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 The Event

[The Event]
I am Professor Fate!
- The Great Race, 1965

Thirteen hour days.
Living on coffee, Power Bars and adrenaline.
Five hours of sleep per night.
One heck of a welding sunburn.
That is what Robot Wars '97 was like for me.

Top 10 Things I Heard at Robot Wars '97
10.Do you have an extra outlet we can plug into?
9.You have fresh coffee??!!
8.Can you be quiet while we videotape over here?
7.I fight YOU next?
6.I like your webpage.
5.The whole scene with Blendo sucks.
4.Will you sign my poster?
3.Will you sign my girlfriend?
2.got steel?
1.Doesn't this go any faster?

There were some amazingly interesting robots this year, and I want to share my experience and information with you.

The 1997 event poster, by Marc Gabanna. It's my favorite of all four years.
Team Delta 1997: (L to R) Dan Danknick, Dave Johnson and Mike Bell.
Two really neat walking robots appeared this year, constructed by Christian Carlberg. The crowd loved them and any competitor with half a brain respected the effort involved in their design and construction.
The main weapons were arrays of spinning saw blades powered by gas engines. On the left, Frank Jenkins, safety judge supreme, and Christian decide how to test the strength of the weapons on the larger unit, "Pretty Hate Machine."
Solution: bash it with a 2x4. In the background is Jason Bardis, builder of "Bot Will Eat Itself." I think he's hoping to catch any pieces of carbide that come flying off. The safety goggles should help, too.
To the side out of flying carbide range, teammates Mike and Dave relax with Amy Sun, who entered "Pokey" and "Kill-O-Amp" with Curt Meyers. Though technically an adversary because of her middleweight entry, Amy nearly killed herself helping to fix up the Ax for one of its fights. True sportsmanship like this is the real essence of Robot Wars, and it would be great if more of the audience understood this concept.
Here is Mark Setrakian getting "Snake" ready for a round. I can only think of a few things I've been in awe over in my life; seeing Snake in action augmented my list. It writhed, turned and rolled in the arena. If for no other reason than to see it realtime, you should buy the '97 video when it's available.
Built in 12 days, the robot had a few last minute problems, generating "that thing sucked" comments from the audience and the Internet. Since similiar comments were directed at the Ax, I'm glad to be in such good company.

Courtesy of Mike Regan
Snake was controlled with a "WAC" which Mark is holding here. The body of Snake mimicked the shape of the WAC, using closed loop servo amps in its body. The most amazing part to me is not that Mark built this 300+ lb. machine, but that he understands how a snake body moves along the ground...
Courtesy of Patrick Campbell

Courtesy of Adam Clark
My friend James Underwood built the "Defiant," an excellent lightweight fabbed mostly out of carbon fiber laminate. Utilizing pneumatics to articulate an arm similar to Biohazard, James displayed excellent driving skills in the arena. It was most entertaining watching the melee, where he tossed other lightweight 'bots into the saws of Pretty Hate Machine in an attempt to disable it. Great stuff.
Courtesy of Adam Clark

Courtesy of Mike Regan
On Saturday morning I had the privilege of performing a "demo" of the Alexander for the audience. Joel Hodgson, creater of Mystery Science Theater 3000 interviewed me in the arena. Other robots that were invited to demo were "Z" and Snake.

Courtesy of Mike Regan
Here I'm doing some last minute tweaking to the video transmitter in the pit. I remembered to glypt the inductors into the coils this year, but somehow it still detuned slightly. A really good guess of which 2pF variable cap to tweak brought everything back into sync.

Courtesy of SF Gate
This match should be titled "Sandbagged."
Spinning blade Alexander v. Stuffie the furry bear. The Ax wins the match by a single point, unwilling to saw into the stufffed bear and eliciting jeers from the crowd.
Here we've just decapitated the Barbie doll. Why, at this point, isn't the Edger embedded in the hood of the Jeep? The chain had broken and the arm flopped left and right. It was nearly impossible for Dave to control.

Courtesy of Patrick Campbell
A strikingly colorful robot, "Z" from the Semborg guys, sported a high speed center punch on the front. I was shocked to learn that it was powered by expanding gas from a .223 caliber blank round, fired in a breach mounted in a block of aluminum. I'm not exactly sure how they got around the "no explosives" rule but the scheme was too powerful for their design, and even the shocks and springs they used kept disintegrating when it was fired.
A couple of weeks before the event, Tony Buchignani came over and we did a bit of work on the new "Wedge of Doom" in my shop. Tony is now Featherweight champ two years in a row. He is also characteristic of the great sportsmanship at the event; in one battle he drove over and unflipped "Dough Boy" from the wall so the driver, 10-year-old Lisa Winter, could compete some more.

By the way, Wod2 really kicked butt. To the right, Tony put it to work cleaning up the shop before he left.

Final Q&A with Dan
Were you pleased with your performance this year?
Yes and no. Though I won in every battle I fought, I certainly could have done better. Some competitors have vocally dismissed the Alexander completely from this year due to "frequent mechanical problems." Apparently the only safe robot to build would be made of newspaper and rubber bands, one that does not strive for anything.

Have you started planning a robot for next year?
Yes and no. I'm currently relaxing with my wife, which I expect to continue doing through October. I am somewhat reluctant to enter the event next year considering the problems I encountered with some judges this year.

If you do enter, what class will it be in?
Probably heavyweight, since it seems to get all the breaks. I think middleweight is harder to design for but nobody seems to care, especially the judges and audience.
My friend Rich believes there are three independent goals in Robot Wars: design to win the trophy, to entertain the audience or to encourage your peers. Few robots achieve all three goals, in fact some are flat-out contradictory. Since the trophy-goal was wrapped in somewhat erratic judging this year, I can't view it as a target to base 8 more months of work on. I won't play a game based on dynamic rules.

If not for the trophy, then why enter at all?
If I view Robot Wars as a forum to demo some cool technology and design, then I can at least be an encouragement to the future robot builders out there. If one high school student decides to take calculus in college because they want to get into robotics, then I'm willing to put up with the audience booing me, or having Jef Raskin yell at me from the judges' table.

What changes will you make for '98 if you enter?
Show up and find out. But there might be sneak preview of some possible Agrippa technology here...

Anything else going on we should know about?

  • Look for more articles in Nuts & Volts Magazine over the coming months. The publishers are 100% behind the Team Delta effort at Robot Wars.
  • Don't miss out on the final construction of robots for Robot Wars UK. There are some GREAT webpages to see. Adam Clark maintains the best set of links around, so go check them out there.
  • I have a genuine debt of gratitude to all of you that gave me encouragement via e-mail or in person at the event.
    And to all of you that boo'd the Ax in person or on USENET: like you matter.

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