Friday, November 13, 2015

Machines Behaving Badly - 2015

The annual 3 pound combat robot tourney is tomorrow.  Two dozen hyperactive middle schoolers with destructive robots.  Heh, what could possibly go wrong.

I will put up a few pictures of some of the more outre designs in a moment, but first a few thoughts.

I have been doing this for a long, long time.  Fifteen years I think.  And I have seen quite a few changes.

In the early years the kids were fans of "Battlebots" which was on TV back then.  We would discuss trying to build miniature versions of their favorite full scale combat robots.  Later they were fans of "Mythbusters".  I would ask the kids if they were "Adams" or "Jamies".  We usually had a mixture.

Now the kids just want to play Minecraft on their smart phones.

This has in some ways been a challenging group of students.  With of course some marvelous exceptions, many of them are just not as enthusiastic about robots as in years past.  Perhaps I have not changed quickly enough with the times, although I have made gradual tech upgrades over the years. Now kids can  opt for a real programming class instead of my DIY robotics class.  Or, heck, they can buy a camera toting drone on Amazon for a ridiculously low price.

Well, nothing stands still, and I am actively pondering changes for next year.  Smaller classes?  Next step or two up in technology?  We shall see.

But on to the robot warriors of 2015.

I think I showed this one earlier but without its very nice paint job.

Sometimes I toss out a few new components, thinking that kids will pick them up and do something interesting with them.  These yellow and black RC car motor/wheel combos are cheap and a tempting alternative to servos.  This kid had built a nimble little speedster that used them.  Then he took it home and fashioned a big heavy shell around it.  It is sluggish at best.  I will suggest on the morning of the event that we might swap in two more motors to up the power a bit.

Most robots with weapons can be safely tested outside the protective arena.  Not this monstrosity. The spinning weapon blade can be raised and lowered by action of a servo.  The question is whether the whole weapon assembly blows up on the first, second or third hit...

Two robots with spinning saw blades.  Low rpms but a ton of torque.  The one on the left has better survival odds as the electronics are stowed inside an old VCR case.  In fact the entire robot is a VCR case and a Barbie Jeep gearbox with a saw.  The blue wheels on the other robot are from a "swim noodle".

Nice shiny new metal ramps.  I look forward to some vigorous denting and grinding.

OK, now this is an odd ball.  The idea is to get another robot to slide up the ramp where the spinning blade will repeatedly wallop it while it gets thrown up and over.  I have never seen this attempted before.  It seems implausible but if it works it would not be the first successful mutant design over the last decade and a half....

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