The Roboteers: The Real Magic of Fighting Robots? Discovering The Community Love

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The Roboteers: The Real Magic of Fighting Robots? Discovering The Community Love

The thing about being a robot builder is, well … we’re odd. If you’re thinking about building a robot, well … you’re odd too. But that’s OK! The very best thing about robot events is that they’re entirely populated by weirdos. Every race, religion, gender, political bent, whatever. But everyone in the building really loves making things.

This article appeared in Make: Vol 81. Subscribe today for more robot projects and tips.

In all my years, I’ve never encountered a hobby or a sport that has such wonderful people. Most of my current best friends are people that I’ve met through robot events. The toughest competitors turn into wonderful teachers and pals as soon as the match is over. Can you imagine a NASCAR team helping a competing team get their car ready for the event? Probably not. But in robot competitions, this sort of thing happens all the time! Contestants loan each other tools, help each other work, and do everything they can to help out the newcomer.

Between matches, you’ll often see bitter rivals hanging out in the pits chatting or sharing a beer. Teams vying for the same medal will request to be set up next to each other because they’re dear friends. Tools get swapped, opponents weld your broken bot for you, and lifelong friendships are made. You’ll meet people from countries you’ve barely heard of and see robots that you’ve never dreamed of.

And you’ll leave a richer person.

—David Calkins

LET´S MEET A CROSS SECTION OF THE ROBOT COMPETITION COMMUNITY:

KURTIS WANNER

  • LOCATION: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ROLE: I design and sell kits and components, organize events, and compete internationally
  • YEARS ACTIVE: 19 years
  • LEAGUES: Kilobots Combat Robot Events
  • ROBOTS: Dozens of insect-weight bots.
    My heavyweight: Crash ‘n Burn, a multibot
    with flamethrowers
    SELF-BUILT? Yes for all. Designing is half
    the fun!
  • ORIGIN: Saw BattleBots on TV and wanted to compete, so in 2003 I started a local event. There was nowhere to get parts so I started a store as well!
  • ADVICE: Start with a Viper kit! It’s the lowest barrier to entry and you’ll learn everything you need to know to move on to custom builds and other weight classes.

BUNNY SAURIOL

  • LOCATION: San Jose, California
  • ROLE: In the robot world I’m the person people come to when they need help getting connected to other roboteers. I go to at least one event a month, usually 2 or 3, and help everyone I can whenever or however I can.
  • YEARS ACTIVE: 20 years
  • LEAGUES: Robot Fighting League (RFL), Norwalk Havoc Robot League (NHRL)
  • ROBOTS: Malice (250lbs), Grudge Frog (12lbs), Mouser (3lbs), Mini Malice (1lbs), Micro Malice (150g)
    SELF-BUILT? I built all my robots and I designed Mouser myself, but Isaak Malers designed Malice 250, Mini and Micro Malice, and Grudge Frog. We usually use the lower weight classes to prototype for the larger weight classes!
  • ORIGIN: I got started in combat robotics as a way to bond with my mom, and I met my current fiancé through it as well.
  • ADVICE: Start small, you can always work your way up!

JON BENNETT

  • LOCATION: Massachusetts
  • ROLE: BattleBots photographer seasons 3, 4, and 6; competitor seasons 3 and 4; NHRL photographer
  • YEARS ACTIVE: Since 2016
  • TEAMS AND LEAGUES: Team Toad Combat Robotics, BattleBots, NHRL
  • ROBOTS: Hypothermia and Texas Twister/Spitfire (BattleBots)
    SELF-BUILT? I did assembly/welding on
    Texas Twister.
  • ORIGIN: It’s all Fuzzy’s fault.
  • ADVICE: Thompson’s rule for first-time telescope makers also applies to robots: It’s faster to build a 3lb robot, then a 30lb robot, than it is to just build a 30lb robot.

BRANDON YOUNG

  • LOCATION: Bowie, Maryland
  • ROLE: National competitor, weight classes from 150g to 60lbs
  • YEARS ACTIVE:
    11 years
  • TEAMS AND LEAGUES: My own team is Bone Dead Robotics. In 2018, I founded the Leatherbacks Combat Robotics club at the University of Maryland, which invites students from different majors to learn about various skills relating to combat robotics such as design, manufacturing, and competing. I have been a competitor on the TV show BattleBots with the robots Big Dill and Mammoth.
  • ROBOTS: Ferocious Mk.6: 1lb lifter, 6W-0L
    Kerfuffle: 1lb lifter, 25W-8L (build it on page 44)
    Demogorgon: 12lb undercutter, 11W–8L
    Phenomenon: 30lb vertical spinner, 3W–3L
    SELF-BUILT? All of these (and many more!) were built by me.
  • ORIGIN: I got started in combat robotics after growing up watching the classic robot shows of the early 2000s (Robot Wars, BattleBots, and Robotica), which ignited a passion in me. As I grew up, I got more interested in the engineering behind the robots and continued to pursue that interest to this day.
  • ADVICE: For people who want to get into the sport, I highly recommend attending local events (which you can find at robotcombatevents.com), seeing fights and talking to builders there. You can get a huge wealth of information and experience while minimizing cost. Smaller weight classes like 1lb and 3lb are best to start with; 250lb heavyweights are super expensive and are one of the hardest ways to learn lessons. 12lb and 30lb robots are also fairly pricey, so smaller machines are recommended.

LUCY DU

  • LOCATION: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • ROLE: Design, machine, build, and compete!
  • YEARS ACTIVE:
    7 years
  • LEAGUES:
    I compete at Norwalk Havoc Robot League as well as BattleBots.
  • ROBOTS: HotLeafJuice: 12lb undercutter/horizontal spinner, 18W–3L, SawBlaze (2016–2021): 250lb overhead hammer-saw, 15W–8L, and Overhaul (2015): 250lb crushing lifter, 1W–2L
  • SELF-BUILT? HotLeafJuice — designed/built with David Jin; SawBlaze — designed and built with a team.
  • ORIGIN: Some of my friends were doing combat robots when I started graduate school, and it looked like a fun and interesting way to practice design/build/machining skills.
  • ADVICE: Find a local event and compete! Smaller weight classes are easier to start with (and cost a lot less) and happen relatively frequently, so you can get a lot more practice iterating and driving your bot. Also, definitely talk to current builders (in-person or online) and ask questions; builders love talking about their bots.

EMMANUEL CARRILLO

  • LOCATION: Seattle, Washington
  • ROLE: I design robots ranging from 150g up to 250lbs. Mainly focused on making robots for BattleBots and making kits for new builders.
  • YEARS ACTIVE:
    Started seriously building in 2015
  • LEAGUES: Western Allied Robotics (a local Pacific Northwest robot group)
  • ROBOTS: Big Dill: 250lbs lifter, 2W–3L
    WAR Hawk, 250lbs vertical spinner, 6W–5L
    MadCatter, 250lbs vertical spinner, 9W–6L
    SELF-BUILT? These were designed and built with a team. My smaller robots are all self-done, but the large robots require a team to really fund effectively.
  • ORIGIN: Seemed like a fun sport that combined design, engineering, fabrication, and a bit of driving skill.
  • ADVICE: Start small and quick. Be agile and adapt as you gain experience. You’ll learn more at your first competition than you can ever read about. So just start. 

[Photos courtesy of BattleBots, Inc. All rights reserved, Jon C R Bennett / JCRBPhoto, Tony Woodward, Daniel Longmire-BattleBots, Ethan McKibben, Jaclyn DeCicco]

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