parts from a guy I know....he has a Barbie Jeep graveyard and I pick up motor/gearbox sets from him...

This one is very Barbie!  Also a nice light unit, somebody will build a good 3 pounder based on it.

This is the battered wreck of my favorite entrant from last year.  It had a ping pong ball machine gun! Really, the two central motors spun foam rubber wheels that fired ping pongs like a pitching machine.  Several parts including the ball magazine are, well, somewhere else now.

Maybe the single biggest thing that did in Robot Combat generally was the need for ever more durable arenas.  The robot arms race was appalling.  What started out as simple machines based on scavenged wheelchair motors soon looked more like the post apocalyptic world of Terminator.  So we have more or less frozen the technology at sane levels.  Our arena lasted a long time.

But it is being replaced after about 13 years of yeoman duty.  Thanks to the generosity of a Kickstarter campaign the new arena is taking shape in a secret facility.  The walls of course will be clear polycarbonate, what you see here still has the protective backing on it.

First class tomorrow.  Updates from time to time.  Maybe I will get a class filled with cheerful students, expecting to build happy, chirpy robots that will work together to solve problems in a cooperative fashion.  But perhaps, if I am lucky, it will instead be an edgy intense bunch, ready to divert their adolescent angst into what I refer to as "vigorously applied physics".

Updates periodically in the months ahead.  Tournament in early November.

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