Robots tear it up at Bot Gauntlet

Spectators take in the robot fighting action.


Fight, robots! Fight!

On the announcer’s signal, two one-pound robots started out of
their corners to begin the battle.
They collided, making a noise like a buzz saw as one used a
spinning steel drum to push the other away. The bots had two
minutes to try to incapacitate, destroy or force each other out of
the enclosed arena.
“Fight, robots! Fight!”

On the announcer’s signal, two one-pound robots started out of their corners to begin the battle.

They collided, making a noise like a buzz saw as one used a spinning steel drum to push the other away. The bots had two minutes to try to incapacitate, destroy or force each other out of the enclosed arena. The audience cheered when one bot was pushed out, and the winner was called to the front to collect the prize – a “cheesy winner’s pog” – or cardboard token.

Robot-building teams from Northern and Central California gathered June 18 to test their creations at the Bot Gauntlet 2, a robot-battling competition held at Gilroy’s Hobby World. Bots from the three smallest weight classes – 150-gram “fleas,” 1-pound “ants,” and 3-pound “beetles” competed for honors in Gilroy’s second robot-fighting event.

“I really wanted a competition in this area,” said Dave Wiley, a Morgan Hill resident and one of the event’s organizers. Wiley got into combat robotics after watching Comedy Central’s “BattleBots,” a competition that pits several-hundred-pound bots against each other. “I thought, ‘I could do that!'” he said. He started out building the types of bots featured on the show, which can cost thousands of dollars. However, after he watched an ant-weight fight in San Francisco, he switched to smaller bots.

Andy Sauro, 16, started building bots after a wager with a friend. “My friend bet me that I couldn’t build one,” he said. Sauro, whose team Fat Cats is based in Tiburon, took the challenge – and won the bet. His ant-weight bot, “Jimmy Crack Corn,” is ranked No. 1 nationally, according to www.botrank.com. “It’s so easy,” he said. “I’m the most brain-dead kid.”

Danielle Donaldson, one of the few women competing, was introduced to the sport when she began dating the captain of team Misfit, based in Santa Rosa. “I just sorta fell into it,” said Donaldson, a law and society major at Santa Rosa Junior College. She had help designing her bot, “Honey Bunny,” from the rest of her team. “We just hand drew sketches for mine – it’s a pretty simple design.”

Bot designs range from simple wedges with wheels to complicated creatures with spinning blades or even flamethrowers. Popular designs include spinning drums, platform-shaped bots and “lifters” – bots that can grab and carry opponents.

While BattleBots introduced many people to combat robotics, the sport actually began in 1992. According to www.robotcombat.com, Marc Thorpe, a University of California, Davis graduate attempted to build a radio-controlled vacuum cleaner. His invention yielded unexpectedly violent results, inspiring Thorpe to start a robotic combat event.

For anyone interested in combat robotics, “the first thing I recommend is go watch a fight,” said Wiley.

There are a number of resources available to get started. Web sites such as www.therobotmarketplace.com, www.sozbots.com, or www.sacbots.com can help beginners learn the rules and get advice from other builders in online forums. Teams looking for a competition can visit www.buildersdb.com to register for events.

Bot Gauntlet 2 Standings

Flea Weights

First place: “VD, (Vertical Disk)” driven by Andy Sauro of team Fat Cats.

Second place: “Change of Heart” driven by Kevin French of team Misfit.

Ant Weights

First place: “Lethal Wedgy” driven by Chris Todd of team Parentally Funded

Second place: “Emsee Fry Pants” driven by Kevin Hjelden of team Burnt Pop Corn.

Beetle Weights

First place: “Unknown Avenger” driven by David Liaw of team ICE.

Second place: “Rock and Roll” two separate bots with a combined weight of 3 pounds, driven by Zachary Lytle and Orion Beach, both of team Misfit.

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