Monday, 19 September 2016

Battle Bots or Robot Wars at Home - First Battles

Eventually we'd like our robots to have some fancy weapons and flippers, but we're going to get their in stages and learn as we go. First we decided on a competition where you have to knock a LEGO figure off an opponent's robot to win a point.

For this first round we made all the robots identical so that the focus is on the driving. See building the robot base to find out how we selected and assembled our basic robots.

Attaching LEGO weapons and passengers

We decided to use LEGO to create our first weapons and LEGO minifigures as the passengers that must be knocked off. We have lots of regular and Technic LEGO so this was the obvious choice. (Note that we didn't use our LEGO Mindstorms or Power Functions components for this project as it would be too expensive to create four robots and harder to create custom code to control the robots.)

The app designed for the car doesn't have a way to control additions such as a weapons servo (though the hardware does have room for this) so we made the decision to go with a non-motorized weapon initally.

My kids designed a hooked weapon that is designed to be able to pull a LEGO figure off the robot.

We used cable ties to securely attach LEGO blocks to the front and back of the robot car. This means that we can easily experiment with different kinds of weapon and target. Finding a good way to do this took some experimentation and lots of design-thinking.

We're not sure yet what materials our final robot designs will use, but LEGO is great for prototyping.

Controlling the Robots

We're using the DoItCar app to control the robots initially, we intend to have custom controls eventually but we wanted to get a better understanding of how we'd want those controls to work.

It was really hard to control the robots precisely with the DoItCar app, each move forwards, backwards, left or right is large and you need to use the pause button to cut it short. This makes it very hard to point in a particular direction.

As it usual with cheap motors going in a very straight line is difficult so you have to compensate for this in your driving.

The connection to the robots seemed pretty reliable, the connection did drop once during a battle but it was possible to reconnect quickly and not be penalised for being immobilised!

The Arena

It's summer so we were able to battle outdoors. We have an enclosed patio area which acted as a ready-made arena. We don't have any pits, flippers or house robots yet so it was just an empty arena. Roboteers can stand outside the arena and get a good view. 

The robots aren't weather proof so we'll need an indoor solution at some point. I don't want my floors and furniture scratched so this will involved some thought!

My kids were very happy to do the '3 2 1 Activate' countdown. We're going to need a siren on a timer to indicate the end of a battle. 

The Competition

The main goal at this point is to get some experience controlling the robots and to get some ideas on the kind of controls and weapons we'd like the robots to have eventually. 

The robots were all the same so we were really testing driving skill with some randomness thrown in due to it being pretty much impossible to accurately control the robots with the current app. 

We played in pairs initially gaining a point for each win. Each pair had three battles to give a bit more time to get used to the controls and to reduce the random factor. 

We then played off the winners for first and second place, and the losers for third and fourth place. We needed a final battle to resolve a tie for third place. All you need to know is that I won :-) No letting the kids win in this house!

We were pretty pleased with how our robot battle went for a first attempt. The LEGO all stayed in place, except of course the figures which were intended to be knocked off.

We went easy on the robots, pausing if they got stuck and not trying to push the other robot too much. We didn't want to do damage on the first outing. The robots were all working at the end.

What Next?

We'll probably do a couple of things in parallel:
  1. We'll think about how the controls should work. The kids have some thoughts on this already. 
  2. We'll let everyone build their own unique weapons and then have another competition. (We'll add servos to control weapons in the future, but for now they'll be unpowered.)

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