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Thread: New roboteer looking to get started

  1. #1
    Redirect Left's Avatar
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    Hello there! I'm looking to get started in the wonderful world of Robot Fighting!

    Ever since I was a child, I watched Robot Wars with my grandmother and we both loved it, dating back to the first series with Jeremy Clarkson back in 1998.
    Unfortunately my grandmother passed away just weeks before the BBCs revived show came back on air last year, and I was inspired to have a go. Unfortunately since then I've had health issues of my own, but now I'm ready to finally give it a proper go, and hopefully at age 27 I can still make my way into the fighting bot life. I know some people doing it have been in it for decades!

    My personal experience with electronics is fairly slim, I've only ever worked on low voltage / low current things, no more than 16V and a couple of amps max (model trains mostly and the little circuitry within them), other than DIY modification to lights, changing a flourescent tube lighting to a circuit suitable for LED tubes instead and the basic replacing an old mains socket / plugs and building PCs. I've also played extensively with Arduino and little coding stuff there. I'm always eager to learn new stuff, which is handy because the only thing i have experience with outside of basic electronics is a hammer, nails, screwdrivers and a piece of wood - hardly winning anything there. So i'm not sure to what, if any degree, my past electrical knowledge / tinkerings will help? All I know is, electronics is my forté and everything I've really done with it has just come naturally and I learn that area of things a lot faster than most things I try! So that'll probably be my strong point in it all.

    Something I do pickup on during Robot Wars and YouTube videos of battles is the sense of community between the roboteers, the TV shows try to work up intense rivalries between specific bots, but I'm almost certain its producer fabricated really. So hopefully I can find a place in the community and get some help, and give help back when I'm in a position to do so!

    Is there anything the FRA offers, like some sort of basic 'qualification' or basic "this guy knows how to kill robots and not humans" safety stuff, something that I can use to later on show i'm serious, and not trying to waste anyones time? I'd love one day to be part of a team or builder for a heavyweight category bot, but I know that a lot smaller (probably featherweight?) is where I need to start by myself at least.

    Pricing for such things is leaving me a little lightheaded, i've checked out things like Ranglebox and general stuff on eBay. Not sure how much I can do with my budget (around £250 to £750, but can go higher if I think i'm onto something with potential) - the low budget things I see on TV / YouTube usually rapidly end up being comedic relief rather than anything else (not that there is anything wrong with a bit of comedic relief, of course!)

    I'd be very greatful for any help on the above notes, or ideal starting points - I've come across some featherweight 'kit' stuff, but i'm not sure if they're of any real use or if I should start by entirely doing it from scratch. Looking at every possible avenue to go down, its quite hard to know where the best place to start is!

    (good grief, this post came out pretty long!)
    Last edited by Redirect Left; 18th April 2017 at 13:04.

  2. #2
    R9000's Avatar
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    Rory Charlesworth
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    If you're starting out with basic tools and a simple-ish featherweight design, £500 should easily get you a decent robot, that you could compete with. I know it can seem very overwhelming at first, but take a look at some of the many many 'newbie' posts over the past month or so (and even before) and you should be able to learn a lot. After you've done that, you'll be able to ask more pointed questions and get specific answers. As I've said to others, you're bound to waste quite a bit of money on your first robot, on parts that either don't fit or break before you've finished the machine. This is one of the reasons why people recommend starting with a featherweight, because £20 lost on a part is no big deal, but £200 really is for most of us.

    As for qualifications, the best qualification you can have is a reliable machine that you've built from scratch, has been in a few fights and lived to tell the tale. Though, obviously experience can still be gained from 'going home in a binbag' as they say. If you can show that you've built a decent machine and clashed swords with some of the experienced roboteers here, that should be enough of a qualification for most people really.

    Your electronics and programming experience could come in useful, though a lot of the electronics are somewhat plug-and-play. My featherweight uses an arduino to manage the limit switches on its modified linear actuator, and Danny B from Team Shadow Robotics used one for an automatic self-righter a while ago. So if you really want to put your electronics skills to the test, go for it (I suppose you could even build your own ESCs if you're good enough like Rory Mangles).

    I don't know about the kits, I think they do work ok, but I'd invariably want to make my own machine from scratch rather than building a body and weapon on a pre-existing base. It's up to you, but I don't see many roboteers using them.

  3. #3
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    For the Budget and Tool question:

    I've just finished my first Bot, a somewhat Gabriel-style thwackbot in the 6kg Raptor class (don't know if that is popular in the UK or just a german thing).
    Would be really easy to make it bigger/sturdier and work as a Feather, internals could stay almost the same (just motors/gearing would need a change).

    For the chassis i only used a Jigsaw, a cordless drill, a rasp (for wherever i didn't make the cuts good enough), a few nuts and bolts, a square tube of aluminium, a normal tube of ali with a wooden core and a steel plate, as well as some sheets of HDPE and some bike tire for the wheels. And duct tape. Cost... about maybe 150€? Got myself some spares and ordered some wrong stuff, so hard to estimate. could sure be done cheaper, but if you're building for a featherweight it could make for a rough guess.

    Internals were a dual channel ESC from IBF (~120€), 2 Ranglebox Neptunes and fitting motors (72£. not really fitting to this bot due to it's huge wheels, but otherwise great stuff), LiPo should be choosen bigger than mine. Getting some good quality should be possible for around 50€ (a bit more if you want 4 motors and/or an active weapon, you'll need a bigger battery then). Plus some small parts like connectors, safety-LEDs etc you possibly got around anyway when you're into electronics leaves you at roughly 250€ for internals. Oh, and you'll need transmitter and receiver, but these are cheap on ebay if you wait for the right moment.

    So if without already having any spares and such you could absolutely build a HDPE-based bot without active weapon (so a pusher, wedge, thwackbot, something like that) but with good internals for about 400€. Bit less in £.

    Could go cheaper on the internals, but this is the easy-to-use-and-upgrade-version.
    If i wouldn't have done so much wrong or have had to wait for parts to arrive (and if electronics wouldn't have been my big problem^^) i could have finished it within one week.


    My first plan was a super complicated totally destructive featherweight vertical spinner. Too complicated for a first bot, and even more to finish in time for my first event. So i more or less made this one from what i already had as material for the feather, just to be there and learn from it. And i learned a lot. My bot was probably the only one getting stronger from fight to fight, because in the needed repairs (mostly putting wheels back on) i also upgraded a few parts. I got home not in a bin bag, but with a list of what could be made better so long i'll rebuild the chassis completely (this time using a buzzsaw and a drill press, upgrades, too!).
    Hopefully, after the next 1-2 events i'll be happy with what i've made from that bot, and maybe give that vertical spinner feather another try. So yeah, don't overcomplicate it with your first bot... being there and having something driving gives you on one weekend more experience and inspiration than months of internet.
    even as comic relief, my bot got stuck in the floor on turning twice, lost it's weapon and wheels (which had no grip anyway, making movements really difficult), and all in the first round. in the third round i at least punched a hole in the armor of a spinner (no real damage, but yeah, i did something!), and by the fourth and fifth round i wasn't the first to die. But it was something driving, it got potential, and i managed to carry all tools, spares and the bot in one backpack on the train. Can't get much simpler than that.

    Ps: you gave us a long post, now take that!

  4. #4
    Redirect Left's Avatar
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    Cheers for the replies so far! Glad to hear my budget is easily doable, I'm going to have to lookup motor stuff, as my only experience with them is the tiny diddy motors that model trains use, which won't be of any use here.

    I'm thinking of trying to do a bot without any welding, as its not something i'm familiar with at all, and its a fairly expensive thing to get the stuff for. I live in a flat so i have no room for big tools, and my neighbours wouldn't be fond of the noise.
    To overcome this, I was thinking of trying to build a no weld, nuts and bolts machine. I believe that Pulsar is one such machine. However i'm having trouble finding metal to do that with, i'm also a bit skeptic as to wether that'd put it overweight for intended 'featherweight' class, so i might end up using HDPE - this will also be a lot easier to work holes into for the nuts/bolts side of things I imagine. I looked up threaded bars too for easily joining things together, however Ranglebox has sold out of these, and i can't find another source of them?

    Last thing I can think of for now. I note that a lot of machines appear to use LiPoly batteries. I personally have bad experience of LiPolys, in an imported smartphone the LiPoly battery failed in a rather mean manner, expanding in size, venting smoke and eventually breaking out into a short lived but intense fire. I'm not sure if the phone malfunctioned, overvolted or short circuited etc, but it does put me off them. Do roboteers use special stuff to ensure LiPolys are never overstressed? Should I avoid them until i'm more experienced?
    Last edited by Redirect Left; 19th April 2017 at 08:47.

  5. #5
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    A 'no weld' featherweight is more than doable. Whilst I am a newbie like you, I would hazard a guess that a fair few of the featherweights out there do not have any welding on them. My first bot has no welding on it and is primarily aluminium and HDPE construction. I have used barrel bolts to hold together the HDPE to HDPE joins, available cheaply at lots of places online. For the HDEP to aluminium, or the aluminium to aluminium joins I have used the square section bar with threaded holes in as you are planning. You don't have to source them if you don't want to, you can make your own out of some square section aluminium (again, available cheaply online at lots of places), a drill, a hacksaw, a vice and a tap.

    As for batteries, I think the thing with Li-Po is to just be sensible with how you use them. For example, make sure you charge them in a Li-Po sack, in the robot make sure they are well protected and shock mounted if possible, also don't use them any more if you notice bulging or swelling on the pack and so. I think that Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries are used by some people as a less potentially volatile alternative but it's not something I have personally used. However I'm sure someone more knowledgeable then me on those can tell you more about them.

    Good luck, and have fun with your build.

  6. #6
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    Dominic Cartlidge
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    These are really good starting points - if you are looking for something easy to work with then I would totally recommend HDPE, held together with bolts and barrel nuts. I used this and 12mm HDPE for my robot and it held up super well to non-spinner combat - it's robust, but still easy to cut with a jigsaw, and cheap enough to replace if something breaks. I don't have any experience fighting spinners but I'm stepping it up to 15mm/20mm HDPE for those.
    Just be aware that cutting HDPE can be pretty messy if you're cutting it inside. I think I will be finding little bits of HDPE swarf round my house forever now.

    For motors I believe a lot of beginners use 12v Argos value drill motors - they're ideal since they are cheap, powerful enough and the gearbox they come with uses metal gears, so they are relatively robust. I used 4 of them running on a 4S LiPo and they made the robot surprisingly quick for something so cheap and easy to implement. Having said that Argos just released a newer model which is a little bit more expensive and needs to be hacked differently to make it appropriate for robot use. I haven't used these before, but there's a whole thread which talks about it here:

    http://www.fightingrobots.co.uk/thre...ide-and-review
    Last edited by dotDominic; 19th April 2017 at 10:08.

  7. #7
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    The key to LiPo's is getting a good battery and a cheap but high quality charger.

    I build everything with a drill and a hacksaw and bolt it all together. They are basic and boring but good fun to fight.

  8. #8
    R9000's Avatar
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    Rory Charlesworth
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    Yeah I haven't had any LiPos explode on me yet, or even puff up. You're required to have a flameproof LiPo charge bag for competitions anyway, and as long as you get a decent balancer and charger to keep the cells in check, you should be fine. If they get punctured or overheated, that's when they can set on fire (a la Chompalot), but as long as you protect them well enough, that shouldn't happen.

  9. #9
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    And even on fire due puncture or overheating, that will happen in the arena, so rather safe for the people watching the great show.

    Of course, the wallet isn't as happy with that.

  10. #10
    Redirect Left's Avatar
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    Makes me wonder what my phone was doing to trigger a major failure in the LiPo, seeing as you guys seem to very rarely come across it in much more hard working environments!.


    I'm intending on making the outcome of my first attempt legal for fights should the opportunity fall my way. I'm not entirely sure how HDPE will hold up against spinners, i've no idea how powerful spinners of featherweight design can be? Found a supplier local for HPDE and they stock from 1mm up to 30mm, can get a one large sheet and cut it down to size and probably have some left over so i can shape some spare parts - next decision would be how thick I want it to be. That itself might be a learning curve of getting the perfect thickness for defense without too much hassle on weight / slowing things down / awkwardness of tinkering with and quick repair if needed to be done in a hurry.
    Although at the end of the day, even if it comes home in a bin bag, fun would have been had and things would have been learnt, so not that bad of an outcome really! Think that's the best way to look at that very possible outcome...


    Side note, just got confirmation of some tickets for the Robot Wars next season filming in May. Looking forward to that!

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