fallen bots

TV / Saturday, July 18th, 2015

The exciting thing is Battlebots is back, and the fights this season have been incredible. Let’s be real, the fact that we have HD and slo-mo shots makes it more epic than ever. As someone who watched the original show in college, it was amazing to be a part of the experience. Here I am with co-reporter (and amazing friend in real life) Alison Haislip:


If you haven’t watched, here’s a fun fight from earlier this season (don’t worry, all the episodes are available online).

The bots are better than ever, with power supplies (mostly batteries) having improved significantly. Some bots used some pretty great materials (carbon fiber, ultra-high molecular weight polyethelene, etc.) , and there were loads of technical innovations to admire – from clever defenses, to extremely high kinetic energy weapons, to the ability to swap out drivetrains & weapons, and impressively, flames. Lots and lots of flames.

I spent the majority of my time in the Pits, where the builders were frantically assembling, tweaking, and often repairing their bots, reporting on the technology behind the bots and explaining the issues bots had as they were getting ready for their matches, and getting to know the incredible community of builders. The builders represent the greatest of sportsmanship – from helping each other to get ready for the fight, sharing tools, parts, and expertise if needed – to being fiercely competitive in the arena – to shaking hands and sharing the excitement of the fight afterwards.

But I come to bury robots, not to praise them (actually it’s both). For the bots lost in battle, here are some of the short breakdowns of their design.

I loved Wrecks because it’s a very ingenious design – the vertical spinner generates a lot of gyroscopic forces, and by using that stability, it walks on it’s back legs. One side pushes up, the bot essentially takes a step forward. Alternating sides allows it to move forward, while repeating the same side makes it turn. It’s a design that has been very dominant in the lighter weight classes. Watching some of their practice, it was actually very impressive at charging like a rhino.

Built around a tough chassis and several modular weapons, Razorback was designed to encounter a variety of opponents and to be quickly repaired (in fact the team had basically a second Razorback worth of parts in crates with them).

Well it’s my namesake, so obviously I was pulling for it – there were a few things I really liked, the flaming mohawk, eyes that expressed emotion, but most of all, a piercing weapon that intended to shoot flame inside opposing bots.

Complete Control:
Very stylish design with the ability to capture other bots and subject them to flames.

Captain Shredderator:
The only full spin bot in the competition, they cleverly used LED lights inside the shell to indicate which way was forward. Technically, the way they were able to sandwich (pancake, really) the gearbox inside a very thin bot was impressive.

Plan X:
One of the coolest looking bots around, Plan X went with the strategy of a defense that kept weapons far from the core of the bot, along with a brain that indicated what sorts of forces the bot was experiencing, based on sensors around the bot.

In some ways Overdrive represented one of my favorite engineering idioms, Keep It Simple. Mostly designed to drive quickly (and made largely out of parts that Christian had extras of so it could be repaired easily), it also had a powerful linear actuator to scoop and lift bots.

The first time I saw Lockjaw, I was impressed. It’s 250 pounds crammed in a very small bot, like a tiny bodybuilder. Equally impressive is how much redundancy is in there – meaning it can take a lot of damage and keep moving. It even can walk on those titanium blades. The driver, Donald, is one of the best, and he even has plans to turn it into a walker.

There’s plenty more amazing fights to come – including several of the best this Sunday night in the quarter-finals on ABC (9|8c).

Bonus clip – me interviewing Tony Hawk: