“A 2016 series of Robot Wars was first announced online via a BBC News article on the 13th January 2016” – Robot Wars Wikia.
For Katie, timing couldn’t have been better for her. In February 2016 one of her modules at the University of Brighton was dedicated to building a featherweight fighting robot, which would be pitted against other featherweight robots built by her peers.
It was around this time that it was pointed out to her that Robot Wars, a long time favourite TV show of hers had been brought back and renewed for a new series to be aired on the BBC. This fighting robot module, XE221, was run by none other than Ian Watts of Bigger Brother fame.
Ian mentioned in XE221 lectures that, the BBC were filming Robot Wars again, and that he would, in a month or so, be heading up to Glasgow to take part in Series 8.
When it was announced that a second new series (otherwise known as series 9) would be filmed, Ian Watts was asked if he knew any aspiring engineers who would like to be contributors on robot wars. A few emails later, some drawings on napkins in the student union café and one CAD drawing later and Katie was awaiting a response from Menton. And that response came a few days after the deadline for applications for series 9. The Robot Building process had begun.
Katie drew inspiration from the Robot Wars arena and from methods to avoid being pitted. Nightshade was designed with a flower in mind as the main shape, with the ability to climb out of the pit because of the petals opening. Katie also wanted to stay away from the generic approach to building a robot, which is to have a box with wheels.
From confirmation from Mentorn that they had been chosen in mid-October 2016 and the fact that filming dates were early December 2016 left Katie very little build time. Brighton University was of course on board from day one and incredibly keen to put as much effort in as possible. Entire rooms in Heavy Engineering were dedicated to building Nightshade. I visited several times, finding components lined out on the floor nearly awaiting assembly.
Even though they had the resources of the university’s engineering department, they still insisted on a MDF prototype being built and although this is usually a good idea with only 6 weeks to build Nightshade this, combined with the fact that components had to be ordered in, meant that the whole build process was rushed.
Of course, we’ve all seen what happened when Nightshade got into the arena. It was thrown around almost from the get go, but how TV presents things is of course a very romanticized version of actual events.
Yes, there was very little driving practice, and that’s mainly because it wasn’t fully assembled until it was packed and sent to Glasgow. That was just the nature of the amount of time they had to build a robot from scratch.
Nightshade uses wheelchair motors, they’re simple and easy to understand for beginners and readily available. But they do have a few weaknesses. They’re extremely vulnerable to side impacts, as this damages the worm drives within the gearboxes. It’s for this reason you don’t see more advanced teams using them. Katie tells me that during loading Nightshade onto the arena loading area, the robot was pushed (or shoved) along, against the direction of the wheels, to get it onto the arena before it was powered up, and this caused damage to one of the gearboxes. Reviewing the fight it can clearly be seen that one motor wasn’t working from the start and from that, Nightshade’s fight was over before it began.
Nightshade now resides in the Heavy Engineering block at Brighton University and Katie and Jodie are well into their final year.
Charles Hoile, April 2017
I would like to draw attention to this article on BattleBots Update, which seems overly negative and condescending towards both Nightshade and Katie and Jodie. The writer comes across as pathetic, and if anything, he has nothing positive or constructive to say.