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 Part One

The 1999 LEGO RoboGladiators Event at E3
by Dan Danknick

So I get this call one day from my pal Peter Abrahamson:

"LEGO wants to put on an event with robots that fight. Interested?"
"Sure, I'm doing like 37 other things right now, but yeah. When?"
"Soon. I'll get you in the loop."
Soon I become part of a group of eight builders that are on a conference call with the cool people at Switzer Communications. They want to show the world what the Mindstorms RCX brick can do when put in the hands of some wildly creative intellect. From the contacts made on the Mindstorms RoboTour, they've picked robot builders and SFX engineers to build fighting robots entirely out of LEGO parts to perform a demo at the E3 gaming expo in LA. Basically all I'm asked to bring to the table is a good imagination and some hard work, so I agree.

A few weeks later stuff starts arriving. Since my personal posession of LEGO parts is somewhere near zero, the two complete sets of Mindstorms and a giant box of axles, motors, spars, pneumatics, wheels and fasteners (professionally chosen by Pete) really helps. My buddy Richard also contributes a big paper bag of parts that he had buried in his closet from the old supercar, a helicopter, and some other models. Because I figure you can't have too many motors on hand, I order 27 of them off of eBay. A quick stop off to buy 100 AA batteries and now I'm ready to go.

Ultimately I discovered that LEGO Technic is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, that Dave Baum's NQC is right up there with mint chip ice cream, and a weekend at the LA Convention Center fighting IR controlled LEGO robots was beyond fun.

Amazingly during the entire process I took a few pictures, so here they are in not any particular order. You may also want to read the event rules before continuing.

(And no, other than Trey running by with a handful of exploded alkalines, nobody got hurt. But the sport is still young.)

It wouldn't be right for me to start anywhere else than by showing you the event champ, Peter Abrahamson and his robot Mafune.In his left hand is the mondo trophy that he won (made entirely of LEGO parts!)
That is a big pile of AA size batteries in front of him; our resident voice of environmentalism Jason Bardis insisted that we collect the old ones for recycling, so we did. (My hunch is that they just got tossed in the trash at the end anyway.)
SFX wizard Rick Galinson at work on his amazing creations. Every time I cruised by his work cell there was something new added to that thing, from a "Darth Maul harpoon" to an ROV that drove out of the back of his main robot. A-mazing.
From the Walt Disney Imagineering contingent, on left is Clint Lynch who does mechanical engineering for the Mouse. His tracked robot is in the foreground - it was totally cool!

To the right is Christian Carlberg who is well known for his fantastic fighting robots. I think he's laughing here at the fact that it takes 36 replacement AA batteries just for his center power packs.

Jason Bardis using the arena edge as a workspace with his robot "2A" to his right.

On the right Jason explains to Switzer employee Jon how the two of us walked into the main LEGO exhibit break room, looking like we were in charge and walked out with a huge plate of sandwiches to share with the RoboGladiators. And there was much rejoicing.

Everyone was pretty much on their own for coming up with a control scheme, other than the requirement to obey the allocated IR command band. So the controllers were wild and varied. Here Clint shows us the one that he built.
This is Jason's controller utilizing two separate RCX bricks with six push buttons. There is more information on his robot and his control scheme on his own website.
A nice close-up of Clint's robot. That's a LEGO battery pack being used as a hammer head!

In the background is my cheeseball robot.

More on Jason's robot, "2A." It had the most moving parts of anything there and was easily advancing entropy by at least 7.2 J-cm3/s
Ultimately everything people like us do revolves around some form of destruction. So when Jason announced that he had broken the core out of a drive gear, we all converged excitedly to see for ourselves. Turns out he also mangled a plasic worm gear (which web visitor Stormy Henderson digitally enhanced!)

On the right, LEGO polymer dust left over from a high-torque attack.

One of the first fights between Christian's robot Dreadnaught and Trey/Greg/Carlo's robot BattleBots. Dreadnaught is within the pile of its own wreckage in the background. The Battlebots entry was essentailly a big box with some enormous pushing power and a good control scheme. More on how Carlo accomplished that in the next part of this report.

Here you can also see the arena that we fought in - it was about knee height which was just perfect to give a sense of containment to the carnage but not high enough to prevent pieces from getting flung into the audience.

Back in the pit, Rick and Peter begin reinforcing their robots for the future fight against the BattleBots robot.

On to Part Two

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