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  • Real Robots For Kids!

    INTRODUCING CAMP WITCH DOCTOR BUILD AND BATTLE ROBOT KITS! Want to build your first robot, but not sure where to start? Let Andrea from Team Witch Doctor be your guide as you learn to build, battle, and repair your robot! Andrea has been hosting combat robotics workshops in South Florida for years, and now you can bring this same workshop home! The Camp Witch Doctor Build and Battle Box is designed to be fun, safe, and educational for builders ages 8+. Choose from TEN different bots and follow along with the companion 20 video series, so you can build with Andrea just like an in-person camp! Each Build and Battle Box also includes all of the 3D files for all 10 bots, so you can 3D print spare parts, build a different bot, or start learning 3D modeling so you can continue to grow as a robot builder. Learn more about the kits from Andrea with this video. Then see what comes in the kit in this video! Check out the full details below to see if Camp Witch Doctor is right for you! Shop at https://shop.teamwitchdoctor.com/products/camp-witch-doctor Here at Team Witch Doctor, we like to build fun, unique, colorful bots! Choose from TEN different themes and weapons to find the perfect robot for you. Will you choose a hammer, flipper, or a lifter? Each robot comes in white so you can add color and customize it to match your theme. Start thinking of a robot name! In addition to your robot, the Camp Witch Doctor Build Box includes hardware, tools, safety glasses, radio equipment, batteries, and more to make sure you’re ready to build, battle, and repair your robot. Starting with a kit like this gives you a chance to learn how the components work, how to connect them together, and allows you to get some battling experience before building a robot from scratch. The robot you are about to build is safe to build and battle at home without an arena. This allows you to get plenty of driving practice, and makes it easy to start your own local battles with friends. The bots are also competition legal in the 1lb Plastic Antweight division, so you can start competing if there are local tournaments near you. Want to get the full Camp Witch Doctor Experience? Make sure to follow along with our companion video series! In these 20 video lessons, I’ll work with our camper Claudia as we go through a build from start to finish, while showing you the engineering concepts you need to know as a robot builder. The included Build Book includes all the details you need to build and repair your robot without the companion video series, but the videos are a great way to add to your build experience. Did you know you can use reuse this same kit to build any of the TEN robots? Use the provided files to 3D print a different robot chassis and weapon! If you don’t have access to a 3D printer, the parts are also available for purchase here on our store. You can also use the provided 3D model files to start learning Computer Aided Design (CAD) to modify and 3D print your own custom parts! Ready to design and build your own robot from scratch? All of the components are highly competitive and can be reused in your next build! GET YOUR KIT AT https://shop.teamwitchdoctor.com/products/camp-witch-doctor

  • BattleBots Destruct-A-Thon FAQ’s!

    BattleBots just premiered its new nightly live show in Las Vegas on February 3! You no longer have to wait for the TV film dates to get a chance to see your favorite robots in the BattleBox in person! You probably have some questions about this new live show, so here’s what we know! What is BattleBots Destruct-A-Thon? The official description from BattleBots.com: The world’s first daily robot-combat show, exclusive to Las Vegas and containing all the drama, action and destruction of the hit TV series. It’s an intense, fast-moving fight fest featuring famous robots that have delighted millions of fans all over the world, including bots like Witch Doctor, Kraken, Mammoth, HyperShock, Whiplash and more, as well as several new robots being specially created for this live experience. Some shows will even feature fights from rookie teams eager to try out for the next BattleBots World Championships, and existing BattleBots stars coming to test out their new robots ahead of the next TV taping. Can I watch it on TV? Nope, these fights will not be recorded to air on any channel. The only way to see the battles is to buy tickets to the Las Vegas venue. Which robots are in Destruct-A-Thon? While the lineup may change nightly and you likely won’t see every bot compete every night, there is a great variety of bots competing! From the current TV show, you may see Witch Doctor, HyperShock, Kraken, Malice Whiplash, and Nightmare. You’ll also see the return of some classic favorites such as Diablo, Ginsu, Tazbot, and Overkill. You can even see some all-new bots like Chopper! Will I be able to see the teams in Las Vegas too? While some teams are making occasional appearances at Destruct-A-Thon, it is not likely that you’ll see the usual teams from the TV show. We all have jobs and families that make it difficult to move to Las Vegas, so we’ve trained a new team to compete and fix our robots. That being said, each TV show team DID build the robots! Is that the REAL Witch Doctor? It looks a bit different! We built an all new Witch Doctor for this show, designed specifically to be able to battle every night! The changes make this Witch Doctor easier to repair, since it has to be ready to fight again so quickly. For example, the biggest change on Witch Doctor is that we designed it with a steel frame instead of our usual aluminum frame, since it’s a better choice for quick repairs. We’re also trying out some new things that we may end up implementing for the next TV show Witch Doctor! Are the battles real? Is the damage real? The battles are 100% real! The fights are not scripted at all, and all the damage you see from robots like HyperShock and Nightmare is all real damage! Here's a look at some of the damage to Witch Doctor from a single battle: Will the Destruct-A-Thon battles count toward the TV show robot’s records? Will the selection committee look at these fights as part of a robot’s history? BattleBots Destruct-A-Thon is entirely separate from the TV show and will not affect rankings or bot history in any way. This is a stand-alone event that is aimed at putting on a spectacular show, not necessarily winning the most battles. For example, you’re much more likely to see a bot unstick it’s opponent to keep a battle going, even if it means a loss for the team. The goal is the best robot fighting possible! Will new teams be able to compete at Destruct-A-Thon to prove themselves to the selection committee and increase their chances of getting on the TV show? Yes! BattleBots has said that it welcomes new teams to use Destruct-A-Thon as a proving ground. It may take some time, but we’re hoping to see new teams get some experience, and even established team trying out new ideas! How can I get more information and buy tickets? From Las Vegas Review Journal: “BattleBots: Destruct-A-Thon” opens Feb. 3 at BattleBox Arena at Caesars Entertainment Studios. Show times are 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with 3 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and noon on Sundays. Tickets are onsale Nov. 14. Prices range from $49 general-admission, with $150 family “bundles,” to $125 VIP packages where guests are allowed to view the robots and their teams up close before and after the show. https://battlebots.com/tickets/ Watch the official BattleBots Destruct-A-Thon promo here:

  • Top 32: Glitch or Mammoth?!

    I'd like to start by saying that we understand how heartbreaking it must have been for Glitch to forfeit their Top 32 fight. We feel for Glitch and wish it could've turned out differently. We've already gotten a lot of questions about that day, so here's some insight from our perspective. The battle was originally scheduled for the first session of the day, so we got there early and got WD ready to fight. Eventually, production let us know that Glitch needed more time to get ready so the fight would be pushed back. We reached out to Glitch to see how we could help. We were surprised to see their frame on the table with no wiring in it, and we started to realize this would be a longer delay than production had communicated. They explained that their armor was bent from a previous fight and they were working to get it straightened out enough to be able to reattach it. Knowing Gruff has all-steel construction, I asked them for advice and they recommended talking to the Lincoln Electric guys who had helped teams with similar issues. The battle kept getting pushed back throughout the day, a couple of hours at a time. At about 9:00pm, we heard Glitch was in the test box. Great news! We were hoping everything was ready to go, but we saw they were having issues spinning up their weapon. Electronics wizard Brian from Tantrum jumped in to help them dial in their controllers. At 9:30pm more prominent production staff started coming to see how things were going. Glitch was still having weapon spin-up issues. The filming session ends at 10pm, and the battle had to happen that night. Production told us that Glitch had 15 minutes to be ready, or they would substitute Mammoth in. At 9:45pm Glitch was still having weapon issues, and production made the call - Mammoth was officially back in the Top 32. We had 10 minutes to do our interview and get to the BattleBox. If you look behind me during the pre-fight interview, you can see our team changing our configuration at the same time. We removed the forks, swapped to our thicker rib armor, and re-weighed Witch Doctor. We were prepared to fight Glitch, and Mammoth is a very different robot. We normally study all of our opponent's previous fights and develop a strategy. The most prominent Mammoth match in our minds was when they defeated the number 3 seed Copperhead last season. Our ribs have catch points in the front and sides, which are a risk against Mammoth. Given more time, we would've cut them back to avoid this - but it was show time! A swap during the tournament had never happened, and no one wanted it to happen now. Production pushed the fight back to the last possible minute, teams jumped in to help where they could, and Glitch worked all day trying to get their robot ready. Glitch had an outstanding season and they should be proud of their robot and their impressive #9 seed. We can't wait to see them back in the BattleBox! We found out we might be fighting Mammoth instead of Glitch only 15 minutes before production made final call. We ran back to the pit to try to figure out our configuration and strategy for the very unusual Mammoth. This picture shows Mike and Chiri pretending to be Mammoth, to figure out which parts of Witch Doctor were most vulnerable. Our ribs work great as overhead armor, but they also provide a number of high catch points that could give Mammoth an advantage. We didn't have time to modify our rib armor to remove the catch points, and we considered removing them all together to avoid that risk. Removing the ribs would force us to compete underweight against a powerful lifter, so we decided instead to remove our forks to allow us to run our heavier rib armor. That way, our ribs would be less likely to bend if Mammoth was able to catch our ribs and throw us. Mammoth did an incredible job getting ready to fight on such short notice. We have so much respect for their team for designing such a unique and effective robot. You have to be ready for anything when you enter the BattleBox across from Mammoth!

  • What to Expect at a Live Filming of BattleBots

    In 2019 I attended all filming sessions with my husband, and we were 2 of the 4-5 people that were there every single day (shout-out to Barbara & Kirk!). Warning: it’s a lot! Even just attending one session can be daunting, let alone both in one day. While it’s absolutely exhilarating, it’s also exhausting. But I can promise you this: it’s wonderful and you’re gonna love it! The first thing I did in 2019 was buy my tickets. Facebook supporters have early access to the tickets for around two weeks before they’re open to the public. Unfortunately, there’s not a particularly easy way to buy multiple sessions if you don’t go the VIP route, which includes all of them. I know it’s a bit of a pain to battle the ticketing system, but once you’ve done that, you’re set. Yay! The gates to the parking lot of the filming location open exactly 90 minutes before filming begins. This may be adjusted with pit tours being available beforehand, but I’m not sure. Check your ticket! A line will start forming about 30 minutes before the parking lot opens; expect delays and be patient. Parking staff is amazing and will direct you on where to go. After you park, you’ll walk to a table where they’ll give you a wristband, then you’ll be in an area with food trucks, lines of people, and a tent with sign-making materials beneath it. Don’t get directly into line! Go to that tent and look at the tables; you’ll find a list of what teams are competing that session. I hope your favorite bot is on the list! Protip: screenshot the list with your phone so you can keep track while the session goes. After you’ve seen the list, either go and put away signs for teams not fighting that day, get some food, or find your line. The gates will open around one hour before filming, and your line will be escorted to the filming location. Enjoy the walk! You might pass teams who are arriving late. Say hi to them! Tell them they’re amazing. Shout that you love them! Maybe that’s just what I do... Anyway, once you get to the building, you’ll be told to not take pictures of the arena. You’ll be told that you can’t eat inside at your seat. You’ll be shown where the bathrooms are (yes, they’re outside!). You’ll be told that you can only have water in the stands. You’ll be handed a merchandise catalog that you can use to buy some sweet souvenirs. But really you’ll just be antsy to get inside. Some PAs will tell you no food or drink in the stands. However, the official rule is that you can have water at your seat. Don’t let a PA discourage you from water, it is 100% allowed at your seat. Some PAs will let you take a soda from the vending machine to your seat as well, but some will stop you. Godspeed. Say goodbye to your internet upon entering the building! I think some carriers may be able to get reception but I could never get anything to work. If you have children and want them to be entertained between matches, or you want to be entertained between matches, you’ll need to avoid internet-related distractions. This is kinda nice because it discourages you from posting any kind of spoilers after a really great match, but it can also be a bummer if you get bored easily. Inside, you’ll be led to the arena, past the merchandise area. There are some neat surprises on the way. The merch area is the only area inside where you can take photos! And there will absolutely be photo opportunities along the way with some really amazing robots on display. Protip: The PAs (production assistants) are generally lenient enough to allow you to take photos before things begin, while people are being seated. But don’t abuse their generosity to look the other way while you snap a selfie. As soon as things begin they will be watching for cameras while you’re in the stands. It’s their job to stop you from ruining things for others! Back to the merch area! You’re free to leave your line to go buy merch immediately, but I would recommend you go get your seat first. When you enter the building, a PA will hand you a merch catalogue to look at, too! It’ll even have an order form you can fill out and deposit in some boxes scattered around the arena. If you do this, your order will be ready for you after the session so you can easily pick it up. How nice! Along the way to your seat, a PA will offer you ear protection. Some of the robots are loud! I never found robot noise to warrant ear protection, though. Your mileage will obviously vary! Crowd noise can be a bit much, and sometimes the DJ really cranks the volume. My husband resorted to ear protection simply because of the DJ! I would definitely recommend it for kids, though. I saw a lot more children bothered by it than adults. When you finally get to the arena for the first time and see the set and the BattleBox, you’ll experience the first moment you definitely won’t forget. It’s an amazing moment seeing it all for the first time. Please try not to hold up the line snapping photos! I think that’s the only thing that’ll make a PA snap at you. Now: where do I sit?? There are seats on 3 of the 4 sides of the box, but the two big areas are what you’ll be looking at filling (unless you’re a tunnel ticket). On the side where you enter, you’ll see three tables up against the box: one is for Chris & Kenny, one is for the judges, and one is for production. This is the side to sit on if you DO NOT want to be on camera (minus the first few rows behind Chris & Kenny). Why? They don’t allot as many cameras for this side of the arena (exceptions being directly behind Chris & Kenny or directly behind the judges, or directly next to the tunnel). As you wrap around the Battle Box you’ll see the area where the teams stand during the battle, the buttons teams press for the hammers, and the tunnel entrance. You’ll be hurried past the BattleBots logo because they’ll be running camera lines through that area and thus want you to hurry past so they can work. You’re ultimately a set piece that is easily breakable and almost as expensive as those giant cameras, so they want to keep you both safe. The other side of the box is where you sit if you DO want to be on camera. There are usually 4-6 cameras on that side. And they’re the only thing obstructing your view of the box! No judges or announcers or production, just you, your many friends, and the robots. There are even crew members whose job it is to thoroughly clean the panels of the BattleBox so you have the clearest view possible! Around the top of the BattleBox are many large televisions that will show you footage from inside the box during the fights. Sometimes they’ll also show you old bot fights (if cleanup is taking a while), or Discovery commercials. Yes, there are commercials. No one likes them but Discovery pays the bills so we all have to bear with them. Now where are you going to want to sit? Honestly that’s entirely up to your own preferences. There are no “bad” seats, and everywhere will have advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what I experienced: Behind Chris and Kenny, you’ll get on camera more and get to hear what they’re saying, which will help you know what’s about to happen. You’ll also be asked to cheer more. They’ll ask your section to play along with what Chris and Kenny are talking about, so basically to laugh or clap or cheer. If you’re sitting here, be a good sport! Behind the judges is a pretty decent view and you’ll get to see more of them. If you sit right behind them and there’s a judge’s decision you might get shown on TV, too. They’re also right in the middle of the arena so they have a nice clear view to everything. Behind production you’ll have a good view of the arena, the teams and the tunnel. Teams will sometimes hand out stickers and other swag along the aisle that runs between the tunnel section and the production section. This is one of my favorite places to sit, on either side of the box! I love interacting with the teams—that’s my jam. You’ll have your own. Now you’ll sit and wait for things to start. Just kidding, you’ll probably be anxious and unable to sit still. You’ll go to the bathroom, to the merch area, to snap a photo, any number of things. Eventually you’ll hear production get on the intercom. Domo Arigatou Mr Roboto might play. That’ll mean it’s time to get in your seat! So go and get ready to see some robots fight! Protip: the seats are thin bleachers, do your butt a favor and bring a small cushion if you’re attending more than one session. If you do more than a couple, invest in a thick foam pad, like the kind used to save your knees while you’re kneeling and gardening. Stadium chairs would also work but are generally larger than the bleachers, and no one wants your seat in their limited foot space. Production will talk you through what’s going to happen and what’s expected of you as a videotaped audience member. Expect about one robot fight every 20 minutes. For one session, there’s generally 8-9 fights with one of them typically being a rumble. In 2020 they did away with rumbles so who knows what the future might bring. Remember, there’s a lot to do between fights for the production team, and for you! Watching them clean is one of my favorite things because I’m weird, but also morbid, so I love to see the poor robot guts. But in the 20 minutes there’s also introducing the next team, setting up commentary with Chris and Kenny, going to the bathroom, buying merch, and so on. During everything, you won’t be able to hear Chris and Kenny (because of something about audio feedback), so they’ll have a guy on a mic and a DJ try to lead you through what’s going on. If he says the next fight will be in X minutes, he usually means 2-3x that amount. Or at least that was our 2019 experience! They’ll also tell you when there’s just a few fights left. After the last fight of the session, please don’t rush out of your seat. A PA will direct you on when it’s time to leave. Once a PA says it’s ok, THEN you’re good to go. In 2019, they had teams come out after a session to do pictures and autographs with. Sometimes you’ll also get stickers or similar swag from those teams, too. Stop by and say hi! Or go buy/pick up your merch! Or proceed directly home. Either way, I hope you had fun. If you attend both sessions in one day, there are typically food trucks where you can grab a quick lunch before having to check in and get in line. Also, plan on being there about 10-12 hours. Of course, all of this is subject to change in the future, but now you hopefully have at least some idea of what to expect going forward. See you there!

  • I Build BattleBots

    I am an engineer and robot builder. You most likely didn’t hesitate to believe that statement, because you can’t see that I also happen to be a woman. My name is Andrea and I am captain of Team Witch Doctor on the TV show BattleBots, where we compete our 250lb robot against the best in the world. I’ve received quite a bit of attention as a female captain. Most of it has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. I’ve had the privilege to speak to all kinds of BattleBots fans from all walks of life. I always get the same question: “How did you decide to become an engineer?” As a woman, my answer is expected to hold some unique wisdom or untapped secret. I’ve never had a good response, because I don’t have a singular moment when I suddenly decided to be an engineer. I’ve been working on answering this question for a long time. No one has ever thrown their arms in the air and yelled that I don’t belong. I often reassure young girls who are anxious about entering the STEM community that my daily experience as a woman in STEM has truly been wonderful. The hardest part of being a woman in a STEM field is subtler than anyone imagines. Whenever I introduce myself as an engineer, I often get a surprised look and a “Really?” that I have to answer with evidence of my merit as an engineer. The comment section of our BattleBots posts are often sprinkled with doubt about whether my gender is the reason we were selected for the show, favored in a judges’ decision, etc. Every puzzled look instills doubt in my own abilities and is another reminder that I’m doing something that isn’t expected of me. Because of this reality, I’ve made a very conscious effort on BattleBots to “show” instead of “tell.” I avoid every interview question about being a female robot builder, and refocus on the robot and the tournament. There’s no better way to help change perceptions than by doing what I do best: building robots. Besides, young girls watching the show don’t need to be told what is right in front of them: If I can build 250lb combat robots, so can they. High school is a defining time for most kids, and the same is true for me. I struggled to choose a school and went to a slew of open houses trying to find the right fit. I found my answer at an unexpected place: Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, a small all-girls catholic school. The open house was run mostly by the students, with groups of girls exhibiting their classes and clubs. While walking down a hall, I heard all sorts of whirring, squealing, and thumping coming from the chemistry lab. The sounds became impressively louder as I opened the door to the classroom. I walked inside and found all the tables on their side, forming a sort of gladiator arena in the middle of the room. A student welcomed me while gripping a daunting remote controller that took both hands to operate. I quickly realized that she was controlling a hefty metal machine with shiny black tires and sharp steel teeth that was painted like an alligator. The girls introduced me to Gator, their 120lb combat robot, and answered all the questions I fired at them. By the time I walked out of that room, the open house was over and I hadn’t seen the majority of the school, but I knew that this was where I belonged. By the time it became obvious that an all-girl robotics team was unusual, I was too committed to doubt whether I belonged in this sport. It was empowering to see that I could imagine a design and then make it happen. The more I learned- CAD design, machining, welding- the more power I had to make better robots, so I decided to study biomedical engineering. After all, the human body is just another machine; an incredibly complex robot. I like to joke that I got my start breaking things (robots), and then went on to fix things (bones)! As a sophomore in college, I applied for my first engineering internship with no relevant work experience on my resume. Instead of leaving that section blank, I wrote about “Combat Robotics.” I was shocked that every single question during my interview was related to robotics. The hiring manager asked me what voltage I was running, what battery chemistry I selected, what motors specifications I chose. I was thrilled because I probably couldn’t answer any questions relevant to the position for which I was applying, but I could talk about robots all day. I still work for him many years later, so I've had a chance to ask him about that interview. It turns out that he had never met a young lady that had built robots. Once I was able to answer his questions, he hired me before I even left the interview room. I’ve spent the next 11 years designing and developing orthopedic trauma systems and I’m still, more often than not, the only woman in the room. Just a couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at the Girl Powered panel at VEX Worlds, which is the largest robotics competition in the world. In that room, I saw hundreds of young girls who not only build robots, but are succeeding at the highest levels of competition. For the first time since I had stepped out of my all-girl high school, I felt I had nothing to prove. Those girls didn’t once question if I was worthy of calling myself an engineer because they were already building robots themselves. If they could do it, then so could I. It was at that moment that I finally found my answer to the question that had stumped me so many times: “How did you decide to become an engineer?” I decided to become an engineer because I believed it was possible. I had people in my life that took the time to introduce me to engineering and encouraged me as I developed the most basic skills at my own pace. I learned to use power tools as a teenager, and I was never compared to boys that had been using them in their dad’s garage since they were old enough to walk. My mom never told me to stop welding when I got home from the shop with dirty hands and tiny burn holes in my high school uniform. Most importantly, any failures along the way were an expected part of any learning process; they were never attributed to my gender. Contrary to long-held stereotypes, boys aren’t naturally better builders than girls. The difference starts as toddlers, when they’re handed construction toys while we’re handed dolls. As a kid, I would beg my mom to say I was a boy at the McDonald’s drive thru so that I would get a Transformer robot in my Happy Meal instead of a My Little Pony plush toy (as I hid in the back seat so the drive-thru attendant wouldn’t catch my lie). It’s no surprise that boys often have a head start on STEM skills, but it’s been my experience that, given a little encouragement, girls have no trouble quickly closing this gap. Like most kids, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be- a doctor, an artist, an architect, even president! I was already looking at colleges the first time I was told I could be an engineer. I am an engineer in everything I do; my career, my hobbies, my lens of the world. I was an engineer before I knew what engineering meant- as a little kid always finding ways to make things with my hands. And yet, I almost missed my calling because I didn’t know what to call it. You can’t dream to be something you don’t know exists. At Season 5 of BattleBots in 2020, only 6 of the 62 teams in the tournament were led by women. While men had 56 shots at the championship, the world’s opinion of whether women can build BattleBots was based on the performance of these 6 teams. The gender gap in STEM fields can be a daunting hurdle, especially as a beginner. While I used to be discouraged that strangers constantly needed convincing to believe my merit as an engineer, I now look forward to these opportunities. I’m proud to be the first female robot builder to meet a skeptical BattleBots fan, if answering their questions means they’ll have higher regard for the next woman they meet in a STEM field. Each woman in STEM experiences the honor and burden of being a “first.” Everything is impossible up until a “first” proves it’s not. I don’t have to be the first to fly across the Atlantic or launch into space to have the power to change the status quo. All I have to do – all any of us have to do – is encourage girls when they show interest in STEM activities, and fan that spark until the flame is strong enough to light its own path. It will be a brighter future for all of us. Soon, the next generation will be faced with the same question I struggled to answer for so long: “How did you decide to become an engineer?” I hope part of their answer will be that BattleBots showed them it was possible. Published for International Women's Day 2021

  • From Behind the Tunnel

    The arena looms dark and menacing in the quiet hours before the matches. Empty bleachers framing the sides and black drop cloths hanging overhead add to the feeling of dread. As you stand a couple car lengths away, right at the mouth of the tunnel, and admire the view your mind can’t help but wander a bit. In a few short hours the object you’ve spent endless months working on will go head to head against a robot universally feared for its destructive capabilities. You swallow hard. The arena is empty. There’s no need for the crew right now so you get to admire the view by yourself. Your eyes drift down from the upper rafters, past the light riggings and briefly settle on the eight-foot door that marks the entrance to this beast. To the left is the first hammer station and a few feet beyond that the driver stations. All told, the arena must be more than fifty feet wide from where you stand. It’s much larger than you thought it would be. The ramp looks like it would be perfect to display a Jeep trying to climb a mountain. The secret fear of watching your robot tumble off the cart as you push it up that ramp snaps into clear focus in your mind. There’s pride in being destroyed within the arena. Dropping your robot off your cart while trying to get up the ramp itself? Not so much. So you take a moment to gauge the distance here, between the tunnel and the ramp; maybe a couple car lengths and enough for a decent running start. You’ll have time to do a quick wave to the crowd. There’s the tunnel length as well, though nobody but the camera will see you in there. Really though, you just want to take this moment to admire the view. You’ve spent these past few months working every spare moment on your bot. You’ve invested time, money, sweat and maybe even a bit of blood into bringing this dream to life. In a few hours you’ll be lined up here, at the back of this tunnel with all the lights, noise and crowd cheering for you. Yet it’s still hard to believe, standing in this spot and looking at this dark arena surrounded by these empty bleachers. This is the tunnel you’ll walk through. And the dreaded ramp. You’ll walk your robot into the arena and over into the red square, lifting the bot off the cart the way you’ve done a dozen times for testing. You already know how you’ll stand as Faruq introduces your robot for the first time. It’s all so perfect in your mind that the fight itself is an afterthought. You slowly make your way up to the arena but you don’t go in: it just doesn’t feel right with the lights off, almost like a giant coffin. Instead you wander to the drivers station and look into the future. Into the box as it stands just before a fight, when all the lights are off except for the starting square colors and the starting tree. You’ve seen it a thousand times on TV, reenacted it thousands more in your mind. All your focus is on those yellow lights turning green and the three minutes that follow. There’s an electric feel to the air. You imagine this must be what it’s like to be a rock star right before going out on stage. Music beats through the air and you can’t tell if the thumping you feel in your chest is your heart or the bass. Lights blare to life and scan the faces in the crowd just visible beyond the tunnel: packed bleachers, homemade signs waving, and even an inflatable gator briefly flying through the air. The crowd is a living beast, satiated only by the robotic carnage they are witnessing. You wait near the rear of the tunnel, unable to see the fight about to begin. As Faruq makes his introductions the crowd comes alive. Cheers for the Red Square followed by competing cheers for the Blue Square. A hushed anticipation as the light tree blinks yellow, yellow, green and another sudden explosion of excited cheers. You can feel the flow of the match without eyes, listening to the audience grow more intense as the two robots within angle for position. A loud bang followed by the briefest moment of hush and a rancorous explosion from the crowd indicates something devastating must have happened. And as the referee counts down the crowd joins in chants of “three”, “two”, “one” before offering a final round of applause to the victor. Your focus wavers as the drivers are being interviewed. Your thoughts circle back around to the tunnel, the illuminated fog creeping slowly out of it, the pulsing of the crowd and look of concentration both your teammates and opponents share. Nobody is speaking as everyone is lost in their own thoughts. The months of work on the verge of paying off. All the design arguments and build challenges, the compromises and knowledge gained. The friend’s birthday you missed, and the vacation time used. The walk through the tunnel. The roar of the crowd. The lights and the cameras, the introduction by Faruq. Waving to the crowd and shaking the other driver’s hand. Finally, after all this time and everything you’ve gone through to be here, hitting that “Ready” button. A lifetime of dreams about to come true. It’s your turn to shine. Your turn to walk through that tunnel to show the world what you’re made of. No matter what happens once the box is locked, and the lights are on; now it’s robot fighting time!

  • Fan Builds Animatronic Skeleton Bird

    My Name is Ben Ryherd (@ryherdmakes on Instagram). I’ve been a huge fan of Battlebots since the Comedy Central days, and I was only 9 when it went off the air. When the show returned in 2015 on ABC everything felt right again with the world... Following the 2015 season, 3 teams sponsored by Solidworks (Bite Force, Lock Jaw and Icewave) released their full CAD models of their bots as a case study. I downloaded them, remodeled all of the pieces and scaled them down to create 3D printed models. My interactions with Andrea and team Witch Doctor began when I reached out about making a model of the 2017 Witch Doctor. Being an engineer and a huge fan of Battlebots, I reached out to Andrea to see if there was anything I could help the team with. Being based out of Southwest Missouri, I assumed there wouldn’t be much I could do to help, but was pleasantly surprised when she mentioned that they had always wanted to make the bird on Mike’s hat animatronic, but never seemed to be able to find the time. I definitely had the mechanical experience, comfort with RC Hobby Servos and had dabbled in coding for Arduino so I quickly snatched up the incredibly unique opportunity and agreed to help. Receiving the hat was pretty surreal. It’s not quite like a movie prop, but considering I like BattleBots more than any movie, it was incredible just to be in its presence. I had originally planned to mount the servos under the top lid of the hat and run small rigid wire out of holes in the hat up to the wings and possibly jaw of the bird, but once the 12.5 gram metal servos I had ordered for the project had arrived, I realized I had enough room to actually pack them into the bird itself. I had a lot of experience with RC servos and wanted to use them so that I could hook up my RC transmitter and puppet the bird in real time. The problem with this plan is that Arduinos don’t handle multiple PWM inputs very well, so I had to get creative on how I would “Record” the movements to allow automated “Playback” as one of the few requirements of the hat is that it does not require any intervention to make it move other than plugging it in. Arduinos can however, read analog values pretty quickly and easily. I opened the servos and soldered another wire to the wiper of the potentiometer used for position feedback. This meant that the voltage on that wire would vary between 0-5v depending on the servo’s position. I then installed a footswitch to the Arduino so that I could press with my foot to “Start Recording” and then let go to “Stop Recording” leaving both hands free to puppet all 4 degrees of freedom of the bird. I also switched the servo controls over to the receiver matched to my transmitter. The characterization was used to work out the real-time analog values being read in, and turn them into the appropriate driving angle to replicate the motion. Those angles were then output formatted to look like an array so all I had to do was copy and paste that array back into the base code to save each “Sequence”. This meant that I didn’t need to add any hardware RAM to be able to store the long sequences. With some careful trimming with a hobby knife and a rotary tool I was able to clear out enough room to fit 3 servos inside the ribcage and another one inside the head. The servo in the head would open and close the mouth, a servo in the middle would turn the head via a carbon fiber shaft running through the newly hollowed out neck region and the remaining two servos would actuate the wings independently. Both wings were fastened with a single screw where the shoulder pivot would be so that they were poseable in the original plastic model. Drilling out the holes for the screws in the wings themselves left enough clearance for a low-ish friction hinge, no additional hardware needed there. Linkages for the two wings and the jaw were scavenged from a partially damaged rotor-head of an RC helicopter (the ball-end rods that tie the servos to the swashplate). Before closing everything up I drilled holes in the eyes and inserted a 3mm LED in each with the appropriate resistor to run off the 5v power to the Arduino. A Little epoxy putty and some hot glue secured the servos and enclosed the head and ribcage. I added black heatshrink and mesh wire-sheathing to help hide the wires and ran them all in a bundle out of the bottom of the bird’s ribcage. This wire bundle would then run out of the bottom of the ribcage down into the hat where the control and power electronics were housed. The assembly was finished by fastening a 3D printed plate to the underside of the lid of the hat and mounting the Arduino, connecting wires and zip-tying the feet to the hat lid. For fun I even 3D Printed a hat for the bird that matched the hat it was standing on, packaged the hat up and shipped it to Andrea just in time for it to go in the crate with the bot and tools. After it shipped, I felt it needed at least another couple layers of bird-hat-bird etc. I designed a bird skeleton that could be printed flat and formed with heat from a lighter into a 3D shape, then designed and printed a hat for the miniature bird, and that had a little white bit on the top to portray yet another bird, details you’ll have to look really close to see, at least while it stayed attached. If I were to do this again, I’d probably cut out the RC Transmitter and build a 3D printed armature with potentiometers in the right places so I could puppet a similar skeleton and be able to cut out the need for customizing the servos with the 4th analog wire. Other than that I’m very pleased with how the whole project turned out and seeing it on TV was just so fulfilling. Watch a video of the build at https://youtu.be/KAgI1eVC16I

  • A Rookie on the Inside

    The following is an attempt to capture the highlights of what it’s like to be a BattleBots rookie with Team Witch Doctor. The experience was much more than what’s written here, but these are definitely the most impactful parts for me. I first met Mike and Andrea from Witch Doctor in Detroit, MI during the 2017 Power Racing Series (PRS) held at the Detroit Maker Faire. Our mutual friend, Jason (Tantrum), had invited them to check out the madness and add them to our Lazy Gecko racing team. I did my best not to flood them with questions as I felt I had to “play it cool” in front of these people that have very interesting backgrounds and hobbies. Towards the end of our first race there was talk of getting the Lazy Gecko crew down to the next PRS race at Maker Faire in Orlando, FL. That’s where I really started to get to know Mike and Andrea. After the first day of racing in Orlando, Mike and Andrea asked about my interest in competing on BattleBots. At that point in time I never would have imagined that I would have an opportunity to do something like that. Much like committing to the Orlando race, I jumped at the opportunity. I had only talked with Mike and Andrea over a couple days while hanging out at the track, but I knew I had met some good people. From there, we coordinated with the whole team through group calls to hand out sub-tasks to each member. My first task was to design a controller to interface to the fire system Paul had been working on. Paul and I passed some designs back and forth and I set out to make the fire barrel. I met most of the Witch Doctor team in person during a build weekend marathon at their MakeMIA Makerspace in Miami, FL. The two main objectives of the weekend were to test out the prototype fire barrel and get most of the robot put together. I had a major case of imposter syndrome when I arrived, as I had only competed in a smaller, cardboard-based combat robot tournament once before. What did I know about building a 250 lb mayhem machine? When I arrived at the Witch Doctor shop in Miami after my flight I jumped at whatever I could help with. I ended up tapping holes for about 5 hours that first night. I had my old electrical mentor’s voice in my head telling me “Don’t you mess up my threads!’’ The next day I started out helping Chiri, our chief of all-things-spray-paint, with prepping parts to paint. The entire weekend I got to find out more about these new friends and I also got a glimpse of what was to come with us hanging out for two weeks straight during BattleBots filming. After a couple of months, I met back up with Witch Doctor on location to film the show. It was impressive walking into the pits for the first time and seeing a visible fog indoors because the building was so massive. It took me a couple days to adjust to being in the place I had seen on TV for so long. In those first couple days stumbling around trying to get my feet under me without people noticing, I started to learn the cadence of the competition. I learned what time we arrived, what gets worked on first, what isn’t a big deal and what IS a big deal in terms of damage on the bot, how the lunch system works, where the cleaner restrooms were, when matches where on, who to gab with, and that Andrea always has a good idea of what is going on, whether it’s with our team or the show schedule. There were moments when we were focused on the robot and time flew by, and other moments that felt like an eternity because we were just hanging out and waiting for something to do once the robot was put back together. The time between matches was something that stood out to me the most. The closest experience I’ve had to BattleBots is 10 years of First Robotics Competition (FRC) experience as a student and mentor. In FRC, your turn-around time from match to match could be 8 minutes if you were unlucky, or up to 45 minutes or sometimes even longer. At BattleBots, you would have maybe a match per day until the end tournament picked up its pace, at which point you’d be fighting multiple times a day. It took a while to come out of spectator mode and realize that I was helping make something I’ve always enjoyed watching on TV. It hit me that I was there on the ground, helping make repairs, reassembling, filing, and cleaning off one of the most recognizable robots in the tournament. And I still struggle with that realization to this day. When you’re finally queued for a match, you get to sit in a section of seats almost underneath the audience, but still behind them. You get a monitor with a feed of the match, and you feel the energy of the fans and the bots that collide in the box. While waiting for your match, you sit with your opponent who’s in the next match with you. I don’t know what I expected, but I was caught off-guard by how friendly the teams were. I started to get a good sense of the community that ties the bot builders together. Most of the teams have been competing with each other for over 10 years, and they always run into each other at events. This made matches more interesting. I got to see the friendships before the matches, the hard competitive drive during the match, and the camaraderie after the results and the cameras panned away. For one of the matches, I got the chance to operate the arena hammers. You get a giant red button to press and the hammers fall. There’s a bit of a delay, but knowing you got to influence the match - even a tiny bit - was amazing. My 9-year-old self was cheering me on every time the hammer connected with the opposing robot. At the end of the day, the Witch Doctor team always ate as a family. And like most families, choosing where to eat was always interesting. I would help pick out restaurant options and find something on the menu that each person would probably eat. For me, food is a way to experience a new location and I try to pick restaurants that I can’t experience back at home. (Rick’s Food Reviews in a later issue will cover all the places we ate and where I would go back). When I’m asked “What do you do on Team Witch Doctor?’’ it’s hard for me to come up with something other than “I spectate an amazing group of people as they turn their passion into reality, and occasionally I add some small projects into the mix.” From everything I’ve been lucky enough to do with Team Witch Doctor, becoming a part of the VooDoo family has got to be the best part. Their straightforwardness and crisp feedback is refreshing, and if you can handle the momentum of the feedback you’ll ultimately get to a better solution. I think this philosophy is applicable not only to engineering but to the continuous improvement of the human experience. I know that it’s helped me. Watch a video of a Witch Doctor build day at https://youtu.be/d2xW6OhYkoo

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