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img 2040 RoboGames 2012 Report

According to RoboGames organizer David Caulkins, all the weapons or wedges in the world pale to operator talent. "It's driver, driver, driver, driver, driver. You can spend $60K on a weapon—it's been done—but it can't compare to a good operator."

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Touro Middleweight bot from the Pontifico University of Rio de Janiero, led by professor Marco Meggiolaro. This year Marco's team benefitted from a short term membership to TechShop — enabling them for the first time to assemble the machines in a shop vs. their hotel rooms.

Teams have gathered from all over the globe this weekend in San Mateo, CA to compete in 50+ categories at the 9th annual RoboGames .  Various theaters of combat are arrayed across Fiesta Hall at the San Mateo Convention Center (also the site of Maker Faire Bay Area), featuring a whole range of environments, like MechWars (armed humanoid robots shooting it out amidst a few highrises in some spare cityscape), Robot Soccer, and Sumo (a pushing match in a ring).

There’s also a nice array of ArtBots on display (try playing the computer-controlled foosball table game).

Of course, the center of attention is the Lexan-encased combat arena, a rugged see-through cage surrounded on three sides by packed bleachers, where the various weight classes of combat robots take each other on.  Backstage, an unassuming looking announcer sits ringside, expertly chronicling every interaction.  Next to him stands the black and white shirted ref (and RoboGames co-producer Simone Davalos), who manages both start and stop times, the logging of the match results, and overseeing the orange-clad safety crew.  Three judges are crammed in there too, notepads in hand, evaluating machines for performance, ready to call a winner if the machines failed to complete a knock-out within the allotted three minutes.

And yes, the wedge is a dominant design, but at least 2/3rds of the combots have some very entertaining weapon design, blades generating sparks, wild noise, or other good machine drama.

The event itself is a great experience. Interesting to see the spectrum of the community, with its clearly welcoming entry-level categories (great for kids) through hardcore experts, with everyone—including Robogames rockstar, the Sewer Snake team—really accessible to the audience.

If you’re in the Bay Area, RoboGames continues today through 7pm at the San Mateo County Events Center.

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Like the giant walking humanoids of Japanese Manga cartoon, MechWarfare is a contest of humanoid robots fighting in a scaled down cityscape. Robots are human controlled, but the operator must use a camera mounted on the robot for vision - no direct viewing of the field by operators is allowed. Robots have impact sensors to detect how often they've been shot.  (Great description from!)

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Everyone in this community loves the Sewer Snake, Team Plumb Crazy's heavyweight that apparently looks like its dancing as it flips about. This is actually the third iteration of this base design that Matt and Wendy have been running for 10 years now. The most recent mods were to make it a bit shorter and a bit wider, the addition of an on-board camera, and a flamethrower.

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Orange and radio-clad safety crew manages all entry and exits of combatants. They also perform "unsticking" (e.g., freeing a machine when it catches on the metal guard rail)

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13 year old Krishna Dindial pillaged a rumbler motor from a PlayStation 2 controller for his 1lb "antweight" combot's spinning weapon. Get the inside info on Krishna's build at

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Paulo Lenz produces RoboCore in Brazil — the equivalent to RoboGames here in the US. Unburdened by organizer duties, today he celebrated a match win for his pair of combat wedges

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Paolo Lenz' Brazilian team took a seemingly unusual approach by splitting the weight limit into two bots.

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George and Spencer Collins from Sherman Oaks, CA showing their walking robot.

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Robogames co-organzier and referree Simone Davalos keeps her eyes both on the clock and the action.

Sabrina Merlo

Sabrina is the Maker Faire Program Director. She works on stage content for the flagship fairs (Bay Area & New York), and also runs Maker Faire’s licensing program for locally and independently produced “Mini” Maker Faires. She also co-creates the East Bay Mini Maker Faire in her town, Oakland, CA.

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