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 Tech Overview

What we are doing here is simply building a battle robot for a yearly competition called Robot Wars. August 1996 will host the third incarnation of this event. I went as a spectator to the first two, and since it seems to be a viable happening I chose to enter this year with my own creation, The Agamemnon.

The competition involves head-to-head combat between these radio controlled beasts. Entrants are sorted by weight class and subject to a set of rules that levels the playing field. Prohibited items include untethered projectiles, liquids, acids, explosives, electrical discharges and radio jamming. What's left you ask? Why, simply the best of all weapons: the ones that are creative and require real thought and design.

I've been asked "Why are you spending time on this?" My answer is simple: to have fun. I'm having fun building the Ag, hosting the webpage and I'll have fun competing against others. Contrary to the cultural norm my goal is not to win. However, winning would be nice.

The Agamemnon
Say, wondering why I picked "Agamemnon" for the project name? Well, if you're a Babylon 5 fan then you know that the Ag is an Omega class destroyer, one of the fastest and most powerful battle ships that the Earth Alliance has. And, it looks real cool. At an SF convention here in LA, I found a second to ask J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of B5, if I could name the 'bot after his ship. "Cool. Send me a picture" he replied.

The Ag firing as it exits a jump gate.

Ag Technologies
Research and design from many disciplines converge on the Ag:

I'm not doing anything new. It's all been done before, just not in this arrangement. When trying to solve problems I end up talking to some interesting people. For example, the local welding gas shops wouldn't touch the air system design but a paintball supply house was all over it. And it took a top-fuel racing clutch designer to tell us how to safely lighten the front cutting blades. So I spend as much time reading through product data books and talking to people as I do welding, drilling and machining.

We have a 1000 psi bottle of compressed nitrogen riding onboard the Ag. It's regulated down to 150 psi and switched through two high-flow air valves to control the action of the pneumatic punch. The punch design originally started out as a spring loaded single-shot harpoon. The kinetic energy math said I would have to use garage door sized springs to get the harpoon to move fast enough. Two months later I was experimenting with an air cylinder hooked to the air compressor. It's a hot weapon, and jumped an order of magnitude when Mike added the titanium tip.

Radio Control
I chose off-the-shelf R/C gear to control the Ag. I figured it was a mature technology. Surprise! I had more trouble with the R/C link than when I tried to weld aluminum. To make control easier I interfaced an advanced C&H flight stick to the transmitter, with the help of the techs at Futaba. Now a single hand is all I need to use in order to (ideally) crush my opposition!

I use a Tekin R/C speed controller to switch the traction motors on the Ag. They work beautifully. But there were other requirements that led to the installation of onboard controllers. One of the most important functions is the proper air valve sequence timing for the pneumatic punch. Poor timing yields fewer shots from the storage tank and possible damage to the cylinder seals. Computers are cool.

I want you to have fun watching the Ag. Period. That's why it's not a fiberglass dome where no internals are visible. Early in the project I had the idea to watch a live video feed during competition. Well, here you see the UHF receiver and VR goggles I'm using to acomplish that. An onboard video transmitter relays a signal from a micro-sized CCD camera. The image is displayed through a pair of i-glasses! from Virtual i-O. And if you're going to the event this year, look forward to watching the Ag's video feed on the audience display monitors. At least, that's the current plan.

This is our target drone for driving proficiency tests. It's also a great stess reliever after a long day in the shop.

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