by Jonathan Spalten
A major part of BattleBots, the subteam of RoboJackets dedicated to creating combat robots, is the 3lber program, the new member training program that all BattleBots members go through. In the program, new members are divided into small teams and assigned a returning member to mentor them. The team then works throughout the year to design and build a 3lb combat robot. In a normal year, the culminating event of the 3lber program is a road trip that takes the new member teams to Pennsylvania to participate in the combat robotics event at Motorama against real hobbyists that have been honing their craft for years. The event is a multi-day affair and has teams competing against opponents, but also forces them to make field repairs in the pits, and often forces teams to think critically about what to do when their robots take major damage. Bringing a robot to competition is the ultimate test and learning opportunity that enables our teams to iterate and succeed (eventually).
This year, Motorama was cancelled and restrictions were placed on the facilities we normally use to manufacture our robots. As a response, the 3lber program was adapted to the 2lber program, a weight class designed to enable teams to still develop robots despite COVID restrictions. The major adjustments were including rules that required teams to construct the majority of their robots out of 3D printed materials, enabling the teams to still manufacture despite limited numbers of people being allowed to work in the manufacturing areas.
The 2lber program would be incomplete without a competition at which the teams could test their mettle. To replicate the Motorama experience, RoboJackets hosted its own internal 2lber combat robot competition, a single elimination tournament to determine which robot could push its way to the top. RoboJackets streamed the event on our youtube channel, so you too can see the results of the new 2lber program. We don’t want to spoil the winner of the competition here, but we will say if you watch the stream recording long enough you might see a surprise visit from a unique robot design.
We gave an update on the progress of each robot in the December issue of the newsletter that discussed their progress. Take a look at the difference between the CAD screenshots and the finished products.
The competition was hosted at the prestigious Student Competition Center Parking Lot, right across from Ikea. The arena that the 2lber competition used was the one built for the 20th Anniversary Competition that RoboJackets hosted in 2019. The arena is built using 80-20, the “Industrial Erector Set”, and layered wood that can be replaced as it inevitably gets damaged by fights.
Just like at any combat robotics competition, the teams have to work industriously in the pit areas to make sure their robots can, first and foremost, qualify for competition and make field repairs after the carnage in the arena.
We asked Cade Tyler, the 3lber Program Leader for the past year and the recently elected Treasurer, for his thoughts on the competition. He says that he hopes “everyone there got a taste of what a larger competition would be like.” He also mentioned that “this was the first time a lot of the new members were able to interact with older members and new members on other teams.” Because normal team meetings with all members weren’t possible with COVID restrictions, the 2lber competition was also a time to meet and interact with other members that the current teams might not have met yet. He also hopes this taste of the full combat robotics experience made the new members eager to graduate from the 3D printed 2 lb robots to the larger, primarily metal robots that are more commonly made in BattleBots.
We also asked Keaton Sadoski, Largetoni’s mentor, for how he thought the 2lber competition experience measured up to Motorama. The first thing he highlighted was the advantage of having control over when our competition was as opposed to the static timeline of Motorama:
The biggest improvement was the longer build cycle. Many teams had semi-functional chassis before the night before competition. At least with Largetoni, it was the first time I had seen a 3/2lb team that could practice driving within a very competition-accurate environment. This meant they could get a feel for driving under gyroscopic conditions and understand their drive systems. On the other hand, Motorama is great in the fact that you can see a wide range of mature bots. Getting beat badly by a kitbot/try-hard stings at first, but it shows where you lack better than you can tell just staring at your own bot. That fact as well as the double elimination format [at Motorama] gives a team a lot of opportunities to get data on their design.
Overall, the 3lb program organizers did their best to adapt to the circumstances of the year and deliver the best new member training program it could. We look forward to seeing what the next generation of BattleBots members can design and build in the future as they build on their experience in the 2lber program.