The sound a set of machined robot legs tapping on concrete make is remarkable. If for nothing more, the video after the break is worth watching just for this. It’s what caught my attention when I first wandered by the Mech Warfare area at Maker Faire, as one of the competitors had their bot out wandering around as a demo during the setup day.
This is truly a hacker’s robotics competition. There are constraints, but there’s also a lot of room for freedom. Meet a dozen or so requirements and you be as creative as you want with the rest. My favorite part is that this is not a destructive event like many the battle-based robot TV shows that tend to turn my stomach. Instead, these robots each carry an electric AirSoft gun and seek to hit any of four target panels on their competitor’s robot.
These make me think of the Tachikoma, a huge four-legged tank from Ghost in the Shell. It’s not just the number of legs — limited to four or less — that bear that similarity. For each round, the robots are placed in a miniature model of a city, and operators use FPV hardware I’m used to seeing in flying drones. This setup gives them the effect of driving building-sized mechs, and the audience gets to follow along with monitors mounted next to the scoreboard for the competition.
I haven’t seen one of these events in person before, but this group has been competing for five years. And a little searching turns up coverage of similar events going back to 2011 and beyond. We’ve even seen build details for competition robots over on Hackaday.io that really show off the engineering that goes into these robots.
This is just a short clip that provides a glimpse of the fun. But you can get a much better feel for the sport by watching a full match. At multiple points around the arena, action cameras are running to capture each round of competition. Maker Faire footage has not yet been posted, but you can see dozens of battles from previous years on the RTEAM Robotics Club webpage.