the evolution of technology on the example of the battle robots show BattleBots

Tournament co-founder Greg Munson on the technology that has changed robot combat.

The other day on the portal Spectrum In an interview with one of the founders and executive producers of Battlebots, Greg Munson, he talked about how 20 years of technological progress has affected robot competition. The interview turned out to be very interesting not only for those who are in the subject of fighting, but also for those who follow the development of technology. We share our translation with you, and you leave in the comments your vision of how the robot fighting industry can develop further.

What technological changes can be called the most significant in these 20 years?

Greg Munson: Probably the biggest change has to do with batteries. Battlebots first aired on ComedyCentral in 2000, I believe. It’s been 22 years. The first participants used car batteries. Then nickel-cadmium became popular. But it is lithium batteries, which can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, that have drastically affected the weight-to-power ratio. Today you can make fast rotating discs, bars, beams or drums that will literally destroy the enemy robot.

The second is the improvement of electronic speed controllers for motors. Back in those days, we assembled the Bombmachine robot. In addition to the gel battery, which took up about a third of the total weight, it had a big old Vantex controller with a huge heatsink. Controllers are now smaller and more efficient. They handle a much higher current and do not explode. They have more technical stuffing, so a dedicated team member can monitor the heat level and, for example, determine when to turn off the gun. We see this a lot during the show as they spin incredibly fast in preparation for an attack. And then they remove the gun, and the audience thinks: “He’s finished.” But no, they just let it cool down, because whoever is monitoring the heat said to the operator, “Hey, it’s hot. The regulator shows me that the robot has warmed up. You have to wait five seconds.” Like this. And this is a huge plus for the strategy.

That is, instead of a unidirectional signal from the control panel, the teams now have a tool for obtaining telemetry data?

GM: This is happening more and more, and teams like Ribbot are taking advantage of it. Under their influence, others follow the same path – it’s great. An additional array of data during the battle is very important.

What other technologies have contributed to significant change?

GM: CAD is probably one of the most significant technological breakthroughs since the 90s. In the early days of Battlebots, many teams used pencil and paper or small wooden prototypes. In those days, only the most elite and advanced teams used the early versions of Solidworks or Autodesk. Actually, we’ve been besieged by CAD companies to get more creators to use CAD. In those days, if you were building a robot without a CAD, you had to think pragmatically: first the functionality, then the form. Therefore, many robots looked like boxes on wheels with a tool on top. This is easy to draw on paper and assemble. And now CAD is a given. High school students create designs using CAD. Once you have a CAD program, you can already play with the shape and create robots like HyperShock – it seems that there is not a single right-angled detail.

CAD technology helps to create robots with their own “face”, which is ideal for TV shows. We want the audience to think: “Yes, this is HyperShock, my favorite!” Thanks to silhouettes, shapes and inscriptions, they are immediately visible – unlike unpainted aluminum boxes.

But we quickly realized: if the battery is on fire in the workshop – smoke, that’s all – then this will not work.

When Anouk Wipprecht, a FashionTech designer, wrote about her experience of participating, she emphasized that teams must follow fairly strict safety rules. This is especially true for batteries: they are stored and charged in a separate area where participants bring their robots before the fight. How did you come up with these rules?

GM: Partly from the principle of “need teaches all,” partly from the understanding that lithium batteries are unstable. We have very talented guys in the team, they help with the rules. There are electrical engineers and mechanical engineers. They find out about technical problems before everyone else notices. We had emergency signals from the very beginning – because lithium can catch fire, and it still catches fire. At first, we had an ordinary sand bucket and special fire extinguishers on the sides of the arena and in the workshop where the participants repair the robots. Each row had a bucket of sand and a protocol for the proper and safe disposal of batteries. But we quickly realized: if the battery is on fire in the workshop – smoke, that’s all – then this will not work. So we quickly moved from that to a separate recharging area.

Batteries light up, but this does not happen in the workshop, but in the recharging area. And this is a huge plus, because we know for sure how to act. Employees are always ready to put out the fire and eliminate the consequences. In addition, we have a zone for cooling the batteries after the battle. Batteries have given out huge amounts of energy, they are hot, some are smoking. A full inspection is being carried out. After the battle, you can not immediately take the robot to the workshop. We need to send it to the cooling zone. It’s outside, there are fans, it’s cool. The safety inspector carefully checks the batteries to make sure that they do not catch fire or start to smoke. If everything is in order, the inspector allows them to cool and stand for 10-15 minutes. After that, the robots can be taken to the recharging area, removed and recharged the battery, and then returned to the repair. If something is wrong with the battery, it is disposed of in accordance with all the rules.

Technology has become more flexible. How to prevent participants from agreeing on a few optimal design decisions when all robots look the same?

GM: We fight it all the time. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Much is laid down in the refereeing rules, in the criteria. We edited the rules many times because the creators like to put prying wedges or plates on robots. It is very logical, because you can pry the enemy from below and hit with a weapon or throw him up. Okay, but if you’re just hooking him from below the whole fight, is that aggressive? Is this damage? Previously, we were more strict: if you just hook the enemy for the whole fight, then it counts against you. Now it’s not so tough. Now, if you only hook the enemy, then you don’t lose much on this. But that way you will never win in the Aggression category.

Because the wedge will beat anyone. We’ve seen a lot of finals where a big tough spinner went up against a robot with a wedge. Wedges are always effective: they are simple robots and can easily win a fight. Therefore, we are constantly updating the scoring rules for wedges and the referee’s instructions. We want to see knockouts, so we require the weapon to be active. You can’t just put a wedge. It should be a full-fledged active weapon that can cause damage to the enemy. You can’t just screw a household drill on top. We realized that we needed this requirement in order to stimulate development. Now there is another trend: vertical spinners seem to dominate.

We do not need monotonous robots, so we allow you to make changes right during the tournament. Some fans lashed out at us: “Why did you let them add this thing in the middle of the tournament?” Because that’s what we want. We want to see ingenuity and ingenuity. We want to break the notion that “vertical spinners always win”. We want to see different fights because otherwise people will get bored. Even when we see big damage – and it always tickles the nerves – if it’s the same damage endlessly, then everything becomes like explosions from the movie “Charlie’s Angels” – we have seen this 100 times. Today, many robots are modular, they can change the vertical spinner to a horizontal cutter and so on. All this will continue to develop. If you ask me the same question in 20 years, I will answer again that the struggle continues!

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