Paydar: What It Was Like To Battle Bots In 2002

Most people remember when Battle Bots was a big thing, but few of us got to live it as seen in this gallery. Every now and then, someone posts something more amazing than usual in the comments. When [Wolf] was studying at IUPUI they somehow convinced a professor to let them build a scary dangerous robot maiming device for their final project. It’s a cross-disciplinary project — even the medical students may get to participate.

Spike vs hours and hours of work.
Spike vs. hours and hours of work. Victory: spike.

Their bot, unfortunately, got taken out by some spikes after attempting to get a spinbot before it started spinning and got them. If you look closely at the 2002 Comedy Central Battlebot opening you can see the smoke pour from their robot as they try to escape the fatal spikes.

The robot itself is a three wheeled design. The two wheels across from each other drive the robot, and the third steers. There is a very cool encoder mechanism for the steering wheel that is worth checking out. The main drive motor is a hefty 15HP electric forklift motor current limited to 300amps. The robot never got a weapon thanks to slow mechanical engineers, but a motor like that can turn most chunks of metal into deadly weapons.

Battle Bots is making a comeback in some ways. Word’s still out if it will ever go back to it’s prime, or if something more insane will replace it.

34 thoughts on “Paydar: What It Was Like To Battle Bots In 2002

  1. Contrary to popular belief, battlebots (with a lower case b) never died. Builder-run events have been going on since it went off the air in 2002, and continue to this day. There was recently a huge event in PA as part of another event, and it attracted the most entrants for the past several years due to the recent revival of BB on ABC.

    Looking forward to season 2!

    1. This is a blast from the past for me. Long ago and far away I was part of the team of about 20 people that built a robot called SMIDSY that competed in several series’ of the UK Robot Wars.

      We had a lot of fun building that robot. It wasn’t one of the most successful out there, but it was one of the most reliable and powerful.

      In my view the British Robot Wars failed in the end because the TV production company prioritised what they saw as good TV over the property of the entrants. It wasn’t a competition, more of a fix, as they decided the coutcomes with the house robots and they didn’t care for the damage they inflicted on the competitors machines. To them the entrants represented a million quid’s worth of free props that they could destroy at will. When you are a team of enthusiasts who have to find the money for everything that breaks on your machine, that can turn out rather expensive, and when it’s a multi-million-pound operation that is doing the damage it becomes rather annoying. So as the robot owners became more irate about this behind the scenes, they drew it to a close.

      The whole experience left me with a deeper understanding of what you see on the TV, and ultimately a distrust of anyone producing for it. What you see is never really what happened, it’s what the TV producer wants to have happened in their quest to make good telly. The UK Robot Wars series is being relaunched, it’s safe to say that I am among quite a few original team members who wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole.

      1. “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you!” I remember that!

        It’s a bit cheap of the BBC not to pay the teams, I assumed they did, for the teams on the show. Cheap bastards!

        On a more important note, what you say about TV is very true. I know people who’ve been on “reality” shows and it’s all completely rigged. If something doesn’t go right in “reality”, they re-start the scene and shoot it again. They can also edit scenes into any order, swapping out people’s reactions to each other. For example, a guy tells a joke, and a woman laughs. Later on the woman is shocked at something. They swap the reactions round, so the joke she actually laughed at, she now seems horrified by. This is from a guy who was on a dating show in the UK.

        I’ve also noticed, how the news portrays things. Sometimes they do a subject I happen to know a lot about. And the way they tell it, is sometimes “technically” true, but not at all how most people would see it. Sometimes of course it’s utter bullshit, flat-out lies. I was shocked the first time it happened.

        There was a legalise cannabis protest in London, thousands of people came. It wasn’t reported on any of the British news channels or papers. Most people don’t know it happened. A much smaller protest, in favour of fox hunting, was on the news for days.

        TL;DR: TV is fucked-up.

      2. Yeah, by the time of the 99 filming (season 3) they really didn’t like me (I’d worked for BattleBots, and when they had their big accident, the investigators asked the opinion of someone with Heath+safety training who had knowledge – me!.)
        So when it came to our matches, they cancelled all but one, and made it an exhibition, then set three of the house bots on us. My poor 40kg bot, versus Matilda (170kg) dead metal (160kg) and Killalot (about 480kg in that year’s setup). Metilda ended up misjudging and on her side. Dead metal tried cutting but barely penetrated (and only then into dead space) so killalot sat on us, which broke one motor mount. stuck us on his lance and spun us, then put us ont he fire pit and sat on us again, which melted some of the tyres. Sure the spinning us broke the weapon – we had spare boxes. the tyre didn’t affect things, and neither did the mount. put in a new reciever battery, swap the weapon out (it was interchangable), didn’t even have to charge the main batteries, and we were ready to go in 10 mins.

        But they did rig the fight to get the result they wanted, letting the two bots that had fought earlier (about 6 hours earlier) ‘win’. Then when it was shown on TV, they put the earlier fight second, and the later one first, to make it look like one was the final of the other.

        When we won the middleweights, we got a crappy piece of metal, not even with a sticker on saying what it was for or when. That was it.

        At least BattleBots pays royalties if you make it onto the show (or did in the comedy central days, I’m not privvy to the contracts with ABC.

          1. Excellent! (I should explain for those puzzled by Dave’s comment, we sold SMIDSY on after the whole thing petered out) Just one thing though: the link didn’t make it into your comment. Don’t leave us hanging, please! :)

    1. Hated the UK Robot Wars. Found the House Bots to be too… ‘well they are doing it like wrestling and they’re hiding it with the house bots.’ IE the House decides who wins and uses the house bots to enforce that.

      1. Nah, there were rules about the house robots, which were huge, petrol powered, carried flamethrowers, and generally broke all the other robot fighting regulations.

        Each one had a zone, if a contestant robot shoves another one into that zone, then house bot gets to chase after the victim and attack it. So it’s just like the angle grinders mounted on the side of the arena, or the pit you can push enemy bots into. It’s still up to the contestants to bring the house robots into play.

        Without realising that, obviously it does look like a massive fix. Took me a while to realise that myself.

      2. Jeremy Clarkson was an idiot who really couldn’t have cared less about the show and didn’t mind who knew about it. Craig Charles by comparison was a really nice bloke and genuinely enthusiastic about it all. I was once acosted by some Craig Charles groupies at a motorway service station because I was wearing a SMIDSY the robot T-shirt.

    2. Robot Wars-while it was still fun they had to have a WWE wrestling arena as the bots were too boring. Most battlebots that tried to compete were banned for being too dangerous, and the one that nerfed itself enough to get in absolutely trashed an annihilation by being decently built and having the only things that could be referred to as a weapon. The rest of the robots might have had a chance if they all went after it, but after one round of ganging up on the suckiest of the suck, they lost that and were doomed. I believe it was Cyclone-the only bot in that series of matches that was well designed, well built, had motors of any decent power and a weapon that wasn’t useless.
      And even at that, Omega-13 would turn Cyclone into metal chips in under 40 seconds.

      Scooping a pile of parts from Maulers’ pit and throwing it into the Robot Wars arena would have caused an instant win, or I would have said that robot wars got the contestants from battlebots rejects.

      Robot wars did some stuff really well though, the house robots to smash the suckiest of the suckiest robots into hazards, and their bot bimbo could actually hold an intelligent conversation with the builders including why their absolute lack of any plan resulted in them losing or why their terrible robot lost to a less sucky robot, and they didn’t let their broadcasting channel royally screw them over.

      1. Far as I know, they followed the same rules robot fighting used before it got onto TV. A 100KG weight limit, only electric motor drives, no projectiles, no fire or chemicals, no interfering with each other’s radio signals, etc.

        The big wire mesh arena I think was mostly there for the safety of the crowd, there’s a huge amount of power in those motors, they could send bits of metal flying at a scary velocity.

        It was interesting as the series’ progressed. Early robots were a bit clueless, basic 2-wheel steering with maybe a spike on it, or if you’re lucky a CO2 powered axe that doesn’t do much. Later ones had all sorts of improvements, including innovations like a heavy spinning wheel with a small gouger on it, powering up with tons of inertia, to really smack some energy into an opponent. For a while there was one robot like that, that was unbeatable, then all sorts of others started appearing with the same mechanism. Sometimes it was spinners that dominated, sometimes flippers. Spikes weren’t much use, cos you couldn’t get a decent run up with enough control to actually hit an enemy.

        You didn’t get much actual penetration, none of the weapons had much reach. But certainly bits of armour went flying off, sometimes a robot would be completely munched beyond recovery. Flippers sent 100KG robots flying through the air. Often it came down to points, but plenty of robots were seriously knackered.

        There was one, Razr I think, that regularly bit it’s way through metal casing. Pretty fearsome. The BBC repeated the series a little while ago.

  2. What I never saw on any of those shows was a spinning weapon with some flexibility built into its drive. Some relied on brute strength of overbuilt, oversized components to avoid bent shafts and broken gearboxes. The sorriest ones were those who broke themselves upon first contact with an opponent.

    What’s needed in rotating drive systems for battle bots is a coupling that’s stiff enough to transmit torque but also allows some slip so if the driven bit gets stalled or suffers a hard impact, the drivetrain won’t break and/or the motor won’t burn up.

    What might work? Spring loaded slip clutches, but those could burn up or might not provide enough slip to prevent damage. What I’ve thought for years would be ideal is a variation on the silicone oil filled limited slip ‘clutches’ used in many vehicles with full time all wheel drive. Same concept but looser tolerances and filled with heavy silicone grease. For the lower weight classes it could be as simple as a rod inside a tube, with a sleeve bushing inside both ends of the tube. Some experimenting would be needed on how much , if any, roughening or shaping of the rod and inside of the tube is required to transmit enough torque.

    Might have a bit of delay getting a massive spinner up to full speed but when *THWACK* happens the drivetrain should hardly feel it. If the weapon gets jammed or stops, it would give the operator plenty of time to turn off the drive and back away to free it.

    Still not getting the concept? Have you ever owned a cassette player with ‘soft eject’? All that is, is having a pair of sector gears in the hinge that are gooped up with silicone grease. Remove the grease and it’ll snap open when eject is pushed. Some players got more sophisticated with complex mechanisms, ISTR one cheapo that simply gooped up plain hinge pins with silicone grease – but all of them relied on that grease to slow down the tape door.

  3. I took my son to two of them on Treasure Island, which was a bit surreal because my father was trained as an Electronics Tech in the Navy on Treasure Island in roughly 1952.

    The one objection I had was they needed to publish a scorecard. After a while, it was easy to lose track of the bots – who won, lost, etc. It was obvious the scoopers and the spinners were tactically the best. There was a gas-powered cone that got knocked over, and they goosed the motor. It ended up balanced in its tip. If they had designed it for the tip. and had a means of directing it in a specific direction, it would have won all battles. The second year we went they had to stop the heavyweight battles because the bots were punching hols in the steel plate floor.

    And on the BART bus to the island, playing “spot the nerd” was trivial – beards, long hair, nerd t-shirts. We ended up reciting huge parts of Monty Python skits – Dead Parrot, Spam, etc.

    Storage Wars had an episode where a locker contained a bot from the show.

  4. I’ve always been tempted to buy a field, say five or ten acres and hold an annual robot event. Showing off technical achievements and have a large area for robot battling. With water, holes and mud. Allowing for sizes upto say two tones and almost any weapons [perhaps draw the line at nuclear] people will really have to think about countermeasures and creativity. I wonder how much response I’d get if I advertised well enough. Perhaps doing it in aid of charity and teaching people. Perhaps when I’ve knocked a few more years off my mortgage.

    1. The official 100KG electric robots had a lot of power, it just didn’t look much cos they all had quite strong armour. But even then plenty of bits went flying.

      What you’re suggesting sounds great, but I think you’d only be able to safely observe it by telescope.

  5. I did not expect this to get featured, especially since it was just a random comment I left in another thread.

    We also compeated at Twin City Mechwars in Minnesota.

    I have had an idea for a bot floating around in my head for the last 14 years… If I could only I had the time and could get my workplace to sponsor it… ;)

    I miss the carnage.


  6. Posted this to r/battlebots
    I grew up watching Robot Wars, BattleBots, and Robotica. My favorite bots from that era was hands down Biohazard for BattleBots, Ultra Violence for Robotica, and Cyclone Raptor for Robot Wars.

    I follow the live scene quite avidly, USA, India, Russia, Australia, Canada, and the UK’s scenes are all lively, and am thinking of buying, and modifying a Viper Kit to compete on the East Coast US – Okamifan1

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