So this one is going to be a little long, so if you’re a brief reader this one isn’t for you.
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. 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 pull back 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 Robot Wars. There’s talk that the American version, called BattleBots, is getting a re boot 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. A Bigger Brother Version 2.
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 roughtly 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 a 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 have confidence that this robot will do well.
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.