So this one is going to be a little long, so if you’re a brief reader this one isn’t for you. This is my only creative writing i’ve done all year so i expect i’ll be boring as hell.I’m sure the grammar is lacklustre and the structuring is awful.
So, where to start?
When i was young i used to sneak down from my bedroom to the lounge and seek my grandfather, who would allow me to watch Robot Wars on television. This was back in the early noughties, we had a modern 22 inch CRT and it was amazing. The Simpsons, then Robot Wars, on BBC2. Watching these little robots fighting on the television. It was deeply satisfying to watch Sir Killalot pick up some robot that had been unfortunate to stray into it’s corner and spin it around until it flew through the air and out of the arena. Razer, Chaos 2, Panic Attack and Hypno-Disc were all memorable robots of mine just to name a few. Not to mention that time that Shunt’s axe stopped Hypno-Disc’s disk spinning, a seemingly impossible act of robotic madness. And that’s not to mention Craig Charles, Philippa Forrester and Jonathan Pearce, the very people who made that show one of the most memorable shows of that decade, although i only realized later that Jonathan was the commentator watching the series back on YouTube.
This interest of mine was indulged by my parents. They bought me the VHS tape, even though it was a PG, and they got me the pullback toys, which i played with too harshly and broke, regretfully. I remember buying The First Great Wars VHS at a boot-sale and being delighted to watch it back to back. And the best thing was this VHS had a do-it-yourself section at the back and i watched with delight thinking about how i would design my own robot having being given the chance.
But time waits for no man, the 22 inch CRT, the toys and VHS tape are all gone now and buried (in landfill).
Jump to 2015 and i’ve just completed my first year at Brighton University. Second year is beckoning, but I’ve been asked to come to the pub with a few other students to talk about stuff like Robot Wars. There’s talk that the American version, called BattleBots, is getting a reboot and there’s a chance that they may get a Brighton-University team into the competition. Ian Watts, who was my tutor in the first year has organised this little meet up in a pub down near the sea in Brighton called The Barely Mow. Ian is both a Robot Wars and BattleBots veteran, having competed several times with a robot called Bigger Brother. Having learnt that Ian had been on Robot Wars and that Bigger Brother was sitting in his garage was incredible to me. A fighting robot, like the ones on television. Seeing Bigger Brother for the first time was an experience. It was much larger than i had expected, the thing weighed 100 kilograms or so, and it had taken some abuse in it’s time. There were still marks on the sides from fights i had watched all those years ago. Ian had taken off the body panels and i could see where Razor had punctured the shell and lifted bigger brother up into the air during a fight. I then had an idea about the kind of forces involved in fighting robots. I’d learnt over the last year the kind of pressure that you can find in CO2 fire extinguishers, and just how much force one can derive from this. Bigger Brother’s ram runs on CO2.
One year later, and BattleBots has come and gone. It was a great success for the American television network ABC. They’re talking about a second series and Ian has formed a team to put forward to the producers of BattleBots. The team is called The Creepy Crawlies, but that is a post for another day. Off the success of BattleBots the BBC has commissioned a reboot of Robot Wars. Ian’s been asked to build a robot.
Building a robot is not an easy process. Even with experience. It started with laying cardboard out on Ian’s coffee table and placing components on it. Motors, gas bottles, CO2 ram, speed controllers, wheels and gears in every combination, to get an idea for the shape of the robot to come. After a while this cardboard graduates into a 5mm Hardox sheet, and I find myself holding mild steel box section while it is welded to this base plate. Some as me why i spend so much time working on the robot, but i find it rewarding and interesting. I find it good hands on experience. I’ve welded before but i’d like to be able to do it properly one day. The weeks go by and in between university work after finishing lab reports i turn up and help out where i can.
One rainy day in January, and I’m the workshop, grinding welds down smooth on the robot. It now has a name, Or Te, which roughly translates as “oi you”. It’s practically done now. We’re just finishing off its shell, which is also 5mm Hardox. I’m with another student called James, who is an incredible machinist, able to make almost anything out of a lump of metal. We hear a muffled bang on the door, and we turn off our grinders. Ian enters and after the dust settles from the air and we remove our ear protection, Ian asks us, “Do you fancy going to Robot Wars?”.
The answer is of course yes. It doesn’t matter if i don’t appear on television. It’s all about the building of the robot and i’m proud. I didn’t play the biggest part during the building process, but I’ve been there as much as my academic work could afford and I dearly want to see how things turn out.
The logistics of going to robot wars are a little less simple. Ian tells us that they are filming in Glasgow because it is cheap. Glasgow. That place up North. In Scotland. Where there really is no sun and it’s constantly cold. But Glasgow is not the problem. In all honestly the thought of making it up to Scotland without my parents’ aid excites me. But how to get there? Ian is driving with the robot, and Sam, Ian’s son is getting a flight up. Flying seems simple enough and quick. So after getting myself the details from Ian, I book myself on the same flight. It’s a British Airways flight from Gatwick to Glasgow. I love BA. Complementary alcohol? Yes please. I’ll be needing it. I love flying in general, but Sam has never flown before, but he’s a good kid and nothing goes wrong, except him torturing me throughout the flight by outsmarting me on several fronts.
Ian picked us up from the hotel and took us to the filming venue. It was a absolutely massive warehouse on the outskirts of Glasgow. It dwarfed everything around it. Judging by the dozens of cars that were parked outside the venue was already packed and full of people. Walking in past the G4S guard, into this massive space. At one end, the producer’s trailers, and AV trailers, then a test arena, then maybe 25 truslite decking benches, all with robots on them being constantly poured over by their builders. Past this there was lots of the metal railings, the kind that they put on the sides of roads, this was the divide between the arena and the house robots area and the main arena. The arena was surrounded on two sides by banked seating, at the far end were the contestant’s boxes and nearest me was the judges’ desk and a loading/unloading platform for the house robots, which due to their massive sudden weight gain, had to be lifted and moved by forklift if not by their own power.
Sir Killalot was by the side under the watchful eye of a builder from RoboChallenge, the company who had been hired by Mentorn to rebuild the house robots for the reboot. We weren’t allowed to touch but we were allowed to look as much as we wanted. Sir Killalot is a impressive build. Massive, on caterpillar tracks, with 4 or 6 massive sealed lead-acid type batteries in the rear to provide as much weight as possible. This new version is an electric/Hydraulic, compared to the older, which was Electric/Petrol/Hydraulic. The robot’s controller, a DX6i, was hanging off one of its huge cutting claws. at best guess one of the claws must have been at least 25mm thick of Hardox or thicker. No wonder the thing weighed 750 kilograms. The safety links were hanging on the other side. These consisted of a heavy duty Anderson connector that all serves to disconnect the electrical systems whenever the robot is not in the arena purely for safety reasons. Also gone are the days of a Sony Handycam in a steel box for POV video of destruction, now a brand new GoPro hero session is mounted, arguably a more durable replacement mounted straight in the middle of his chest below his mask.
Or Te is located on a bench made of LiteDeck in the middle of the pits area. Or Te is on top of the bench on two blocks of wood so the wheels, if they were to be activated, could not drive off the table. Ian’s tools and equipment sit all over the bench along with segments of thick bodywork which are removable to get inside the robot. At the rear of the bench are two aluminium uprights with florescent lights attached to them and then a power cable snakes up into the celling grid work where there are massive event lights hanging illuminating the whole pit area.
There are competitors and runners and camera and sound crews everywhere, all going about filming their segments about the robots and how the competitors feel about their robots and their chances. Sometimes the crew prompt the competitors to talk, but on other occasions either Dara or Angela.
The arena is an impressive structure with very thick bullet proof plastic walls, complete with a lid with truss rigging inside for lighting and a camera suspended inside. Within this box of chunky plastic sheets there is a platform where the actual arena floor sits. the floor is skinned with a sheet of steel, unlike the old robot wars arena which was of wood. the floor hazards are also built into this sheet, with spikes, flame pit, the arena flipper and the pit, which is a segment of the floor that lowers up and down as required. The pit release tyre is placed between the competitor booths, directly below the robot wars logo on the side of the arena. the tyre idea has been kept, but instead of an abused yellow-painted tyre, there is a brand new tyre complete with what looks like a very nice alloy. This change is a reflection of all the changes and updates for this reboot of robot wars. there was no looking for junk to hang on the walls of the set to look nice, this was a clean, simple set of simple-yet-effective construction. on three sides of the box there were access points for robots. The first, directly opposite the competitor booths is used exclusively for the house robots and then the left and right of this was used for the competitors to load their robots in and out. These access areas also included a powerful hydraulic ram which, once robots were loaded into the arena, would bring a thick segment of steel up to complete the walls of the arena. Arming the robots, by inserting the safety links was then done and the drivers directed their robots to the chevrons on the floor of the arena. Then, the fights would begin. There is no central presenting platform like in the older series. all of the presenting is done in the competitors booths. Dara talks to the winners after the fight and Angela talks to those who didn’t do so well.
If you look very carefully at Bigger Brother you will notice that Ian painted the underside red and green. This theme is also present outside Ian’s house as his garage doors are painted either red or green. and Or Te is no exception, interior shots show this theme continued, as it makes it easy to keep all the bits together from the gearbox, drive and sprockets.
Or Te’s battle comes and goes, and as I’m not part of that team technically, I sat in the observation room, which was a tatty run down office of sorts, and watch the fight on a 42 inch television that is connected to a live stream from the live editing booth in the trailer at the end of the building. the TV is dwarfed by the room it sits in, and all the tables and chairs have been arranged so that everyone can sit and watch. There’s a sink in the corner and a kettle and tea making facilities and even a fridge.
A little later after Ian and his team have packed up and left, John, Jonathan and Jme arrived, they’ve driven all the way from Lewis to Glasgow by car, and it’s taken them all day. The benefits of the series being filmed in such a large building is that they were able to drive all the way up to our team workstation. We unpacked and prepared Terror Turtle and The Hatchling for greenscreen.
This incarnation of Terror Turtle is lighter than its past versions, to make way for the weight needed for The Hatchling. Terror Turtle’s interior has changed, with the addition of a Lithium Polymer battery for driving its main spinning disk, controlled by a contactor connected to the radio. Drive was the same as before, two wheelchair motors, new speed controllers and a handful of D sized NiMH batteries providing a decent amount of current to the ESC. The Hatchling was of even simpler design, a CNC cut steel case wielded up into a triangle with a central point at the front, and a spring loaded arrowhead on the front, it’s sides painted dark green to resemble a turtle and with a Tip-Ex shell pattern being drawn on hastily just before greenscreen.
Late Sunday evening and we have finished all filming of Terror Turtle. I have to say the convince of getting home really is amazing. it’s a 10 minute taxi ride to Glasgow Airport, a 45 minute flight, and then a 20 minute train back to Brighton.
I had university on Monday morning at 9am, and my conversation with my friends went a little like this.
“What did you do this weekend, why do you look so tired?”
“Oh, just some film work, nothing exciting.”
“Where was it?”
“What would possess you to go to Glasgow?”
“A re-boot of Robot Wars maybe?”
— Back to University Work.
– Charles Hoile, February 2016.