Computers and technology have been near and dear to my heart since my dad let me play with our copy machine on Friday nights when I was three. I started building combat robots in third grade, and I taught myself to program in VB.NET (and later a myriad of other languages including C#) in sixth grade. Today, I am an eighteen-year-old information technology intern at RMC Research Corporation where I do everything from writing desktop applications to developing smartphone apps to making robotics-related videos.
I’m leaving for Washington, D.C. on Saturday. There, I will be attending the United States Senate Youth Program (and you thought nerdy robot builders/coders couldn’t also act political!). I am one of two people from each U.S. state (plus international military bases and D.C.) to be selected as a delegate to the program. Needless to say, I am honored to be able to go.
I have purchased my wardrobe. I have connected with the other delegates over Facebook. The next step is to pack and leave for the airport at an egregiously early hour on Saturday morning. Stay tuned as the week of a lifetime unfolds!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I was very pleased with Cannon’s second-place performance at Motorama. Still, its three fights against the eventual champion, Low Blow, highlighted some severe design flaws:
Exposed wheels. This is probably the single biggest flaw a robot can have.
The ball bearings pushing against the sides on big hits expand the beater holes.
There was no firewall; parts could be ejected from inside the robot into the blade.
Slow drive motors. 22.2:1s would have been a much better choice.
The scale was hardly Cannon’s friend, so figuring out how to add more material to the robot without adding any weight will be a challenge in and of itself. However, the first (and easiest) place to look is the wheel hubs. Cannon used aluminum “Dave’s Hubs” to hold its wheels on. Much lighter alternatives exist, such as the FingerTech Robotics Lite Hubs. Switching to the Lite Hubs will save over half an ounce off the next version of Cannon. That is more than enough to get started.
The next place I will look for weight will be the back of the robot. The old back weighed about 0.6oz and was made of 3/32″-thick garolite. Although stiff, garolite is about twice as dense as UHMW and is very brittle. The next Cannon will use a piece of (likely 1/16″-thick) UHMW that wraps around the back and protects the wheels. Kitbot creator Pete Smith gave me some UHMW bending tips at Motorama that should mean the clearance between the wheels and the UHMW is better on Cannon than it is on Coercion. Actually, I’m not sure Coercion actually has any clearance!
I put together a quick sketch of my thoughts for the next version of Cannon:
I am not a very talented artist.
The new firewall will be bolted to the side rails, which will help to make the entire robot stiffer. I will make a groove in the sides so that the pieces fit together relatively snugly.
I also sketched the side rails (remarkably well). I think I might apply to art school if the whole top-ten school in the world thing doesn’t work out.
Note that the pockets are bigger and I have added holes for the firewall. Also note that the hole that will hold in the weapon bearing has been enlarged. This will allow me to put in a custom bushing, which will increase the surface area inside the hole and keep it from enlarging.
The next step will be to design the firewall and do more weight calculations. I’ll then need to order parts. Unfortunately (well…fortunately), I will be in Washington, D.C. from March 9th to the 16th, which isn’t conducive to robot design work, and over the next week, I’ll be busy getting ahead on schoolwork to get ready for my week off: not much will get done. Still, it feels good to finally put some of the ideas I have come up with on my blog.
Keep checking back–Bot Blast registration is up on the Builders’ Database. I’ll be taking Cannon, lolcat, maybe Coercion, and maybe Amatol if one of my friends wants to drive it.
As usual, fighting started way after the already relaxed beginning time of 1:00PM, though I don’t remember exactly when. I got through all my safeties with minimal problems; the only issue I had across all three robots was that Cannon was a smidgen overweight. I fixed that by enlarging its connector hole and liberally grinding the underside of its top with a Dremel tool. I also removed some screws. The 0.3oz literally fell off!
My first fight of the day was with Cannon, against Toni Fowlie’s antweight brick bot, Malicious Mule. I was relatively unsure of how Cannon would perform, but I was glad its first fight would be against a robot with no angled sides and no active weapon. I spun up and hit the Mule gingerly a few times. When I saw Cannon could survive its own weapon, I started hitting harder. What I found astounded me: I had truly built a cannon. I was able to send Malicious Mule flying all over the arena. Needless to say, I was stoked. I also won by knockout.
After the battle, I noticed two problems that I know I will need to fix in future Cannons:
The UHMW sides are not strong enough to withstand Cannon’s hits. The ball bearings that support Cannon’s beater got pushed down. In the future, I will enlarge this hole, put something larger and stiffer in it as a bearing support (likely a small 7075 bushing), then mount the ball bearing inside of that.
The battery and electronics like to flop around, and there is no front firewall–the only thing between LiPoly and titanium eggbeater at 13,000rpm was a few pieces of duct tape. I will need to fashion a firewall.
Mercifully, lolcat’s first fight was against a similarly unweaponed bot: my buddy Sean McKeown’s brick, Gyroscope. Gyroscope was put together at the last minute; it weighed in at a relatively anorexic 100g or so. Lolcat had no trouble throwing it skyward. It was another victory for my trusty beaters.
After I fought Sean’s fairyweight, my next opponent was Joey’s undercutter antweight, Swamp Woman 2. As I own a robot with exposed wheels, the prospects of fighting an undercutter scared me. I also had no idea how strong my weapon was–would it be able to hold up? I spun up at the beginning of the match and decided to keep the beater pointed at the other robot. The strategy worked: a big hit sent Swamp Woman reeling back and the next one was lucky–it removed a wheel. Cannon won by tap out.
After Swamp Woman, my next match was against Demise with lolcat. This fight, although it was my first loss of the tournament, started out very well. I delivered solid hits and managed to keep my beater pointed at Demise’s enormous, 50g spinning disc. Unfortunately, Demise eventually caught a wheel guard, breaking it and destroying the gearbox it was meant to protect. I was not able to hit Demise much more after that, and I lost by judges’ decision. What I learned in this fight:
Lolcat wasn’t quite driving straight, and this was a big flaw. I need to make sure everything is either trimmed or aligned well enough that the ‘bot will drive in a line. This may require new side rails.
ABS wheel guards are terrible. I will replace the terrible ABS wheel guards with good, 1/16″ UHMW ones.
The beater assembly is surprisingly strong. It went blade-to-blade against Demise with very little trouble.
Before Cannon fought again, lolcat had to take on another challenger: Tenacious Tinkerbell, a smaller version Malicious Mule. The whole tiny rematch thing was extremely cute. Lolcat’s driving woes continued; I was not able to deliver as many hits as I should have been. Still, I stayed on the offensive the whole time and managed to win the judges over enough to get the victory.
Cannon’s next match was against the reigning antweight champion, Low Blow. This was easily my favorite match from Motorama. I hope the Cannon-Low Blow rivalry continues into the future. We wound up fighting three times during the course of the tournament (which you’ll read about later) and every match was wildly entertaining because it showcased each bot’s strengths so much. Low Blow is clearly built very well and is able to deliver big hits. Cannon is apparently built very well, too, despite the duct tape that holds in its juicy electronic guts. Cannon also tends to act like a bouncy ball around undercutters, and based on this fight, is able to send robots into the ceiling. Woo-hoo! After trading big hits, Cannon finally caused Low Blow’s blade to strike its own body, leading to a tap out.
With that fight taken care of, Cannon was guaranteed third place. The next fight was lolcat vs. Keres, a very nice-looking undercutter bot built by a person who gave me some invaluable advice about Coercion and Cannon’s weapons, Mike Jeffries. Mike recorded every single fight at Motorama, and I am featuring his videos in this event report. Click here to see the rest of the videos on his YouTube page.
Unfortunately for Mike (and fortunately for my cheezburger-loving, miniature eggbeater), Keres had taken a huge amount of damage from Demise, which wound up going undefeated and winning the tournament. Keres’ weapon wasn’t functioning, so all I had to do was hit, hit and hit again. I did the best I could with my shaky drive train. It was enough to get a nod from the judges. Lolcat finished 3-1 and took second.
In the third-place match, Cannon fought Algos. This was a tough one for me: Cannon’s drivetrain was far more decrepit than I thought it was after the match against Low Blow and as such, my robot was extremely slow. Adding insult to injury was Cannon’s seeming inability to bite on Algos. I did get lucky and manage to take out one of Algos’ drive wheels. The result was a nail-bitingly close judges’ decision after I did my best to stay aggressive (though I think I lost on that front) and was able to dish out more damage.
The next two fights were antweight finals matches against Low Blow. I’ll be upfront about it: I lost both. Reflecting back upon the experience, I wouldn’t say it was because I choked so much as that Low Blow was probably the better robot, even though I had already beaten it. It was also driven far more cautiously; I usually stay aggressive but my aggression did not pay off for me.
In the first match, I managed to keep things close, but the hits favored Low Blow and I eventually lost a wheel. In the second, Cannon was in rough shape and I wound up tapping out after my power connector got unplugged. It was a heartbreaking end to a good run, but with a few changes (read: what I outlined above and 1/16″ UHMW wheel guards), I’ll be ready to fight Low Blow. If I’m not super aggressive, maybe I’ll come away with the victory next time.
Saturday morning arrived, and my uncle and I decided to go out to eat. We visited the Colonial Park diner in Harrisburg, which turned out to offer delicious food (as with every year past, I ordered the #7 meal, which is eggs and hash–robot builders need protein!). We headed over to the Farm Show Complex way too early, as we had done the previous day; my uncle is a very early riser.
After far too much waiting, Coercion’s first fight was against a bot from Georgia Tech called Parallelogreg. Parallelogreg was a parallelogram-style wedge bot. From the looks of it, it was put together very well: titanium sides and very sturdy wedges. I was worried–I didn’t want my expensive spinner to not be able to break it. Luckily, when the fight started, Parallelogreg flipped against the arena wall after a failed box rush attempt.
Every fiber of my being wanted to free him. I remembered thinking about how the culture of combat robotics had changed from gentlemanly competitiveness–think French and Indian War–to something a little more competitive, and how I resented that change. At the same time, we don’t stand in a field and volley fire one round at a time anymore; one must stay with the times. Despite the crowd’s pleas (and those of my conscience), what stuck out in my mind was a conversation I had with my father shortly before I left for Motorama. He made me swear I wouldn’t free anyone off the wall.
Promise kept. Sorry, Greg.
Coercion’s next challenger was another Georgia Tech robot (which was a little awkward after the wall affair). It was called The Hammer, and featured a horizontal disc. It looked pretty nasty, it spun fast, and it spun in the opposite direction of my blade. That assured a massive hit. I was able to get to know The Hammer’s builder, Dan Hammer, a little, and learn a bit about life at Georgia Tech. He seemed to be fond of it.
When the fight started, Coercion got up to speed, but The Hammer didn’t. I drove straight into the Hammer’s front, which seemed to kill it, but then I came back for more: I removed both of its wheel guards, and after my miraculously lucky hits were over, my opponent was motionless. The Hammer got counted out. Coercion, which had won a total of three fights before Motorama 2013 (1-2 at Moto 2012 and 2-2 at Bot Blast 2012), was 2-0.
Unfortunately, it looked like Coercion’s luck had finally run out. I was set to fight Shame Spiral, runner-up at Motorama 2012 and infamous spinner killer. The entire outside of Shame Spiral is hardened steel, and I knew it would be a tough nut (haha… Team Slammers joke) for Coercion’s blade to crack. The fight began as I expected. Coercion’s blade got up to speed, and it took Shame Spiral’s hits well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of damage until one big hit removed half of Shame Spiral’s wedge. A few hits later, I maimed the other half of the wedge. I had to turn off the blade for a little while to allow my weapon controller, weapon motor, and belt to cool off, but after the blade got back up to speed, Shame Spiral stopped moving. Coercion got the win by knockout.
That took care of Coercion’s Saturday fighting. All it had to do on Sunday was beat Dr. Super Brain to get a guaranteed third-place. I was amazed.
As I mentioned before, Coercion started off the day with a match against Dr. Super Brain. I actually fought Super Brain last year and lost the match; I was concerned about a repeat. I decided I would attack its back and hope for some maiming hits, though Super Brain’s titanium construction made me wonder I could break it.
The fight started and Dr. Super Brain…didn’t. A bad battery had failed, so Super Brain got counted out. Coercion won its second match of the event by being able to move at the start of the fight. Who says a good robot doesn’t need luck!? In my case, my luck helped me to 4-0 and the promise of third place.
With third place locked up, the competition started getting even fiercer. Coercion’s next fight was against Mondo Bizarro, a Weta kit that I was sure would provide an awesome match. It did, though the awesome match turned out to be Coercion’s first loss of the competition on a close judges’ decision. The reason for the loss? Coercion’s weapon stopped turning. It didn’t stop because the belt got clipped but because one of the pins attaching Coercion’s weapon motor to its speed controller got so hot that it unsoldered itself. Whoops. After doing a number on my pulley, the fight ended, for a little while, anyway.
Now in the losers’ bracket (technically my first trip there during the entire competition–Cannon’s first loss was in the finals and lolcat competed in a round robin), Coercion had to take on Grande Tambor. In another unbelievably lucky break, Grande Tambor was more Grande than Tambor: its drum wasn’t functioning. I was fighting a pushybot that had a big hunk of aluminum on its front. In another weapon controller-meltingly long battle (the reason for the shutdown in the middle), Coercion got enough hits to pick up a judges’ decision. It was on to the finals again!
When I opened up Coercion to charge its battery, a frightening surprise awaited me: the weapon controller had gotten so hot that the capacitors attached to it had melted off. I didn’t want to use one of the cheap, old, Chinese spares I had brought (the connectors were not the right size and I figured if the 40A E-Flite had died, the spares stood no chance), so Sean loaned me a 60A ESC. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it required a 3S battery. I had to jam in a 3S battery along with the bigger controller: it was a recipe for disaster. In fact, it caused disaster: on the first big hit of the match, Mondo Bizarro removed one of Coercion’s wheels and the weapon refused to spin up. After a little more prodding, the weapon motor started spewing smoke. Fearing for my LiPoly, Sean’s controller, and my robot, I tapped out after a very short match. I was disappointed again, but I had gone 5-2 with Coercion and picked up my third silver medal of the competition. Things could have been far worse.
Motorama 2013, my tenth trip to the Farm Show Complex, showcased how far I have come as a robot builder. My first robots were fashioned out of cardboard and hot glue; the ones that competed today were painstakingly CADded and CNC-machined. I bleed a little more when I build robots today than I used to, I sometimes get sweaty, but I do cry less (there’s no crying in robot fighting!). My three silver medals were the best result I have ever had at a robot competition. My robots’ combined record was 12-5, which is probably a new record for me for single wins at a competition and winning percentage. To be honest, I don’t mind not winning that much, although it would have been nice. What is really important was the journey: I learned a huge wealth of information about my robots’ strengths and flaws.
The best part about all this is that in robotic combat, there is really never anywhere to go but up. I have what seems like a tremendously good design in Cannon, lolcat remained reliable, and Coercion has finally become somewhat destructive. I was incredibly lucky this year at Motorama–lucky in the sense that I got some favorable draws and unorthodox wins as well as in the sense that I was able to compete at all. My uncle, Mike Filion, proved himself to be a valuable member of Team Slammers: I look forward to his help in future events.
This event report wouldn’t be complete without a heartfelt thank-you to my parents for supporting me through over ten years of very costly, highly emotional robotic endeavors. They introduced me to technology. They helped me find my passion in engineering and computers. They’re the reason why I do well in school. They’re the reason why I adore math and science. They’re the reason I’m the way I am, and I am ineffably grateful for how they’ve molded me. Without their amazing guidance and the lessons they have taught me, there would be no Cannon; there would be no lolcat; there would be no Coercion; there would be no Sharpened.
This concludes my 2659-word monstrosity of an event report. I probably won’t compete again until Bot Blast this summer, but I will post about my design changes as they’re made. I’ll also write more about programming again–I’m working on an independent study project in which I am creating an iPad app. Fun stuff!
In brief, Coercion wound up beating Dr. Super Brain (its battery died), then fighting and losing to Mondo Bizarro in a close judges’ decision. Its next match was against Grande Tambor, which it beat thanks to Grande Tambor’s drum not functioning properly. In the finals, it fought Mondo Bizarro again, but its blade never got to speed; the weapon motor smoked, I lost a wheel, and I finally tapped out. Second place isn’t bad at all!
I will put up a full event report when I get the chance–I’ll most likely write it this weekend.
I would like to thank NERC for all the hard work to making Moto 2013 as great as it was! I would also like to thank my parents for their continued support and my uncle, Mike Filion, for coming along as my pit crew. It wouldn’t have been possible without you!
Continuing with the amazing success I had yesterday, the second day of Motorama was also wonderful. Coercion is currently 3-0 and is one win away from being guaranteed a trophy. In its first fight, it got a quick TKO against Parallelogreg (it got stuck on the wall at the beginning of the fight). In its second fight, Coercion beat The Hammer by knockout after a few big hits. Coercion went on to beat the notoriously tough Shame Spiral by a strong knockout:
I have never seen Shame Spiral receive damage before: I am stunned. Coercion ripped off half the front wedge and broke the drive.
I am set to fight Revenge of Dr. Super Brain tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll get some videos up soon!
I will post more once I get some sleep: those concrete floors and six-plus hours of robot fighting really take it out of you! That said, I am pleased as punch. Lolcat went 3-1 and took second place (it beat my friend Sean McKeown’s fairyweight, a disabled Keres, and Toni Fowlie’s fairyweight box and lost to the eventual winner). Cannon also took second, going 4-2 (it beat Toni’s ant box, Swamp Woman 2, Low Blow, and Algos then lost to Low Blow twice in the finals).
Both robots performed well, but both are in such a state that they should probably be rebuilt. It was worth all the effort I put into building them, though.
Here is a fight:
Note that we have several official videographers this year: I’ll be able to link all my fights to the full event report. Also note that my hotel Internet is terrible, so I will post these incremental reports when I get the chance.
As I did before Bot Blast, I am going to provide you with a quick summary of what’s new at Motorama and what you should expect once the results are in next Sunday.
The fleet I’m bringing to Motorama 2013.
First, a quick note: my dad will not be going to Motorama this year. He has been ill. Instead, my uncle, Mike Filion, will accompany me. He will take over as my interim pit crew, engineering assistant, and copilot. He is an engineer with the Navy–I’m sure he will be an invaluable resource as I compete against almost 100 other robots. Actually, the competition is against Murphy.
Cannon is now complete.
It was not complete before.
It can fight.
It could not fight before.
Cannon was awesome in testing. I am concerned about the ball bearings digging into the UHMW side rails on big hits, but other than that and the exposed wheels, Cannon doesn’t seem to have any problems. I expect at least three wins against a very strong antweight field. A lucky draw of fights will yield far more wins than that. Let’s just hope Cannon avoids the undercutters.
Upgraded motors from 50:1 Sanyos to 30:1 MP Polulu gearmotors. This provides more speed.
Software changes to increase drive speed.
Battery recharged from Bot Blast.
Lolcat seems like it could do well, as it always runs the risk of doing. However, just about every fairyweight that is registered for Motorama is a horizontal spinner, and historically, lolcat has had heinously bad reception at Moto. If the radio works alright, lolcat ought to get a few wins and may even place. Without radio reception, the kitty won’t be getting its cheezburger anytime soon.
New, 11oz-ish, hardened S7 tool steel blade. This blade won’t bend, is lighter, and has a very high MOI.
Changed weapon gear reduction from 3:2 to 2:1. The blade spins up faster and running the weapon does not make the weapon motor as hot as it used to.
New, higher KV weapon motor. This motor spins faster and harder than the old one. It is rated at about 400W peak, as opposed to the old, 200W peak motor.
The weapon should now spin at about 6,000RPM, which is slightly faster than the theoretical maximum speed at Bot Blast. However, this blade gets up to speed much faster and seems to hit very hard.
1/8″, custom-bent UHMW wheel guards that won’t shatter have replaced the old wheel guards. The first set, which shattered, was made of ABS. The second, smaller set, which shattered, was made of Lexan. These are thicker and tougher.
The beetles at Motorama look awesome. I don’t mean that lightly. I am very scared of what Coercion will be up against. That said, Coercion has a ton of reach and will hit extremely hard–at least on the first few hits. I would be upset if Coercion gets less than two wins at Motorama. As always, a top-three finish is possible, but highly unlikely.
As the saying goes, months to build, minutes to break. I hope the breaking is at a minimum this year. I will post nightly updates while I am in Harrisburg.
I’ve run into quite a few problems with Cannon since I last posted, but I have also made a lot of progress. I’ll get you up-to-date:
Cannon’s beater (along with Coercion’s new blade) arrived
I realized that Cannon was about an ounce overweight. It had to go on a serious crash-diet.
The weapon shaft material has been changed from S7 to titanium. I ordered some Ti, cut it, and tried to thread it. Unfortunately, I had a rethreading die instead of a threading die: although it worked with unhardened S7, grade 5 Ti was a different story. I managed to make enough threads to put on lock nuts, and a good die will be arriving soon.
I reduced the weapon reduction from 3:2 to 1:1 by making a new weapon pulley.
I wired everything up.
I made some pockets in the back to reduce weight.
Cannon spun up.
All the weight-saving measures have brought Cannon down to weight without forcing me to resort to using the notoriously brittle FingerTech Lite Hubs instead of the good Dave’s Aluminum Hubs I had planned on using. I will have everything put together by the end of the weekend; I will only have to make a few spare parts and thread the ends of the weapon shaft a little more before Motorama (I only have one weekend left!). My next priority will be Coercion, which ought to be manageable enough.
Here’s a video of Cannon spinning up:
This thing is going to be a lot of fun at Motorama! I have always wanted an antweight beater ‘bot.
Cannon has been coming along very well. I have spent the majority of my free moments–those not dedicated to studying for midterms or doing projects–getting Cannon together. Team Whyachi finally finished Coercion’s new 9.2oz, hardened S7 blade and Cannon’s 3.0oz titanium beater; I expect to have them here by Monday. The goal is to have Cannon in a place where I can plug in the beater and have a finished robot (but this is combat robotics, so that’s a very lofty goal indeed).
Since I last posted, I cut out the back and drilled the twenty holes that will hold Cannon together. I am using .375″ #6-19 button head plastite screws from McMaster-Carr, which are similar to the mind-bendingly strong ones that we used on Tough Nut last year. So far, everything seems to be holding up pretty well. I did the traditional “throw your frame down the stairs” test, and nothing broke. That means it will be super-strong in the arena, right?
The next steps in the build process will be to cut out and thread the ends of the weapon shaft, fashion a pulley for the weapon motor, drill and thread holes in the pulley I already have for the weapon, and then to get wiring. If I have time before Motorama, I will also harden Cannon’s S7 weapon shaft and Lolcat’s S7 weapon shaft. Lolcat’s bent at Bot Blast, so I do not have high hopes for its toughness against all the horizontal spinners that are registered for Motorama. However, the new motors I bought for it should provide a nice speed boost.
Here’s a front view of Cannon (note that I am waiting on shorter plastite screws from McMaster so not all the screws are in it yet):
My father’s health has improved a lot and I have a three-day weekend: it’s high time I started getting the new version of Cannon built. I have spent the last few days machining away and making small changes to my drawings. With the exception of the first side rail (on which I carelessly used a 1/4″ end mill instead of the 1/8″ end mill I told my GCode generator I would use), everything has gone surprisingly smoothly. There have been no bumps in the road.
Just kidding, this is combat robotics — where the probability of fire is about equal to the probability of success. Things actually have gone relatively smoothly. The biggest issue I have had during my time standing in my machine shop was that the power went out while I was making the top. Luckily, I was able to finish cutting the piece out with an X-Acto knife. X-Acto knives always seem to save the day.
As of writing (I am taking a break from working), I have a very nice looking pile of parts. I just need to cut the back out and drill 20 holes before I can wire up Cannon and take it for a drive. Before any kind of spinning takes place, I will need to create some pulleys on my lathe and make a belt. It looks like everything will somehow get done before Motorama, which is a big relief.
Here are some pictures of the build process so far:
This pile of parts has about a month to becoming a functioning, radio-controlled killer.
The beginnings of a 3/8″-thick side rail for Cannon.
The mill putting finishing touches on one of Cannon’s rails.
A finished side rail. It needs to be cleaned up a little more and get mounting holes drilled in it, but it is more or less complete.
John Parsons' Blog About Robotics, Programming and the Search of Knowledge