Getting Started

Make sure to read the “Read Me First” disclaimer on the Home Page before you proceed.

Introduction: “What exactly am I doing?”

This is the first and fundamental question. It is also one we sometimes skip right over when starting a new sport or hobby. The thrill of jumping right into the details of “which motor has the most power” or “which weapon design causes the most damage” can be really alluring. Especially when fueled by the excitement of watching your favorite 250 pound bot slug it out in the arena; in a fight for life and death! (“Two bots enter, one bot leave!”)

That excitement and passion is important; so hold onto it. It is exactly why you are here starting your bot journey.

But, before we get in the arena, we need to sort out the what. What do you do next in order to actually compete?

In this section, we will outline the basics you should know before picking up a screwdriver and/or plasma torch. Once you feel comfortable with the basics, please continue to the other resource sections. Each contains more advanced material to assist you along the way.

With that, let’s get started!

There are two main aspects to any robotic sport.

  1. Building a bot
  2. Operating and competing with a bot

Building a Bot

99% of robots in competitions can best be thought of as custom built remote control cars. Imagine going to your local toy store and buying a RC sports car or truck. Now, go home and tape a wedge on the front. BOOM, you’ve just made a combat robot. (That was easy!) In truth, it can be that easy. You may have a hard time winning competitions, but it can and has been done by builders before you.

Quick Tip: Go purchase a cheap RC car, open it up, and see how it all works. As a kid, I loved taking things apart and this is a great way to learn what the “guts” look like.

What is inside the RC car? – Unless you bought the super fancy model, it should look something like this:

Basic components inside a standard RC toy car.

Okay, now what exactly is all this stuff used for?

  • Battery – Provides the electricity (power) your RC car will need to do anything other than sit there looking pretty.
  • On/Off Switch – Turns the flow of electricity from the battery on and off. These are just smaller versions of a light switch in your bedroom.
  • Drive Motor – Most RC cars have one motor that spins to turn the rear wheels either forwards or backwards. The motor is connected to the battery for power to turn as well as the Remote Control Receiver so it knows when, which direction, and how fast to turn.
  • Servo – A servo is basically an electric motor with some extra parts added which allow it to turn more precisely than the drive motor. In an RC car, this is also connected to the battery and the Remote Control Receiver. Its job is to turn the angle of the front wheels either left or right. Your regular car steers in a very similar way.
  • Remote Control Receiver & Electronic Speed Controller(s)Sometimes these are one unit and sometimes they are separate. The “Remote Control Receiver” receives radio signals from the RC transmitter. These are used to tell the drive motor and servo what to do. However, in some cases, the “Remote Control Receiver” sends these command signals to “Electronic Speed Controllers” instead of the driver motor and servo directly. In this case, the speed controllers use these command signals to tell the drive motor and servo what to do. Think of these two components combined like the brain of the car. They listen for commands, interpret them, and tell the car what do to.
  • Remote Control Transmitter – Transmits radio signals to the RC receiver. This is what you hold in your hand. When you press forward, it tells the receiver you want the car to go forward.

Key Lesson – In order to have a functioning robot to bring to any competition, you will need to have a battery, on/off switch, drive motor(s), a servo or some other way to steer/turn, a remote control receiver paired with a remote control transmitter. As mentioned above, you may also need electronic speed controllers to help your remote control receiver move the bot.

How is all that stuff connected?

The below pictures will illustrate how each of the main components in the RC car example are connected together. Connections are made using electrical wire, soldering, and/or wire connectors. (See the specific section on each of these topics for more detail.)

Keep in mind, this is a basic diagram only. The important think to remember here is how standard DC electrical power (neg/pos connections) and signals (commands only) are connected. Your own bot may be more complex as you learn more!

Operating and competing with a bot

This is the actual driving and operating skills used in a robotic sports competition.

In most situations, your bot cannot drive itself! Therefore, you should practice operating your bot to make sure you can effectively compete when the time comes to step in the arena.

How much should I practice?

Think of this like training for any other sporting event. Set a schedule based on the time you have and what you think you will need to prepare for the event.

You can start with 30 minutes once or twice a week and see how that works. Either increase or decrease your time from there.

Key Lesson: It is critical to spend time practicing operation of your bot before a competition; in order to be successful. Some of the best competitive teams have drivers who spend hours each week practicing!

What should I focus on during practice?

First, focus just on the driving of your bot. Ask yourself:

  • How fast can I start, drive forward or backward, and then stop?
  • How quickly can I turn left or right?
  • Can I drive in a circle consistently without hitting any obstacles?
  • Overall, how maneuverable is my bot?
  • How does my driving change if my batteries are low?
  • How does my driving change if I am missing one or more wheels?

Second, focus on your bot design performance. Ask yourself:

  • Is the bot moving as I expected?
  • Can I drive straight for several feet?
  • Are there potential problems with my bot design that are now only showing up when I drive?
  • Is my bot leaning in one direction or another when I move?
  • Is my weapon touching the arena floor when I don’t want it to?
  • How does driving with your weapon activated change how well you can drive? (crucial question for spinner bots)

Third, focus on strategy for your event. Ask yourself:

  • What type of competition is it? (Bot combat, hockey, racing, etc.)
  • How do I use my weapon most effectively?
  • What are the weak points on my bot that I should keep away from my opponent’s weapon?
  • What might happen if I run into the wall of the arena? (This is especially important for any bot with a spinning weapon. If you hit the wall, it isn’t are!)
  • What is my attack strategy if my weapon breaks or stops operating?
  • What types of bots is my bot best suited to fight? (Every bot has at least one strength and a one weakness. Make sure you know yours before you get in the arena.)

Quick Tip: Use cardboard boxes or other obstacles in your practice sessions as targets.

Where can I practice?

If you have access to an actual bot arena nearby, ask the owners if you can use it for practice. This is the most ideal option.

Most of us don’t have access to a real bot arena. Not a problem! Just find a flat, clean surface to drive on that is similar to a textured bot arena floor. A garage or concrete space is ideal. Even a driveway or laundry room floor can work. Be careful using hardwood floors, as you could leave permanent scratches.

You should give yourself at least a 4 ft (1.2 meters) square to move around. Otherwise you won’t have enough space to realistically practice. (Almost all arena’s start with a size of 8 ft by 8ft.)

Do not try to drive on carpet, grass, or dirt; as these conditions are nothing like a true bot arena floor. They could also damage your wheels or electronics.

Quick Tip: If your bot has an active weapon (spinner, hammer, blades, etc.) do not allow the weapon to be powered unless you are practicing behind proper safety barriers. (A Lexan plastic enclosure or “mini-arena” for example.) Even bots of small size can cause serious harm to a person if proper precautions are not taken. Safety first!

Why do I sometimes see two people operating a bot?

In most cases, there is only one bot operator/driver. (Especially for small to medium sized bots.) If you see two people operating the bot, it is likely that one of them is focused on driving while the other is operating the weaponry.

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