VMWare Presents: Robot Wars
Robot Wars is great fun and anyone who has seen the chaotic carnage caused by the roboteers will know only too well, that the pits are coming back to our televisions soon. Join our contributor, Murray, who saw a live event of Robot Wars recently and shares his experiences of being up and close to robot legends.
As a short introduction for those of you aren’t familiar with it, Robot Wars was a British TV show on air from 1998 to 2004. In the series several teams from across the UK came together to battle their robots made from milk float batteries and golf buggy motors to prove their aggression, control and style at the helm of these machines.
The show is getting a reboot on the BBC with Dara O’Brien and Angela Scanlon as the new hosts at some point in 2016. To generate some word of mouth and general excitement, I was invited to an event hosted by a company called VMWare on 25th June to watch some demonstrations of robot battles and giving the attendees a chance to see all these robots up close
And so, in a slightly damp car park on the outskirts of London was where I got to see this spectacle.
In short, it was glorious, nerdy fun.
A small scale did not make the day’s activities any less interesting and impressive, with a small arena in the middle with a pit section off to the side where guests could see the robots up close and ask their designers and drivers any questions they wanted.
Robots in attendance were Photon Storm and Storm 2, the former being a machine designed by a VMWare employee and sponsored by VMWare themselves with the latter being the champion of the Seventh Wars (series seven of the TV show). Alongside the star guests were Turbulence, Merlin, Cherub, Toxic 2 and M.O.N.T.E (yes, the Big Bang reference was intentional on the designer’s part).
Though the robot that particularly caught my eye was true Robot Wars royalty. Tornado, brought along by Andrew Marchant the driver and designer of Team Tornado, is still running after seventeen years of life. Special mention must go to Andrew for the engineering he pulled off on site. For context, Tornado ran on lead-acid batteries which, according to him, were about thirteen years old and weren’t available any more. The batteries had decided to not run on the day and he took the decision to convert the battery linkages to run on lithium polymer batteries instead…
…until he found out he’d stuck the connectors on the wrong way.
Nevertheless, he carried on and soon had fixed the problem, with the safety link put in and the controller in hand, the wheels of Tornado spun round once again allowing him to go into the arena against Cherub. The video of the battle between Tornado and Cherub can be seen below.
Aside from that amazing story the day was quite educational in how it was set up. The pits were an open area where pictures could be taken at any time and the operators could be asked any questions about their machines, from why chains are used as a driving mechanism to how long the battery life should be.
Several demonstrations were carried out throughout the day, many of which were different robots going up against each other but two stood out for being pure shows of how powerful the robots are against normal appliances.
Photon Storm and Battle Axe were brought into the arena to show how the crushing beak of the former can rip through a microwave and a television box with ease. It shouldn’t really have had a problem, considering the beak can exert twelve tonnes of crushing force.
Many of the robots did have their power limited, and for good reason, the arena was only about two-and-a-half metres square with a canvas roof tent and plastic panels for crowd protection. In reality the real robot arenas are bulletproof with high walls, as machines with powerful pneumatic flippers can easily launch lightweights six feet into the air.
Talking to all the teams really gave insight to not only what it takes to design and build a fighting robot, but also how far the technology has come. In the early days of roboteering the way to tell if your robot had developed a problem was looking over to it and seeing if it had caught fire yet. Now on board data loggers and telemetry streams can instantly tell a driver if they are overheating a motor, or if increasing the battery voltage will help in this situation.
On the subject of the reboot, things obviously had to be a bit hush-hush due to no firm release date currently being set and various agreements in place. From what they could say and what they could show, I have no real doubt the new show will do excellently.
That’s it for now, but hearing from you would be awesome. Do you have any fond memories of watching Robot Wars? Did you try your hand at building your own and are you excited for the reboot? I’d love to hear from you!
A special thank you goes out to Murray for this awesome contribution piece. I was especially keen to read this article, as he’s incredibly enthusiastic and robotics is a clear passion of his. Robot Wars was a show I watched religiously as a kid, so it’s nice seeing it’s not only going strong, but it is indeed coming back! As always, please remember to leave a comment below, or over on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.