Getting Started With Combat Kitbots

Robotics Technology
Getting Started With Combat Kitbots

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to fight robots. I saw BattleBots on TV and knew that one day I would have a robot of my own to compete. It wasn’t until I reached college, pursuing a degree in engineering, that I got the chance to build my own robot. Most people who watch BattleBots don’t know that there are many weight classes outside of 250lb heavyweights. In fact, there are hundreds of competitions for 1lb and 3lb robots around the USA and the world.

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But getting started in combat robotics with a completely custom design can be a big hurdle to get over. There are thousands of choices for motors, batteries, and speed controllers, and having to decide everything on your own can be overwhelming.

Thankfully, several vendors have designed kit robots that you can purchase, assemble, and then really compete with. These builders have done all the hard work sourcing motors, programming speed controllers, designing custom weapons, and fabricating most of the parts. This destroys any barriers to entering your own bot into battle. If you think fighting robots sounds like fun, then I highly recommend starting with a kit robot.

You’ll learn more than you’d expect from your first event, and most of the kits are pretty competitive for their cost.

Most kits come with everything you need to compete, other than an RC transmitter and a lithium polymer battery charger. These two components, sold separately, can be shared between many robots and are things that you’ll keep using when you move forward and start building your own bots.

I’ve now designed and built 11 combat robots and fought over 100 fights. I’ve had a chance to fight against just about every kit on the market, and the few I haven’t fought, I’ve watched fight at several events. Here’s my advice on getting started with antweight (1lb) kitbots.

BEST FIRST KIT: THE VIPER

While you might be excited to get a kit robot with a big spinning weapon, I caution you against a kinetic weapon for your first robot. These bots are not toys, and can easily release more energy than a handgun. When testing the spinners without proper safety precautions and a test box, it’s really easy to end up in the emergency room. I recommend starting with a wedge or lifter kit robot and once you get some experience, moving to something more dangerous.

The first kit that anyone venturing into combat robotics should get is the Viper from FingerTech Robotics. This antweight bot features a bent sheet metal frame, two drive motors attached to foam wheels, and a polycarbonate wedge. It truly is the simplest kit around, meant for someone who hasn’t touched a fighting robot. There are really good instructions at their website, and the $156 price point makes it the cheapest kit on my list by a long shot. While you might think a simple kit like the Viper can’t win matches, they’re actually very hard to kill. Upgrading the front wedge from polycarbonate to steel or titanium allows them to take heavy spinner hits, and wheel guards can easily be added to protect their drivetrain. Overall a great investment and the best starter kit on the market.

Once you’ve finished your first competitions with the Viper kit, you don’t have to throw it away to move on to something new. FingerTech offers three upgrade options for the Viper:

Lifter module

• The lifter module is the cheapest of the three, adding a servo-operated lifting arm made of polycarbonate and steel. This attachment gives you an active weapon that is not dangerous, and can be tested outside of a test box. It gives your Viper the ability to flip other bots over to cause knockout wins!

Horizontal spinner module

• The overhead horizontal spinner module is by far the most common of the Viper weapon kits, as it sports a massive weapon and can create exciting fights. Be careful fighting it against vertical spinners, as big hits can detach the blade or motor.

Vertical spinner module

• Finally, the vertical spinner module comes with a clamping drum with AR400 steel teeth. This weapon hits hard and is the most durable of the three modules. Be careful testing it on your own: the spinner is dangerous and requires proper safety precautions.

Beater bar

FingerTech also sells an antweight-scale version of their popular aluminum beater bar weapon system. This is not a full robot kit; rather, they sell the weapon and the weapon electronics as a separate kit. This is great for a second or third robot, but not great for someone who hasn’t made things before, as you’ll have to design the chassis and drivetrain yourself. I’ve seen a few fights with these weapons, and if designed well they offer a great balance of weapon power and robot reliability.

DURABLE AND DESTRUCTIVE

Another good vendor for antweight kits is Battle Robot Kit. They sell four different kits that all sport powerful drivetrains and extremely durable single-piece chassis made of UHMW (ultra high molecular weight) polyethylene. All of these bots start at a base price, with a $100 “competition upgrade” that swaps in premium parts and accessories. Overall these kits are extremely solid and consistently have great performances at the events I go to. Each is well worth their price tag, as they are some of the most durable kit bots on the market.

Murder Hornet. Photo by Brandon Kittredge

• Murder Hornet is a forked wedge bot with 4-motor drive, and AR500 hardened steel forks up front; it’s safest for beginners.

Taserface. Photo by Brandon Kittredge

• Taserface is a very popular vertical spinner that is easy to assemble and hits hard. It has AR500 forks that can easily get under its opponents as well.

Lobotomy. Photo by Brandon Kittredge.

• Lobotomy features a massive undercutter that I have seen rip opponents in half. It is truly a terrifying bot to face.

Hellraiser. Photo by Brandon Kittredge.

• Hellraiser is a drum bot that uses bolt teeth to rip parts off its opponents. While it might not have the same impressive list of event wins that the other bots have, it packs a punch and is incredibly destructive.

VIRTUALLY UNKILLABLE

Candy Wasp. Photo by Botkits.com

If you’re looking for a safe bot to practice driving with that won’t take much damage, look no further than the Candy Wasp wedge from BotKits.com. This is a perfect bot for the first-time competitor who’s worried about spending money on a kit and getting it ripped apart. The Candy Wasp is made from two pieces of billet aluminum with polycarbonate top and bottom plates, and a titanium wedge with all aluminum mounting components. It features 4 powerful 16mm motors with foam wheels that help absorb shock and protect the internals.

Just like its bigger brother, the D2 (Dozer Two) beetleweight kit, the Candy Wasp is virtually unkillable and, with a good driver, a contender for any event it shows its face at. And it comes in 7 different colors of anodized aluminum, giving it more visual flexibility than any other kit available. Whenever I’m up against one of these bots I know it’ll go the distance. They are extremely tough to kill no matter what weapon type they are facing.

ADVANCED WEAPONRY

Do you like chaos and destruction? The Shock! undercutter kit from Absolute Chaos Robotics has the largest weapon of any of these antweight kits. I’ve seen these bots hit their opponent and send both themselves and the other bot into opposing arena walls. Luckily I haven’t had to face one of these kits at an event, because I believe they could’ve completely destroyed just about any of my bots. If you want a robot that does maximum damage and puts on a show while doing it, this is the kit for you. But because its weapon is absurdly massive, it’s not suitable for beginners. The kit requires soldering and advanced assembly, making prior experience a must. It’s also extremely dangerous if operated outside of a proper test arena, and I would never recommend doing so. You should always make sure you’re safe when testing any combat robot, but these kits are the most chaotic bots I’ve seen, so I would take extra safety precautions.

The final kitbot I’ll mention is the Saifu drum robot from Kitbots. Like the Candy Wasp and the Shock! bot, this kit’s design was based on the success of a 3lb beetleweight robot (Weta-God of Ugly Things). It features a machined aluminum drum with an integrated motor, eliminating belts as a possible failure mode. The aluminum weapon has hardened steel bolts as teeth, which are replaceable, making the whole bot more serviceable. The chassis is UHMW, with wheel guards and carbon fiber top and bottom plates. While this bot is the most expensive kit on the list by a large margin, it makes up for it in durability and competitiveness. Saifu kits are contenders to win any event they enter, and can stand up to abuse from even the toughest-hitting bots. Their weapons just never seem to die. This bot has been iterated over time, and the current version 2.1 is the result of years of evolution and tuning. As with the other bots with active weapons, this bot is for advanced and experienced users only. 

KITBOT NAMEWEAPONPRICECLASSDIFFICULTYVENDOR
FINGERTECH VIPERWedge$156AntweightBeginnerFingerTech Robotics
VIPER LIFTERLifter$204AntweightBeginnerFingerTech Robotics
VIPER VERTICALVertical spinner$218AntweightIntermediateFingerTech Robotics
VIPER HORIZONTALOverhead spinning bar$227AntweightIntermediateFingerTech Robotics
FINGERTECH ANT BEATERBeater bar$82AntweightAdvancedFingerTech Robotics
LOBOTOMYUndercutter$299AntweightIntermediateBattle Robot Kit
TASERFACEVertical spinner$299AntweightIntermediateBattle Robot Kit
HELLRAISERDrum$349AntweightIntermediateBattle Robot Kit
MURDER HORNETForks$299AntweightBeginnerBattle Robot Kit
CANDY WASPWedge$299AntweightBeginnerBotKits.com
SHOCK!Undercutter$299AntweightAdvancedAbsolute Chaos Robotics
SAIFUDrum$676AntweightAdvancedKitbots
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Peter Garnache

Peter Garnache is a mechanical engineer, combat robot builder, and mentor to high school robotics teams.

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