If you are a fan of the US TV series Robot Wars: Extreme Warriors, BattleBots, or their British counterpart Robot Wars, you will be familiar with the excitement of dramatic clashes between armored bots equipped with all sorts of capabilities.
What’s great about robot combat is not only do you have the competitive thrill of these robots battling one another, but you’ll also be fascinated by the engineering that goes into making these powerful machines which in fact, lies at the heart of this popular hobby.
This cool hobby has been gaining ground in recent years and as components and robotics tutorials and learning resources have become more accessible, hobbyists of all ages have been getting involved in this, boosted of course by the TV shows, expos, and fan sites.
Robot combat delivers a healthy dose of tech, with electronic and mechanical engineering, computer programming, materials science, and strategy behind just a few of how your grey cells will be exercised. You can build your bots or buy them and gain prowess in battling them.
Join us on this concise and exciting rundown of everything you need to know to get started in robot combat, how the competitions work, and the type of gear and swag you will need to make fighting robots a viable hobby.
We hope you will see that robot combat is so much more than destroying things! As always, we will stock you up with excellent digital resources and links to robot combat clubs around the world!
Just what Exactly is Hobby Robot Combat?
This futuristic-sounding pastime involves the building and dueling of robots that have been specifically designed for combat. This competitive hobby clashes custom-built robots with the objective of a winning robot prevailing over an incapacitated opponent.
The bots are usually remote-controlled, adding the dimension of competitive strategy in how the competing robots are maneuvered, either to defend themselves or make their attack.
Robot combat started out in the States in the 1990s with an event called the Annual Critter Crunch being devised and run by a collective of hobbyist engineers known as the Denver Mad Scientists Club.
Their robot battle competitions created waves in the Southeastern US, especially among Sci-Fi fans, with copycat events springing up everywhere during the mid-90s to early 00s.
Robot wars took off as a hobby and gained mainstream recognition with the production of several televised series of which the BBC show Robot Wars and Discovery Channel’s BattleBots have endured in popularity.
Robot combat battles usually take place within arenas or other event spaces with a custom setup that protects participants and spectators from the destructive activity of the robot.
There are varying calibers and classes of machine, though radio frequency jammers, projectiles and lasers, and flame-throwing are typically prohibited. On many of the bots, the attacking or defensive mechanisms used are interchangeable.
Key combat robot types include:
- Rammers are heavyweight armored bots, with up to 6 heavy wheels, which use their size and momentum to literally ram the competition right off the road. They are heavy-set enough to do damage to the components of an opponent by impact too. These bots often use their shoving maneuver to drive their target into hazards that may be dotted around the arena.
- Wedges are battle bots who have an attached wedge or ramp that can be moved under an opponent to leverage it off the floor on to its side or into hazards. The wedge can also be used defensively to deflect impacts from an attacking bot.
- Flippers are similar to wedges but carry a pneumatic panel that can be inserted alongside or under a combative bot to flip it over with force when deployed. Their performance is limited by the volume of compressed gas they can hold to repeatedly utilize their flipping mechanism.
- Clampers are robots that can lay hold of an opponent, pin them, and lift them off the ground. The controller of this bot basically grabs the opponent and carries it wherever they please once they have a suitable hold.
- Sawblade bots bring to mind the Roman chariot races of Ben Hur with high-speed rotating blades that are used to cut through the armor or wheels of an opponent robot, immobilizing it or destroying its electronics. When cutting into metal these bots produce a lot of sparks.
- Lifters are combat robots that can get under an opponent and lift them off the ground. Much like a forklift truck, these robots use an electrically powered or pneumatic arm to lift the challenger off the ground and move it towards hazards or overturn. It.
These remote-controlled battles between competitor bots are refereed, and if neither robot is incapacitated within the competition period, adjudication is made with a winner awarded on technical performance.
Here is our take on the Top Reasons for taking up Hobby Robot Combat
- Hobby battle bots are a STEM-tastic pastime! If your school-aged children need some motivation with their math and science projects, you can do no better than getting them involved in building and battling their own robots. Robot building and programming will pour into them all the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics needed to make them valedictorian at MIT. Really, the best thing about it is that they won’t realize how much they are learning as they will be thoroughly enjoying their new hobby.
- Building and fielding combat robots as a hobby will keep you working with your hands. This is a great hobby for setting up a workshop complete with tools and materials of all kinds that you can use to build a competitive battle bot. If you enjoy skills like woodworking, metalwork, 3D printing electronics you have a great head start for putting your ability to building a winning robot. Perhaps start by trying to recreate some of the bots you have seen compete, with what you have to hand.
- Hobby combat robots ideal for tinkerers. You know, if you have a Raspberry Pi gathering dust alongside tungsten electrodes, some RP-SMA connectors, coax cables, and perhaps a dismantled off-road RC buggy that you are going to get round to fixing. Robot combat is the ideal pastime for pulling different shop skills and electronics projects together as you can combine all the hoarded gear and make your own battle bot. If you love tinkering with projects and making something work for the sake of it, robot combat will be a great outlet for your productivity. So much of the hobby involves trying things out and experimentation to build a bot that has either impenetrable defenses or some combative advantage in the ring. To be successful at this hobby you will definitely need to be multiskilled or share your skills with a team to pool talent for a better build.
- Skill and strategy are at the heart of hobbyist robot combat. When you have put so much hard work and TLC into building your bot, it must be heart-rending to watch it being ripped apart in the ring. Survival in this sport is key and no matter how masterful your build is, it will not last without having a level head and a strategic approach to combat.
- Robot combat is a great hobby for teamwork and collaboration. If you follow the big competitions, you will know the amount of collaboration that goes into building a performance battle robot. Hobbyists are by far the main developers of robot combat as a sport, but even academic and student groups will work together to build these bots for demonstration. Working on your battle bot with others will allow you not only to share ideas but lend your strengths and expertise to a group effort. Team members can work individually on parts of the robot and come together to combine the functional components. Of course, a big win will be a shared celebration, and if your robot is sadly destroyed you all can commiserate together.
- If you enjoy problem-solving you will be up for the challenge of perfecting a champion battle bot. To build a boss battle bot, you need to start by scoping the competition and thinking critically. You will be intellectually exercised at every stage of the build as you think through how you will give your robot a unique competitive advantage. Bots that succeed are usually not the fastest or the heaviest but rather those that can defend themselves well from attack and survive long enough to exploit the weaknesses of the competitor bot with their signature maneuver.
- Competition and sportsmanship are at the heart of what seems like a rather rough and rugged hobby. Robot wars can seem like a demolition derby but after the dust and metal fragments have settled, you will find competing teams have great sportsmanship due to shared interests. People from all over the world participate in combat robotics so you will certainly find opportunities to meet new people and exchange ideas while the brawling is left to your robots.
Getting a Taste of the Robot Combat Experience as a Hobbyist
Starting in robot combat can seem like a bit of a reach, especially if you do not have experience in robotics or some of the construction techniques used to build battle bots.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways in which you can learn about, compete, and build combat robots which make it much more accessible than you may expect.
A great resource for newbies is this how-to guide for starting out in combat robotics produced by the organization SPARC, which stands for Standardized Procedures for the Advancement of Robotic Combat. They have done an excellent job of pulling together information from many disparate sources that can be used to get a grasp of the different skills needed to build and battle bots successfully.
For those of you who have a technical baseline, the RioBotZ site has a very helpful tutorial that should get you a long way down the road of building your own robot. Their seminal guide can also be purchased as an e-book on Amazon.
- Building a robot
Your combat robot build will require at a minimum some decent metalworking tools, with which you can cut, drill, and weld the paneling needed for an armored bot.
Aluminum framing is usually used because of its malleability and strength. Batteries, Electronic equipment will need to be integrated, including motors, antennas, and of course your RC receiver.
Depending on the mechanisms you intend to build into the bot you may require, pneumatics and other mechanical components on a custom basis.
- Buying kits
Branded kits are an easier way of having a build experience and setting up your own competitions. Combat robot kits are a great starting point for enjoying the build experience predictably and cost-effectively.
Combat robot kits are a great gift for younger hobbyists who aren’t able to do welding or handle sharp or dangerous tools. They can be worked on as a family too.
You can purchase kits for lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight combat robots that come with the framing, baseplates, wheels, and motors needed. You can also purchase optional add-ons to improve the specification of your bot.
- Robot combat competitions and events
If you are in the States, you find that robot combat events take place all over the country, so there has really never been a better time to start building and entering competitions.
Here are some of the Leading US and UK Organizations that Convene Events for Robot Combat:
- The Fighting Robots Association is a UK-based organization that was started in 2003 to oversee all aspects of professional robotic combat. They have a network of affiliated regional clubs and arrange competitions.
- You can keep abreast of robot battle meets via Robot Combat Events. They have a packed year-round calendar of robot events across the US.
- Information on amateur and professional robot combat events in the US and UK
- Online channels, forums, and websites that are great for robot combat hobbyists and enthusiasts: The Official Robot Combat SubReddit great for information on shows, events, and robot combat in general. https://www.youtube.com/user/mikencr a great channel for battle bot events in the States. https://www.youtube.com/user/scrckilobots the Saskatoon Combat Robotics Club has great competition footage. http://www.robowars.org/forum/ a comprehensive online forum for robot contact where you can talk to other combat bot builders and ask questions.
We hope you have found this guide to the hobby of robot combat a real motivator for giving it a go.
The TV shows are a real draw, but the reality of the sport is a lot of research and hours of tinkering in your workshop to get your bot battle-ready.
Remember that even the smallest bots are capable of significant destructive power. Be very careful when handling or working on these machines and keep the bot and your tools and materials out of the reach of children.
Do you have any insights or tips for robot combat that you would like to share with our readers? We would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!