It's been almost 13 years since BattleBots was last on the air, but its time in the spotlight has come again. In one week, ABC will begin airing the 6th Season in the 9:00 PM EST timeslot on Sunday for a total of six episodes.
This competition will be a little different from prior years, even ignoring the massive improvement in component quality (13 years of battery development is a hell of a thing) and techniques in each robot's design and construction. For one, only one weight class will be involved: all the robots will be 250 lbs (around the middle of the old Super-Heavyweight class), or in the case of Multibots add up to a maximum of 250 lbs. Second, wedges have been effectively banned from the competition
: all competitors were required to have some kind of active weapon on their robot in order to compete. That ensures no rounds will be purely pushing matches between metal bricks, at least not unless they destroy each other's weapons first. That raises the question: what kind of weapons will we be seeing?
Weapons can be broken down into two classes: spinning and non-spinning.Spinning Weapons
- Bars - Not unlike a lawnmower blade, these are relatively simple beams of metal spun on an axle. They're relatively inexpensive to make, and have larger striking surfaces than most other spinning weapons. The primary downside of a spinning bar is they have low Moments of Inertia [MOI] compared to ring or disk shapes, so you would have to spin them faster to store an equal amount of kinetic energy as a more optimal shape.
- Disks - This is your traditional saw-blade shape, but it should be noted that saws have a distinct disadvantage in that they tend to push whatever they cut away from them every single time a tooth hits it. This means conventional saws are usually only found on wedges or robots with some kind of gripping mechanism, and the saw always rotates counter-clockwise to pull the other robot back into the blade. This adds a lot of complexity, so most disks are a basic flat circle with one or two teeth on the exterior, total. These take advantage of the fact that each strike of a tooth will push a target, and are more intended to smash or kick than cut, hence why many of the teeth used for such weapons have a broad, flat striking surface. Conventional disks have two major disadvantages: they have to be aimed more precisely due to their thin cross-section, and they experience more gyroscopic forces that hinder maneuverability.
- Drums - Drums are a subset of disks, as the cross-section of their weapons are indeed ring-shaped. However, they trade a large external diameter for a much wider weapon, making them much easier to control (less gyroscopic precession issues) and much easier to land solid hits on an opponent.
- Shell Spinners - The first and most notable instance of a shell spinner was Adam Savage & Jaime Hyneman's Blendo, where they made a robot whose entire dome-shaped exterior armor plating was spun to several thousand RPM and used both as defense and offense. These are highly destructive and durable robots (if built properly), but are notoriously expensive to make up to modern standards.
- Translational Drift/Full Body Spinners - The pinnacle of horizontally-aligned spinning weapon robots, these use the entirety of their mass as a weapon. Before the common availability of microcontrollers and cheap sensors brought on by the proliferation of smartphones, these were actually surprisingly harmless since they could either only drive or only spin. However, with the clever use of a high rate gyro and some code, it became possible to control the direction these robots drifted as they spun, solving the drive vs spin issue. These robots tend to be surprisingly rare, despite their capacity for destruction and simplicity.
- Lifters/Flippers - Any set of linkages meant to lift a robot off of its wheels/legs at a range of speeds, possibly culminating in the other robot being launched into the air or flipped upside down. These tend to be pretty successful since a surprising number of robots either drive poorly when inverted or cannot drive at all.
- Grabbers/Crushers - Any set of linkages meant to grab onto another robot so it can be dragged around the arena, frequently combined with a lifting mechanism. If they're backed with enough power and structural integrity, the are frequently intended to crush down on another robot and pierce its armor, both enabling a better grip and possibly damaging internal components and mechanisms. These are frequently crowd favorites, but are not noted as being easy or inexpensive to design, build, and maintain.
- Hammers - It might seem like these belong with Grabbers & Crushers, but hammers tends to be defined more by having a quicker, more instantaneous action meant to be fired many times. The major downside with this design is it's trickier to deliver force this way compared to what you see in many spinning weapon designs.
- Flamethrowers - Compressed gas is the only fuel permitted (napalm would not be good for the polycarbonate walls of the arena), so this is sort of a tack-on 'style' weapon for many robots. In the rare cases that it does cause damage, it's usually because it pushed an already hot motor controller or motor over the edge.
Here's a first look at the competitors and their robots for the upcoming show, plus an overview of the new arena at the end of the third video:
And an extended trailer:
So, you want to make your own BattleBot?
A good place to start is this incredible tutorial
created by Riobotz, an exceptional team from Brazil that regularly competes at RoboGames. It goes over just about everything you'll need to get going, though I'm uncertain as to how recently it's been updated (considerations like speed controllers and battery technologies may have changed since the time of its writing). There are also a number of communities online you can refer to, searching for "combat robots" will get you plenty of results, SPARC
being one (they also have their own guide