Archive for the 'Dragon Con' Category

 

Dragon Con 2014: The Wrapup, or, Operation: I FEEL GASSY, plus Panel Resources

Sep 14, 2014 in Bots, Dragon Con, Events, mikuvan, Pad Thai Doodle Ninja, Pop Quiz 2, Twelve O'Clocker, Überclocker ADVANCE

Around this time last year, I said;

I’m back.

Somehow, and not broken down in western Maryland or something

Well, it wasn’t western Maryland per se…. but we’ll get to that. In the intervening week between Dragon Con 2014 and now, resetting the shop from its post-robot season disaster (which immediate followed the post-gokart season disaster) for the fall classes has taken up most of my time.

In addition, I’m seeing to it that the MIT Mini Maker Faire happens! In three weeks, I can hopefully roll out of bed into our own Maker Faire… but of course there’s logistics and administration to figure out before then! If you are planning on being in the area, hit us up.

The story of Dragon Con 2014 begins, as usual, with van stuffing. For expedient access to the panel slides and info, go here.

The one feature of this generation of Mitsubishi Delicas that’s saved me countless times is the squared off rear hatch area. You almost never see this any more with modern “bubble” designs, and even the two other “Van” models of the same era had cut off angular hatches (However, it seems to be making a comeback in the latest generation of Nissan Quest, whose JDM model, the Nissan Elgrand, I like way better).

I can put like 16 cubic feet straight up in the hatch area. A 18″ wide aluminum suitcase fits perfectly, oriented lengthwise, three across and three tall. So basically, the van-stuffing strategy has been, since last year, consolidate everything into suitcases and 30-quart plastic bins, pile as many as possible in the lower half of the hatch, and fill the rest with robots. Überclocker was attached to the rear left headrest the whole trip, using a spare alternator belt looped around it as a retaining strap, while every other bot was arranged creatively besides it.

This time, I stuck to my guns and just kept going on I-81 instead of even remotely thinking of touching the east coast again. Much better time was made – pretty much 20 hours door-to-door. Travelling during the daytime meant a longer sight distance, and consequently, we went faster. It’s been well-proven through the past few thousand miles of road trips that Mikuvan does well either at 65mph or less… or at 75+mph, where the engine is operating in its powerband in 4th gear… guess which half was used more often?

Well, when we could manage anyway. Summer is construction season all-around, and starting from Connecticut onwards south, there was construction and construction slowdowns and delays in literally every state.

After taking most of Wednesday morning and early afternoon to recuperate, we hit up the Invention Studio again, basically the robots & cosplay forward operating base of this whole trip. I began the final assembly of Pop Quiz, which was started the weekend before departure.  I had already done most of the work, so it was literally just throwing the package together. Pictured is the final arrangement of the components before the top was closed up.

I was originally planning on running 14.8 volts with the two 2S 500mAh packs, but some tachometry on the old motor showed me that it was basically 1000 rpm/V. I decided immediately to drop back to 7.4V and 1Ah – kind of a ridiculous amount of battery for a 1lb bot, but it would keep the weapon motor at a sane speed/load and also not make the 6V-rated Pololu drive motors too unhappy.

The batteries are wired in hard-parallel, so if I ever wanted to charge this pack properly, I’d need a two-parallel 2S battery splitter like this.

The two Vextrollers are de-cased and stacked on top of each other using clear heat shrink tubing for insulation. Stuffed right next to it is the 12 amp brushless ESC, which is hardwired next to the Integrated Fingertech Switch.

The Hobbyking 6 channel RX is also de-cased and sits up front, wrapped in electrical tape a few times since I didn’t pack clear shrink big enough. The pins are all removed, trimmed flush with the board except the pins I needed, and tiny 26 gauge signal wires soldered to the remaining stubs. Everything is according to the initial CAD models!

Dense and unserviceable? Yes, definitely, but so are iPhones and I like to think PQ is the iPhone of antweights so………

All packaged up with the new titanium top plate! 15.3 ounces – good enough. It probably weighs 15.300008 ounces up north anyway, so I still qualify for Motorama 2015.

Pop Quiz’s ‘press shot’. Notice the missing forward left corner – by this time, it already ate itself once when I was testing against a scrapped 1lb bot frame. I had ground a radius onto the underside of the blade’s leading edge to prevent this, but on one side of the blade, it just barely didn’t go far enough! That was remedied quickly.

The shorter blade meant that even when it hit its own corner, it didn’t fly away or flip. I in fact didn’t even notice it as an independent event – only after picking the bot up when enough was enough.

Being constructed alongside the antweight work was the latest version of the animatronic RWBY Crescent Rose being built by Cynthia of Cynaesthetics. I’ll let her explain the details, but this was the ‘black project’ that kept me busy over the week/end before we left. I was employed as a CAD mule since I was much faster at using Autodesk Inventor, so I pounded out the design she handed me over the course of probably Wednesday through Saturday.

The crown jewel of this design is probably the red gear-thing on the right. It’s nifty enough to warrant its own entire post. Shown below is revision 1:

It’s a one-shot 3D printed 7:1 compound planetary gear with input and output roller bearings that translates a roughly 16″ circumferential travel (so think 16″ of rope being pulled around it) into a roughly 85 degree rotation of one of the ring gears. The idea was to mechanically synchronize the deploy, though it ended up not quite working because of the difficulty of keeping the two sides synchronized.

There was a great chance that it wouldn’t work at all if I didn’t get the clearances exactly right, such that the multiple solid bodies got fused into one… but they ended up being correct for version 3. It was one-shot printed on the Dimension 1200ES machine in the shop.

Once again, I hosted a few Maker track panels and participated in others. This year’s roster was Maker Resources (my ’2.00gokart for the masses’ panel), Electric Vehicles, and a new one on Rapid Prototyping Cosplay, hosted with Jamison and Chris Lee, in which we teach the audience how to abuse waterjets. This year, we were smart and stuff, so all the panels are kept on the cloud! Links will be presented at the end section.

Above is my Maker Resources introduction. Yeah, it was about that productive.

Doing some last touch-up on Pad Thai before the Robot Microbattles 1lb and 3lb event. The front armor was too low, causing the front to drag and affecting the bot’s traction.

A clean shot of Pad Thai Doodle Ninja before the event. It only required lifter repair from last year, and replacement of some of the spring steel armor.

A picture of Pop Quiz’s first and only match. The bot seemed to work fine on the smooth Invention Studio indoor floor, but the arena floor was a whole ‘nother story. The bot has maybe 0.025″ of ground clearance on a good day. What does that mean? It could barely move in the arena!

This wouldn’t have been so bad if it were not for the fact that Pop Quiz’s weapon motor was built in 2008. Like, I went and found the blog post that described its construction. This predates even LOLioKart. Whatever I did back then was clearly not up to the bots of today, with the amount of power I’m now running through it. For example, the central shaft of the motor is a small shoulder screw with #8-32 threads, which pretty much stripped instantly on the first big hit, shown above, with “Trash Boat”. This left the weapon motor disabled, so after that, it was just a matter of finding the right floor gouge to get stuck on.

Well, shit. The rest of the bot works great (minus the paper thin ground clearance), so Pop Quiz is going to get a re-engineered motor and a few layers of heat shrink tubing over those wheels!

Due to timing constraints, the ants and beetles were forced into single elimination (again), so PQ left the event 0-1.

Pad Thai went longer in the tournament with Cynthia driving, defeating “Green Reaper” and “Trash Boat” (to whom Pop Quiz lost), ultimately reaching the semifinal where it lost to Jamison’s DDT. The spring steel armor fended off DDT reasonably well, but it was still filled with gouges at the end.

Video of this match, from Near Chaos Robotics.

Besides the front and side armor, DDT managed to get a good shot off at the unprotected rear, which cracked off a portion of the motor mount and sliced up the rear left wheel. The broken O-rings jammed into the rest of the drive and caused one side of the bot to stop working. Luckily, the motor wasn’t damaged!

Pad Thai went 2-1 this time.

Oh god, it’s Monday. It’s the big show. It’s my yearly measure of worth, made worse by the fact that this would be the 10th year since I won a championship at Dragon Con first! No pressure at all, breh. (I won the 12lb class at D*C2004 with Test Bot v3)

No changes at all were made to the big bots at the Invention Studio, since all of the work relevant to them was done before departure.

My Hyperion 1420i charger died mysteriously during Microbattles, so I put out a call to the Robot Battles e-mail list and Facebook page asking if anyone had a charger (or bench power supply) that could charge up to 7S lithium packs (about 28 volts). Dale (of Homemade Robots) brought a 30v adjustable power supply that I ran with during the whole event.

Sadly, I did not run into Dale in either weight class, so we couldn’t do a “10 year band reunion” in the finals….

Test Bot was also at this event, and frankly, it’s never looked better.

Wait, what!? Yes, that’s the old frame and running gear of Test Bot 4.5. I sold it to Mike Jeffries of Near Chaos Robotics about a year and a half ago, and his crew has revived it into Dolos. They upgraded it with slightly larger wheels (one of the causes of its downfall at D*C events, since by that point I’d optimized TB for smooth arenas), a wedge that formerly belonged to Apollyon, and a “bot hook” weapon.

I didn’t get to fight 12 O’Clocker against it, however, since it lost to Dale’s Omega Force.

Setting up 12 O’Clocker for its first match against Served Cold…

During its last match with Tetanus Shot, 12 O’Clocker lost one drive side completely. I thought it was a solder joint or stripped gear in the custom Harbor Freight mounts – Tetanus Shot is an extremely solid bot, so metal on metal collisions are going to have much more pronounced effects.  As it turns out, it was way worse than that:

The motor just straight up cracked out of its mounting holes! Looks like the bottom of the motor mounting screw holes might have been a little too thin. I have spares of the gearcases from last year….

…but of course forgot to bring them for this year.

Well, okay then.

Returning to a classic strategy, I decided to install a zip tie ratchet on the right side. This is a cut zip tie that sticks into the sprocket’s path, so in one direction it gets sucked into the chain and locks that side up. In the other direction, it is pushed away and the side moves (relatively) freely.

I used this method a few times in years past with Clockers of Lesser Drivetrain Reliability to great success, for tenuous definitions of great. The bot could move forward, in a wide circle, and then pivot about one side in reverse. 12 O’Clocker is still a relatively formidable opponent even in this limping mode, this time exemplified by how many times I still managed to get Tetanus Shot after the installation of the ratchet…

12 O’Clocker made is 1 and 1, winning against Served Cold and losing to Tetanus Shot. By the 12lb Rumble, it had also cracked the motor off the other side, so I started and stayed mostly in the center of it to smack as many people as possible while avoiding the edges. A drive-disabled 12 O’Clocker somehow managed a one in a thousand alignment with Omega Force, and I literally threw it overhead off the stage.

I edited together all the video I had of 12 O’Clocker and have it uploaded onto my Youtube channel. Here it is for convenience;

(This is in addition to the Near Chaos 12lber playlist).

I’M HAVING FUN GUYS. I SWEAR. NOW GET OFF MY CASE.

Überclocker was the big hit of the show this time, going straight through with no losses and winning the 30lb championship. There’s nothing wrong with the bot right now – I can turn it around to Motorama 2015 tomorrow. The Banebots wheel swap proved to be an extremely good idea – Clocker had a traction advantage that was clearly noticeable in its matches with Nyx, against which I’ve always been neck and neck in pushing ability.

I also entered Clocker in the 30lb rumble, with some… additions… to epicly hilariously results. 90% of this event to me is a chance to let loose and be silly on stage with robots, so we took the spare pool noodles that we brought for safety covers – Jamison’s Bug Loves Robot and Überclocker both rank pretty high for pointy ends on bots – and straight up taped them to the bots for added entertainment.

I edited together all of its matches here. Near Chaos has a much better view of the bedlam that was the 30lb rumble.

Clocker’s performance was nothing short of stellar, and I’m glad that it finally works reliably. I don’t anticipate making any performance upgrades or changes to the bot at the moment. The top clamp arm actuator still has a bit of a habit of coming apart – it didn’t at this event, but it was looking close by the end, so I’d like to actually drive some screws into its mounting brackets before Motorama.

12 O’Clocker is a different story. Besides the whole motors-breaking-off issue, which is a design problem with the gearbox, it needs an aspect ratio more similar to Überclocker to be more effective. Right now, it’s dopey and cute looking with its short wheelbase and tall frame, but it translates into poor lifting performance since the center of gravity has less leverage. It’s more likely to faceplant than lift (but that makes it cuter and dopier!). But again, I’m not sure if I’d change this, since the point of it was to be silly and fast – two things it’s good at, at least!

I ran out of time this DC season due to helping with the RWBY weapon that I couldn’t really do justice for Pop Quiz and Pad Thai. Pop Quiz’s concept is sound, but that motor needs to be updated to 2014 standards! It’s been a while since I’ve made a motor, so I’m kind of itching to do it now… Oh, and throw a few layers of heat shrink onto the wheels. Pad Thai suffered plenty of body damage this time around, but none to the lifter – it was actually kept down most of the time  anyway.

The Con Elsewhere

Once you go to one Dragon Con, you kind of get the idea: it has neither rhyme nor reason, nor a theme such as comic books, Warhammer, or indie video games. It’s ALL of it. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for new and innovative crossovers and takes on media franchises. Seeing a group of Iron Men gets old pretty quickly, for example, but nothing really prepares you for…

Iron Totoro. The picture doesn’t do justice as to how huge it was, which was easily 3 people wide. There was a hotel security staff just off to the left escorting it through the (very tightly packed) Marriott hotel.

Interactive costumes are another cool feature of a convention where you’re not expected to stay within a certain industry or franchise. Here is Mr. Fingertech Robotics himself, Kurt, with hand-mounted reed switches that could sense high fives. The large LED screen displayed the current count (yes, double high fives work!), and the LED strips on his vest would change color depending on how many high fives were accumulated in a certain span of time.

I forgot the exact count, but he was well over 10,000 by the end of the weekend, and it was a huge hit just walking through the hallways.

Cynthia’s mechanical scythe posing next to a more artistically complete but non-mechanical one. RWBY is stll a series which is gaining traction, so not too many people recognized it immediately, but the mechanical deploy caught quite a few eyes. It was presented at the Rapid Prototyping panel (which also featured Jamison’s big hammer and a few other things) to great fanfare. Version 3 ought to be even more exciting…

So that’s Dragon Con 2014 in a few pictures! I’ve already made plans for next year, including changes to the panel format and possibly more collab panels. First, I’ve always thought that Dragon Con panels were supposed to be 1.5 hours long, since at other cons the panels are scheduled in 1 hour blocks. As it turns out, it’s supposed to be 1 hour of panel and halfn a hour of room clear/reset. What?! I totally only found this out when Val, the Robotics & Maker track director, had to toss everyone out of the panels I ran or participated in…. because I thought the content was going to fill about an hour and 20 minutes or so. Whoops.

We hustled out of Atlanta under the cover of early morning darkness, and followed the same I-81 route back.

Panel Resources

This year, I did a smart person thing (only you guys say I’m smart, I never said anything to the effect…) and made/kept the presentations online. So here they are:

  • Maker Resources 2014: Updated with new content, vendors, and internet memes!
  • Rapid Prototyping 2014: In collab with Chris Lee and Jamison Go. If the subset of people who 1. read this blog and 2. have pictures or video, I’d appreciate it greatly if you sent it our way. I think this panel was highly successful.
  • Electric Vehicles 2014: In collab with Adam Bercu. This was primarily a picture show since we actually did a panel thing and talked the whole time.

Operation: I FEEL GASSY

Well, this sure looks familiar.

Nope, it’s not a repost!

Around 9 in the morning on Tuesday, near the VA/NC border (by a little town named Lambsburg, as I found out), I stopped to pick up a full tank of gas from a Loves Travel Stop. Roughly 1 hour later, south of Roanoke, was when we noticed the first hints of power loss, but we assigned it to the fact that the region was mountainous. Shortly after Roanoke, in the span of less than half an hour, I went from keeping up with highway speed in the right lane to crawling at 25mph on the shoulder.

Realizing this was patently unsafe, I pulled off near Natural Bridge, VA onto U.S. Route 11, which was a much slower local road, while we tried to formulate a battle plan. At this point was when I was beginning to think that the problem was with the fuel system. The symptoms were:

  • Lack of power at mid and higher throttle. The engine could idle and run at low speeds and loads just fine, but as soon as I gave it more gas, it began sputtering and losing RPM. By itself, this could have indicated a problem with a clogged or restricted exhaust or intake.
  • I could rev the engine in neutral freely if I depressed the throttle gently; but a sudden mash of the pedal would cause it to sputter. Something load-dependent was the issue.
  • More surprisingly, though, it was inconsistent. During the various start-stop cycles at red lights and when the engine was off, the restriction would seemingly go away for a short time, but then almost immediately return afterwards.
  • When it was away, I could drive and accelerate normally. Something was moving or shifting, possibly by gravity/engine suction or pressure, or perhaps temperature, into place.

We went on U.S. 11 until Lexington, VA, where we stopped for lunch at a Taco Bell and waited for the engine bay to cool off a bit so I could possible look inside. I picked up half a tank of gas from an Exxon station, where I also checked the air intake and filter in case a squirrel actually got lodged in there or something. You  never know.

It seemed to behave normally right after the fillup, so at this point I was highly suspecting some kind of gunk or contamination in the fuel. I milked what leftover power it had for several more miles until the problem came back again, halfway to Staunton, VA

Realizing we were never going to make it home if this kept up, we stopped at a rural gas station halfway between Lexington and Staunton (in a town called Raphine)  where Adam and I dove under to extract the catalytic converter (after half an hour inside a Burger King waiting for it to cool) and to inspect it. This resulted in the following hilarious picture:


Let the shipping begin

After taking about 20 minutes to drop the catalytic converter, we found there was absolutely nothing wrong with it or with the pipe downstream. At this point, I was pretty damned sure it was fuel-system related.

We decided to play it safe and try to ask for an ‘expert opinion’, which involved a bit of calling around seeing if there were area mechanics we could limp to. We visited two – one was right across the highway, was actually a truck and RV repair shop, and run by a very friendly and wise old guy whose name we didn’t catch, but whose business was named Cash’s so I’m going to call him Mr. Cash, because that shit’s cash.

After taking a test drive, he agreed with me that it was most likely fuel related, but seeing as how this was already late afternoon and likely nobody in the area would have the needed parts, could only offer me a bottle of fuel system cleaner and some good luck. Mr. Cash recommended we visit another shop around the corner, King’s (which I assume is run by Mr. King), to get a second opinion.

Mr. King himself was welcoming but busy, but the mechanic he foisted me off to was absolutely convinced it was a catalytic converter problem despite me telling him already what we’ve taken apart and checked. I’ll give the guy some credit – they were busy when we walked in, and we were likely not going to stay and pay them to do service, so I can’t imagine I was very high on their priorities list. We left after deciding our welcome was outstayed. Certainly, if you walk into the IDC while I’m busy putting out student go-kart fires (maybe literally, mind you…) and started asking laser cutter questions, I would have responded similarly.

At this point, I decided to see if the ECU was possibly outputting any codes, since 1989 is just new enough that some sort of electronic diagnostic was mandatory. One problem: I didn’t have the diagnostic sheet from the service manual that told me what the blinking voltmeter needle did.

Solution: I found it on my own website – posted from last year, an exact snapshot of the page I needed. See, kids? This is why you blog everything, even if you don’t think it’s important!

I continued north on I-64/81 to wait for the problem to return while Adam carefully stared at the voltmeter. Sciencekart is funny, but I wasn’t about to try and stare at the voltmeter while driving for real. However, even though the problem returned, and I was reduced to shoulder-crawling again north of Staunton, VA, the ECU didn’t throw any errors.

Really? I figured it should at least return “Fuel Pump” or something, but nothing. Modern ECUs can tell you if the fuel-air mixture was even a little bit out of expectation, but the diagnostic system on Mikuvan is not sophisticated enough for that.

I coasted into Weyers Cave, VA – between Staunton and Harrisonburg – and we limped to the Shenandoah Valley Regional airport. At this point, Cynthia and Jamison needed a way to get home because they have things like real lives and jobs. They picked up a rental car from the airport, since there were no direct flights to Boston from here.

The battle plan was prepared. Adam and I would crash overnight with his friend in Richmond, VA, then return in the morning with a U-Haul and trailer. From there, we’d basically be running the original Operation: MIKUVAN again!

In what I realize must have looked like a broad daylight car theft, we pulled into the airport parking lot with the truck and trailer and pulled back out with Mikuvan loaded in under 10 minutes (Keep in mind it was still capable of moving under its own power, just for not too long, so I just drove onto the trailer). If we tried this in Boston, we’d been surrounded by black trucks and assault rifles in a few seconds, but they seem to be more chill out here.

The destination was a shopping center south of Harrisonburg, VA, with multiple big box home improvement and auto parts stores in the area.

And so, for the second time in two years, I found myself in a town with “Harris” in the name, under a U-haul trailer, in the parking lot of a big-box store, fixing a van.

The plan of action was to remove the fuel filter and then connect it up backwards, then use the fuel pump to empty the whole tank through the backwards filter. Ideally, this would knock out and wash enough particulates for us to gently nurse it back home, still 12 hours away. Pictured above is the first shot of fuel from the filter. Delicious.

Every few gallons, we’d switch the 10 gallon fuel can for a water bottle and inspect the fuel for clarity. Even at the end of 4 shots, there were still tiny black flakes and bits coming out of it. I know this is probably the past 10,000 miles of deposits, but regardless, it was rather surprising to see how contaminated and full of other substances gasoline, allegedly a highly refined product, can be even in 2014. At least, I’ve never dealt in any way with “bad gas” on any vehicle… but perhaps it’s because I’ve not personally put 10K+ miles on any one vehicle before now.

We dropped the bad fuel off at an auto shop, fully fueled Mikuvan with some Shell premium gas (I was paranoid okay?!) and went on our way. The trip back to Richmond, about 2 hours, would be the test – if I could manage this fine, then it should be okay for the rest of the trip: all of the instances of the fuel restriction would appear with 15-20 minutes of driving each time. I took the lead on the return, with Adam following in the truck and trailer. If the problem returned, I would slow down, pull behind him, and just Grand Theft Auto it onto the trailer.

Around 9:30PM on Wednesday, we rolled out of Richmond and headed north on I-95. I drove at a relatively constant speed and throttle, trying to maintain 70mph, until north of York, PA, upon which Adam took over and got to White Plains, NY on I-287.

I think I should drive with a clogged fuel filter more often, since I got the best mileage ever during that leg. Problems started returning around White Plains, more mildly but still noticeable, so we decided to play it safe and took CT-15 northward instead of I-95.

Here’s the story in a Google map.

CT-15 was a scenic but rather chaotic (being morning rush hour in the NYC metro area and all…) drive. We discovered new Tesla superchargers:

In the span of time we were taking a break at this station – like 20 minutes at most, three Teslas rolled in and out.


Hey, is this still under warranty?

An hour south of Hartford, I got the idea of calling area Mitsubishi dealerships to see if anyone had a fuel filter for an obscure model they likely never personally sold. I’m not sure why I thought this was necessary by this point, since Hartford was but a hop, skip, and faceplant away from Boston, but I was kind of tired and delirious anyway.

Hartford Mitsubishi (& Cadillac & Maserati) was extremely helpful – their parts guy was on the phone with me for 10 minutes trying different models to see if any parts cross correlated. I know for sure the same style filter is used on late 80s Monteros and Galants, as well as shared with the Dodge compact pickups of the same era…. but all of those are virtually extinct by now too, so no luck with those specific models. He ended up finding a ‘universal’ style that fit across model lines. I’ll take one.

We decided not to do the filter swap just two hours outside the finish, so the rest of the trip was spent hovering in the right lane on I-84 and I-90 to very little drama. I made it back onto campus around 1pm on Thursday.

analysis and recourse

I was not expecting “bad gas” to be still a thing in 2014 – sure, I’ve heard stories from other people, but come on, this is the future where we live in the cloud and download our food and movies alike through 4G LTE. I was also under the impression that fuel filters, like any filter, will show symptoms gradually, and not be fine on one hill, but completely go to shit by the next. The filter in question was installed after I got the engine working again in May 2013, and it’s been completely trouble-free for all of the trips since then. It was even trouble-free for 550 miles of blasting in and around Atlanta, where I was regularly pushing 80mph. It was trouble free for the first six hours of the trip, which featured much of the same hammer-dropping. It’s difficult for me to not mentally assign blame to the Love’s station, since I picked up a full tank of fuel from them and then the engine totally went to hell within an hour and a half.

It also seems getting recompense from a gas station is quite difficult.

First, a bunch of people would have to complain AND specifically point out they were the cause. Who knows, maybe the 6 other cars at the station with me when we refueled in Lambsburg also had issues some time down the line, or could have them very shortly after a few hundred more miles, but their owners will just chalk it up to the 5000 mile oil change interval running out and take it into their mechanic, never noticing the cause or caring about the final invoice.

Second, even if they were also broken down somewhere, normal people wouldn’t do what we did: we didn’t do a single thing “the legit way”. Instead of calling for a tow, calling my insurance company to find an authorized shop, getting said shop to perform all the diagnostic work we did, and paying for the replacement part in labor, we slum-fixed it ourselves outside of The System. The “tow” was a U-haul, the “shop” was the parking lot of the Harrisonburg Home Depot. I guess I did end up buying an official dealer sourced part? What this means as a whole is I don’t have an ‘official’ paper trail to back all of these claims up.

I called Love’s and they looked into the store in question, but of course got back to me with “Sorry, nobody else complained and our tests showed our fuel is clean, so we can’t help you”. Of course nobody else complained and your fuel is clean – that’s what your job is to tell me, so I ain’t even mad.  If I were to file a lawsuit, then I’d be potentially out a few thousand dollars and many months of staying on top of it, while swimming upstream against “well, nobody else complained, so what the hell is wrong with your car then?”

Oh well – unless one of you have a better idea, I’m just going to cut my losses at a few hundred bucks, pay off Jamison and Cynthia for their rental car expenses, and file this one under “Don’t Trust the System”.

I took care of the fuel filter in an hour outside of MITERS last week, and based on my (admittedly relatively short) trips around the Boston outer regions, there’s been no problems at all. Maybe it’s time to hit Vermont again for another Ford Fusion battery just to test it on the road for more than an hour at a time, because the New York Maker Faire is next week and I’d certainly like to avoid stranding 5 random freshmen on the side of the road in Connecticut.

Speaking of which, stay tuned for the work on that so far – Chibi-Mikuvan needs some pretty mission critical repairs! Time to switch vans once more….

The Dragon*Con 2013 Complete Roundup, Part II: Event Recap and Maker Resources

Sep 19, 2013 in Bots, colsonbot, Dragon Con, Events, mikuvan, Twelve O'Clocker, Überclocker ADVANCE

So here we go – now that Part 1 has had some time to sink in, and now that my shop is looking remotely functional again, it’s time for some part two. In this section will be the two new ‘sections’ (carried over from part 1):

  1. Operation GIVE ME A BRAKE: Brake system and inspection all-around on Mikuvan!
  2. Pad Thai Doodle Ninja, an Antweight 4-bar pushybot I designed and built in like 72 hours!
  3. The trip down, the con, and how the bots did at the event!
  4. The links and documents associated with my two panels at  Dragon*Con.

This semester, the two fabrication labs I oversee in the MIT-SUTD Collaboration is once again playing host to How to Make a Mess out of Almost Anything:

Yeah, it’s going down about like that. Unlike the last two academic terms (January – August, basically), I’m not “running” a class this term, so it’s going to be way more chill. I’m not sure if I will want to run back-to-back design classes again like the consecutive 2.00gokart and “2.00GLP”, since the overall level of intensity and chaos is extremely high. I see how the department can go through design class professors rapid-fire now.

Anyways, back to the trip. It’s Tuesday night! Time to load up robots.

Dragon*Con 2013

…but first, I need to get my 200 pounds of tools, accessories, and spare parts out of the back. I left a spare tire, van-specific tool box (like my robot-specific toolbox, but everything is bigger!), and spare fluids. The floor jack was removed since there is a bottle jack for tire changes in a rear compartment. Basically I was purposefully blocking myself from doing any roadside extensive work – I think I’ve gotten everything mechanically to the point where a failure necessitating deep dissection is practically going to be catastrophic in nature and not something I’m going to do in a parking lot.

Replace all the van kibbles with robot kibbles. I guess I could have kept the van kibbles in the back anyway, since I was initially expecting more bots and parts. This stuffing was, consequently, not as epic as the Motorama Stuffing or the Last Dragon*Con Stuffing (though those vehicle did have less hatch space to begin with). The ship-out time was essentially midnight.

Around 4, we reach Flushing, New York, where Xo Has Joined Your Party. This is where the trip got a little more interesting.

In 2007, before I was a wee bunny at MIT, my parents and I drove up to visit the place. We took I-95 in all of it’s forms through DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark & New York City, then up through New Haven and through Rhode Island. My only memories of the trip are of how I-95 was utterly depressing in every way, from tolls to traffic to construction, and the general level of suck the Northeast urban cluster exhibited.

Six years later, I was meandering up the Bruckner Expressway in the wrong direction when I hazily decided that maybe I-95 wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Plus there was like an exit for it right there and if we kept going semi-lost I’d end up back in Connecticut. So, down 95 we went, across the George Washington Bridge (slowly, because construction and late night truck traffic), and down the New Jersey Turnpike, the fancy Delaware Bridge thing, then down onto Baltimore and onwards.

I’m glad to say that 95 is every bit as depressing and repulsive as I remember it and that nobody venturing out of the Northeast to anywhere should ever drive on it for any reason.

All together, I think between Queens and Baltimore I busted $35 on tolls alone, not even including the relatively minor tolls in Massachusetts. Every bridge or turnpike had its own toll authority.

I thought the Interstates were supposed to be full of FREEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOM.

In the Baltimore-Washington area, I stopped at my favorite IHOP in College Park, MD. This has been the focal point of several Otakon trips. South of Baltimore, we hit what I like to call “Facebook traffic”, where congestion is so bad and traffic is so stop-and-go that everyone is on Facebook complaining about it. This took about 2 hours to sit through because we came in at the exact time to hit traffic in both metro areas. How are you actually supposed to get to work?

We hit Atlanta around 10PM, for a trip duration of essentially 22 hours, many of which were spent fucking around with the abomination that is 95 in the Northeast Corridor. For instance, it took about 45 minutes to even get out of New York. Then factor in the fact that the cruising speed of my lovely pallet of cinder blocks was about 65 to 70mph.

The next day, it was off to the Invention Studio to get the band back together. Here’s the vansnexttothings.tumblr.com shot of the trip:

We journeyed a little off campus to get lunch, and in the parking lot of the local small sketchy college restaurant cluster was an Audi R8. Like most expensive cars, it was parked “haphazardly”.

This year, since I brought actual working robots, and because Pad Thai Doodle Ninja was completed the evening before the con really kicked off, and because I wasn’t trying to speedball an entire new bot in 3 days,I got a lot more wandering and people-watching time. I was especially tuned to try and find people with costumes that looked like they required some amount of mechanical construction or engineering (see my brief on this last year).

That, and giant Totoros.

Here’s a good example. This funky gun-like prop had a ton of lovely CNC aluminum work. The wielder, though, wasn’t the builder.

I spy a little of waterjetting on some of those interior parts!

The thing I’ve historically liked the most about Dragon*Con over other gatherings is that there’s no particular theme. The con covers about every niche of culture, up to and including robots. You’re not even going to find that at PAX or Comic-Con. This enables people to mash together different story universes and characters with much more impunity, for the amusement of all… such as Portalmau5 up there.

I’ll be honest – this is pretty much the only reason I went to the actual con for, besides my own panels. No, not just any group of girls in costume (that’s so last year), but specifically one series. The latest thing I’ve been fanning over is Monty Oum’s RWBY, also known as “Charles has to build shit that Monty designs with ill regard to constant-volume systems”. Most of the characters are Action Girls with giant mechanical transforming weaponry – what’s not to love? The thing that hooked me at the beginning was the RED preview.

The series so far has really pinged my “defer judgement” sense, since to me it seems a little hurried plot-wise and is seemingly laundry-listing TVTropes (site left unlinked because I don’t want to sink everyone’s productivity for the next 11 days) on purpose. But I’m proud of my ability to cherrypick favorites very specifically, so I’m still into the series for the giant mechanical transforming weaponry.

The series is so new that I wasn’t sure if anyone was into it enough to plan costumes, and I wanted to get a sense of what is already out there in terms of mechanically actuated versions. Conclusion? Zero. On the internet, and in real life at the con.

That’s where I come in.

…not right now, though. With Saturday winding down and the Robot Microbattles just around the corner, it was time to intensively practice driving. This was the remains of a laser-cut quadrotor frame that everyone’s 1lbers and 3lbers were beating on throughout the evening. I also repaired Colsonbot by printing a new motor mount carrier and replacing a stripped drive motor.

This year, Microbattles got the entirety of the International ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. In past years, the event has only gotten half the space, and the audience had to be capped every time. The event size is now on par with the main Robot Battles, with even more entries.

So many, in fact, that single elimination had to be used for the tournaments again, and we still ran overtime. The event has been running against its time limits (and beyond them shamelessly) for the past 2 years, and this year was no different. Hopefully the D*C planning committees finally recognize this.

The Atlanta arena returns! This year, an actual 12″ sanding disc was mounted on the spinning turntable. I’m glad to see that my contraption is still functional. During the event, it produced quite a few light shows from bots being stuck in the hole, and reduced the diameter of a few wheels.

The usual suspects were in attendance. Here’s the table of G3 Robotics & Variable Constant & Guy Who Never Updates His Website.

This is a reasonable approximation of the audience during the day. The added seats and projection screens helped crowding immensely. Because the arena has a pretty high bumper rail (3″ or so), and it’s up on a stage, you can’t actually see the bots from the audience unless something exciting happens, so it’s entirely dependent on the video crew!

microbattles results

Because the Antweight tournament was single elimination, sadly Pad Thai Doodle Ninja only got one match in, against the veteran Segs (pic from years past, to the left). Cynthia put up a valiant driving effort, but the lack of “lifter lip” on the arm meant it had a hard time getting under Segs, and the bot was twice as slow as originally planned.  Near Chaos Robotics, filmer of events, recorded the match in two halves: Part 1, Part 2.

In the rumble, PTDN got into the thick of it and pushed a few people around, then got pinged a few times by DDT. The lifter arm was bent up,  but the bot otherwise had no permanent damage and still drives.

Showing why extending the front armor to the floor might be a bad idea – check out the crimps on the left side. After the DDT damage, the bot had trouble maneuvering on the floor.

Rear view of the damage. Because DDT pinged the arm while it was partially up, the force ripped the rear link out of the arm. That part was extremely thin-walled to begin with and should have been thickened, but I was afraid of it interfering with the robots’ self-righting. Turns out that wasn’t a problem.

I do want to fix up PTDN and upgrade the drives to the original 10:1 spark motors I had intended, and redo the front armor. The lifter servos will either be consolidated into one higher torque metal gear servo, or two digital servos for better range matching.

Colsonbot, sadly, was unable to colson much because of the unrepaired damage from Bot Blast. The “duallie” O-ring wheels were beginning to come apart, and the O-rings tended to slip off and get caught between the shell and the bot. It survived the event pretty much unscathed, however, and I don’t intend on making any big changes to it save for remaking the wheels into single-o-ring affairs that have more ‘stretch’ on the rings themselves to prevent them from twisting out. Colsonbot got in one match against Radiobox, and also the Beetleweight rumble where it was mostly a stationary arena hazard.

big bots

Back in the Invention Studio on Sunday night, preparing for some final tuning and drive testing. Null Hypothesis had to have a drill motor replaced, but otherwise, I didn’t have to do anything to the bots for once.

At the event, while I was testing Null Hypothesis on the stage, it randomly blipped and stopped moving. The cause was traced to the controller completely losing its gate drive power supply for some reason. Whatever the case, it necessitated an in-field replacement, which Adam is handling.

Most of the builders are seasoned & flavored veterans, but there were some rookie builders this year. It’s good to see the sport grow organically, if not somewhat slowly. This bot is an alleged 12lber – according to the builder, it weighed 14 pounds when finished. Oops! And hence, it was named. It ran without any top armor at all – something which ended up causing it to lose to 12 O’Clocker.

Omegaforce returns, with more unique wedge attachments. The outer and inner wedgelets are linked together in such a way that the outer set lifting upwards for any reason causes the inner set to drop down to the ground. The upper wedges can swing all the way backwards. So it’s a multi-tiered defense system against oncoming opponents. The actual functionality was a bit spotty.

Non-rookie builder (I met Miles at Motorama 2013) but first Robot Battles event. The center of this bot was supposed to be a lifter, but some things didn’t happen in time. And yes, it’s entirely made of wood. I was hoping to face this with Überclocker, but didn’t get that chance.

Another rookie bot that was supposed to have an attachment in the middle (in this case, a hammer) but Stuff Didn’t Happen.

Überclocker 30 charging before matches began.

12 O’clocker after its first match, which I won. I learned that the springy legs worked well, but they were not well constrained downwards and could get pushed to the point where the front wheels of the bot were propped off the ground. The contact point they make with the front axle standoff should probably be modified to capture the leg in either direction – up or down.

This is probably the most quintessential robot even picture I’ve ever taken. Equipment all over the table, Mountain Dew everywhere, and “beasting food” as I like to call it strewn about.

 

I try to post audience pictures of Robot Battles every year, because it really is a phenomenal show. I think the audience averages 5 or 600 people and can peak near a thousand. In quite a few years that I remember, the hotel had to deny people entrance because it became standing-room only and exceeded the allowed occupation of the room. Here’s the right half of the audience…

The center…

And the left half.

Oh, this was before matches started.

results

I’m extremely proud of the bots’ performance and reliability this year, as well as the show they put on. For my 10th (!) Robot Battles it’s quite refreshing to have things that worked. The robots ended up losing only due to my own mistakes, or my tendency to favor a good show over winning at this event. I actually can’t bring myself to just drop someone off the edge cleanly with the Clocker pair, and this did bring about my own downfall a few times…

Regardless, Überclocker 30 got 2nd place in the 30lb class, fighting Null Hypothesis (oops…), Overthruster , Null Hypothesis yet again, Jaws – probably my most favorite Clocker match ever, Overthruster for the nth time, and finally losing again to my eternal nemesis Nyx. Overall record of 4/2. There were sure lots of reruns this time around. Clocker was a crowd favorite in the past, and now even more so since it works pretty reliably. At the very end, during the rumble, I did lose the drivetrain completely, most likely due to the solder joints breaking off the motors – this has been a weakness of the bot since Motorama ’13 that I forgot about until now.

12 O’Clocker finished what essentially is 3rd place, since the winners’ bracket finals loser and the losers’ bracket finals winner were the same bot. In the final match, I just got plain outpushed by a more powerful and faster opponent. 12 O’Clocker was also a crowd favorite, possibly more so than Überclocker itself, if I could judge the audience well, and went 3/2.  12 O’Clocker’s match videos: Tetanus Shot 1, Oops, Omegaforce, Apollyon, Tetanus Shot 2

So what’s next for the robots? Besides the odd demo or sparring match, it’s time to make the upgrades for Motorama 2014 next February. Überclocker’s current form debuted this past February at Moto ’13, and I don’t anticipate making any changes to it at all (except for actually using the Quick Disconnect style terminals on the Dewalt motors, maybe…). The new actuator on Überclocker’s clamp worked as I expected – I could grab and hoist up opponents very quickly, and the multistart leadscrew eliminated the binding it was prone to perviously so I no longer had to be gentle with the stick – RageBridge took care of the “endstops” by entering current limiting mode. On 12 O’clocker, I want to better secure the front legs, but otherwise, the bot incurred no damage from this event.

the way up

I decided to be intelligent and finally take a route which I’d been eyeing for years, but never dared try for some reason until now:

In my opinion, this is the most direct possible shot through to New England without going near any metropolitan agglomerations. The plan was to detour north at Charlotte, NC. and follow I-81 all the way up to Motorama Harrisburg, from whence my general solution has been to go east and up-around New York City through 287, then cutting north out of CT on I-91 and I-84. The upper half of this has been tried and verified many times.

I think this was a good decision. Not only was it smooth all the way, but the western VA and NC scenery subtracted from the boredom greatly. We passed through, and stopped in, a few small towns and villages nestled in the Appalachians, places that I’m sure high flying urban folks around here don’t give a shit about. It was, in my view, a more authentic American experience.

Stopping for a fuel and breakfast somewhere north of Roanoke, VA.

daily van bro

I saw something which looked out of place across the street at a convenience store. Turns out it’s a Greenbrier, one of the original American compact vans built to compete with the VW bus! These are rear-engined, just like the VW bus, but the Ford Econoline of the same era was mid-engined and rear wheel drive, and the layout was directly ported and evolved by the Japanese. So, really this is an evolutionary ancestor to Mikuvan.

It was also on sale. I called up the seller, but sadly the price asked was out of what I had in my pocket at the time. If I were into these things, though, it would be a very fair price for a vehicle in as good visual condition, and as good running condition as the seller described.

Compared to almost all modern cars, I’m pretty damned small, but the Greenbrier was somehow even smaller. And it had 3 rows of bench seats.

The rest of the trip up through Harrisburg and beyond was pretty standard. We arrived back in around 1:30 AM (that is, 0130EDT Wednesday 9/4). And so that concludes Dragon*Con 2013. A pretty delightful adventure filled with working robots and now-most-definitely-working vans.

Well, okay, I did have to rebuild my A/C blower motor again, in the Georgia Tech parking lot. Remember those brushes I installed? They were backwards, and they ate through the copper bus wire after a few thousand miles. A random 200W scooter motor turned out to have the exact same size brushes, and saved the day.

Maker Panel 2013

Here’s where I (finally) post the presentation from the 2013 Maker Resources panel, and some related links, in one place! The panel happened on Friday evening at 7PM, and I had a pretty full house for most of it. Unfortunately I once again neglected to bring my video camera to the event, but I did notice quite a few folks taking video. If you have some high quality video of the panel, I’d like to include it here.

The panel was broader in scope than just “where to buy stuff” which I did in 2012. It put more emphasis on CAD software and transferring designs to parts using digital fabrication techniques (waterjets, lasers, etc.), and in general how to design better things. I tried to include some CAD program demos of stuff like Sketchup, freeCAD, and Solidworks/Inventor, but I actually ran so far over time that the director had to step in and cut me off (Sorry Val!). Maybe next year.

Also included as part of side discussion were the slides from last year with general parts & resources.

Here’s the list of stuff I said I’d put up like two weeks ago:

The Dragon*Con & Robot Battles 2012 Recap

Sep 07, 2012 in Bots, CRJ Wallbanger, Dragon Con, Events, Null Hypothesis, Überclocker Remix

It’s over.

Again. And this time, it wasn’t total ass. This is probably made obvious by the fact that I’m making the recap report so soon after the event, as opposed to past years where I forgot about everything for, say, a month or two. Here’s how it all ended.

Überclocker (Unicorn):

With a drivetrain that finally approximates reliable, Überclocker actually managed to win matches! Later in the tournament, however, and pretty much expected, the repaired fork gearbox began failing and finally left Clocker without the lift portion of the fork. I briefly was able to use the clamp as a lifter (due to the much larger motor now there), but Clocker ended up losing out of the tournament due to …. unscrupulous… driving.

Null Hypothesis:

Well, it sure worked well as a fast pushybot, so I can’t say it failed, but I just didn’t practice driving in confined spaces enough and most of NH’s losses were due to ‘stagediving”. However, it faced two other powerful drivetrain bots, and I think NH caught several seconds of combined airtime over the course of the tournament, finally losing just due to being outmaneuvered.

The Carly Rae Jepsen Wallbanger:

Oh, poor CRJ. It really only had 1 match in the 12lbers, due to the 12s being run single-elimination out of time constraints. But the one match was fairly good – it caught some air glancing  off Apollyon before getting pushed out, then whacked a few people in the 12lb rumble before getting scooped up.

The Ragebridges:

I’m glad to report that for the first time ever, all of my competition robots ran a full-custom motor controller design. The Ragebridges, with their Semi-Intelligent Current Limiting (a.k.a constant-current mode) worked flawlessly, and the CC mode came in so very handy when Clocker’s lifter gearbox shattered and stalled out both motors. I didn’t realize it at first, so I spent a few seconds pulsing the fork control stick up and down, which certainly could have smoked the motors if there was no limiting. None of the boards had the 15v instability and resetting issue after I changed the regulator inductors, and while they did get hot, there were no burnouts or smokage, probably aided by the CC mode.

But robots wasn’t all that happened. Quite a few things went down during the week, too.

The first mission was to get down there. Same as last year, I rented a car with a sufficiently large trunk/hatch, because air freighting or ground shipping were totally uneconomical (and I would have had to build a crate weeks in advance). Joining me this year with his large blue and green EV magic boxes was Adam Bercu, fellow robot builder of many years and also purveyor of fine murdered-out C80 “melon” motors. I brought along several demoables for the Electric Vehicle intro panel that we were hosting, including Chibikart2, the Kitmotters (demo stand and working motor from Johnscooter), and some random R/C parts and batteries. Adam took up the bigger end of the scale with prismatic Li cells, the giant Manzanita “micro” charger, and a large series DC motor controller along with other doodads.

The con itself was quite a time as it always has been. This year, though, I began noticing far more mechanical and home-built costumes and…. other things.

News flash: Eteks are now steampunk.

Update: Steampunk now officially meaningless.

As much fun as I make of steampunk, stuff like this still tickles me correctly because it shows that more people are getting down to building, no matter how silly and brassy it looks. The fabrication on this mono-tri-wheel-thing was pretty well done.

The same group also had a pretty sweet mono-moped with a ring wheel. Does this constitute a hub motor?!

IS IT STEAMPUNK!? I can’t tell any more.

Other mechanical costume parts abounded, like these deploying… something wings. Not too sure if they’re angel or paraglider or what, but watching it in action was awesome.

They were driven by a single motor meshing with a nicely finished geartrain. The drive parts were all waterjet-cut. This was present in the Waterjetting & Digital Fabrication panel, for good reason.

There was also plenty of more decorative elements involving LEDs and lighting on costumes. I’m not sure what the above character is (furry-rave-angel-quarterback-gunner?), but she had a very well made arm cannon doodad and plenty of LED accents everywhere. While throwing LEDs on things might not seem impressive to the average jaded engineer, for many people doing so is an introduction to hooking up a battery to a thing they made and having it work. That’s how it all begins.

I’m definitely supportive of more people making electronic and mechanical costumes and costume parts, and it kind of makes me want to do it more. I think I suffer a bit from costume one-upsmanship envy because I don’t want to start until I make a fully functional mech or something of that scale.

With the expansion of the Robotics Track to include the maker/hacker movement in general, I’m hoping to see many people make engineered costume bits in the future.

Besides the functional stuff, there was the usual plethora of paper mache and foam oversized objects. I’m fond of oversized tools, so here’s a giant wrench. Hey, one of those 3 is Alice Cooper, right?

Sadly, there was no space in the car for Excaliper, my giant 5.5-foot (real steel) vernier caliper that I brought one year and waved around.

Before the con itself, however, there were more robots. We didn’t go down a whole week beforehand just to sit around and drink sweet tea.

Above is Adam’s emergency 30lber build in progress. Nicknamed “Blitz”, it was built essentially over 5 evenings. On Monday immediately after arrival, we stopped by the area Harbor Freight and raided them of almost all of their 18v cordless drills. This was the same time I bought the cordless saws for Carly Rae Jepsen. The next day, we dropped by and bought some more.

A few days later, before the big show. Also present during the week was the other quickly-built-for-fun 12lber, Turboencabulator. Blitz’s design was based off the heavyweight champion Sewer Snake, which has a non-actuated extension of its main lifter weapon that swings forward when the lifted is driven under the robot, making for a flipper-like effect.

Also happening during the week was the installation of the new arena hazard in the Bot Arena, courtesy of yours truly and the arena build crew.

Yes, that is the secret thing I worked on through most of July and August. It doesn’t look very exciting from up top, certainly. In lieu of me explaining what is going on, it might be worth watching some of the antweights videos from this year (videos courtesy of Mike from Near Chaos Robotics)

I still need to put up an epicly long build report for this sucker one day.

This contraption is the control panel for the hazard. It has buttons and does things.

Let’s get down to robots. This is the new Atlanta arena.

Seriously. Isn’t it fucking gorgeous? Not only that, but it’s so outrageously modular. It takes a group of 4 guys maybe 15 minutes to set up if we have practice and tools nearby. Rigging the wiring for lights takes longer, but if you needed instant no-frills robot fight, that’s it. It’s also grown to nearly double the space, from 6 x 6 feet to 8 x 8 feet.

The hole. It’s supposed to have a 12″ sanding disc, but I forgot to bring it and nobody seems to sell those in the Atlanta area in a reasonable timeframe. So we had to make do with these little sanding pads. They fell off as quickly as expected.

If you haven’t figured out from the video, the turntable also goes up and down, creating a whirling pit of annoyance.

I didn’t get many good arena shots since i was primarily recording video. Plus, my free 4-year-old fake-DSLR doesn’t stand up to the professional and camera-penis-contestant photographers there anyway. Above is Dominant Mode briefly before it rocketed the pushybot most of the way across the arena.

The tournament this year was really boned for time – we were supposed to have 3.5 hours, but only ended up getting 2.5, and another event was scheduled to set up during out takedown/loadout time. As a result, many matches had to be cut short and the tournament had to be switched to single elimination mid-stream. Next year, though, this should not happen again.

The day after was the big day!

Again with the last minute random even details, the hotel sadfaced at the robots destroying the brand-new stage risers they had purchased just this year. As a result, a few dedicated builders put together a MDF and carpet overlay for the MDF and carpet stage riser surface. Steel plate annoyance bumps were also bolted to this upper layer, but not very securely – the 30lbers started plowing them off one by one.

There were too many 12lbers to run double elimination, but the 30s ended up being double.

Carly Rae Jepsen Wallbanger lost once to Apollyon for a net 0-1 record.

Überclocker won against Nyx and subsequently won against Scary-go-Round before losing to Pinball and then Nyx, for a 2-2 record.

Null Hypothesis faced Pinball immediately and lost (but not before catching some serious air by ramping off the front wedge of Pinball), then lost to Nyx, for a 0-2 record.

The carpet ended up being a little fragile on its own with no strong, bonded substrate (unlike the stage riser carpet). By the end, there were so many holes and tears in it that the duct taped used to fix the stuff became a hazard in its own right. The lint was also very tenacious and got into drivetrains. Quite an interesting element to add to the game, though the builders are now thinking of a better solution for future years in case the hotel requests stage condoms once again.

Yes, that is a sword on Clocker. After all, I did name it Überclocker Ünicorn, right?

After my match with Scary-go-Round, the lifting fork was pretty much totally useless. Both of the gearboxes had shattered completely from the impacts and the motors were totally locked up. I got as much postponement time as I could in order to pull the gearbox and take out the broken gears, a process which took about 20 minutes exactly as I found out. I restored one gearbox to functional status (leaving the other one freewheeling) , there was not enough time to put it together for the Pinball match.

The top clamp has enough force to lift 30lbers, so I just needed an extension to get it to the ground. Hence, emergency death-shank provided by Jamison. It worked exactly once, but not really.

Next version of Clocker is designed with serviceability in mind…

The carpet also destroyed the McMasterbots wheels. Clocker managed to grind the two back wheels right down to the plastic core, which compromised its traction a fair lot near the end. These wheels are clearly one event use – they’re too soft to just leave on, so I guess I need to make them easily replaceable and have plenty of spares hanging out.

videos

I’m glad to say that many people besides just me had cameras at the events, so Clocker and crew have alot of footage from their matches. It’s almost to the point where I don’t have to do anything!

I’m waiting on some video from other people before editing together my own bots’ summary videos, but in the mean time, NCR has a list of almost every match, and Dale’s Homemade Robots has several compilation videos.

outlook for the fall

That’s it. My annual robot party has ended, and it’s now back to the grind of taking classes. This fall I’m going to play a bit of a catchup game in that regard, so I’ve promised myself no large engineery things. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Clocker will be dismantled now, to force me to rebuild it. The earliest I might be able to call it is Motorama 2013, in February. NH will be kept totally as-is, but it won’t go to Moto 2013 (the only category it would be legal in would just make it be more disassembled, not necessarily reversibly so). CRJW might become the inspiration for a new true “melty brain” translate-while-spinning bot next year.

This semester, I’m going to focus on little things which don’t need time spent fabricating. It would be nice to get the Ragebridge boards compactified more and get rid of the discrete Arduino (or “the ATMega328 breakout board” as some have called it). Not to say it won’t use the current Arduino code, but the chip will just be integrated on board. I’d like to reduce the square footage by 25% or more this way. I’ll also try to characterize the Semi-Intelligent Current Limiting some more to see how fast and effective I can make it. Given the discovery of mismatched component values and incorrectly placed parts, tinyTroller might make a reappearance since it has the same power side architecture.

Next, it’s my intention to reduce my gargantuan pile of robot debris some more. I’m currently split between 4 different shelves and storage locations, and even those are becoming hard to handle… I may put quite a few things up for sale here, and if I do, they will be on a separate page.

As for the distant future, next Dragon*Con I intend to make more appearances at the Maker/Robots track. I do want to run Resources and EVs again, but also I want to add How to Shop on McMaster-Carr… one of the seminal skills that hobbyists and amateur engineers have to learn that really makes projects nice.

Dragon*Con 2010: The Real Wrapup…Finally.

Oct 08, 2010 in Bots, Cold Arbor, Dragon Con, Events, Nuclear Kitten 5, Project Build Reports, Überclocker Remix

hey charles, don’t you owe all of us a dragon*con 2010 event report or something?

Yeah, yeah. The beginning of term, lack of motivation, and the lackluster (but entertaining) run of the robots at Robot Battles meant that I just Haven’t Gotten Around to writing up D*C2010. But I seem to be on a streak of making up for missed writing assignments this week with all the site updates, so… here we go.

Welcome to Dragon*Con. If you missed my description of it last year, don’t worry. It hasn’t changed a bit. The atmosphere is still as eclectic as ever, and the crowds just as dense. Actually, they were probably denser. D*C is one of the biggest conventions in the continental United States.

But I’m not a fan enough of anything to really enjoy the con for most of its con…tent. So let’s move onto the robots.

Also, I like girls with big guns.

Right. Anyways, robots.

Like last year (and years past), Southern Polytechnic rolled out their VEX robotics kits and sponsored an open build-off on Saturday. The participation was pretty intense, with young children showing up strongly. At the end, there was a ball-gathering competition.

sunday sunday sunday

Time to stop diddling. The “Microbattles” event is held on Sunday, before the big competition. NK hasn’t been here since 2008… in fact, when this version was first built.  So NK is running 2 years behind the development curve. How have its opponents evolved since then?

Oh…

The robot caliber this year is seriously advanced compared to years past – alot of it, in my opinion, due to the fact that the other Southeastern builders that I used to smash robots with have also now advanced to college machine shops and have become spoiled like me.

I mean, except Thomas up there, who’s just magic.

Cake, from the Georgia Tech crew – another one of the high-caliber machined and fabricated bots.

On the other end of the spectrum are things like this, which are built by people who are just out to have some fun and entertain the crowd.

Speaking of the crowd…

The Robot Battles events seem to always have outstanding attendance no matter what. The International ballroom has a seating capacity of several hundred (the exact number escapes me). At several points during the event, it was standing room only in the back of the room. And at least once, who I can only presume was the Hyatt Regency’s fire code liaison came booming over the room intercom instructing everyone who was standing to leave.

Disappointing, but oh well.

NK made a run through the tournament bracket before being Caked in the winner’s bracket finals. Cake, being a lower hitter, won every collision. I originally was going to forfeit any matches involving the high-energy weapon bots since I was more interested in maintaining NK’s operational status, but hell, it was the finals.

So I went for it. Overall, NK came out pretty undamaged for the amount of ass-kicking Cake dished out throughout the tournament.  No prizes this year, but the finals match was stunning.

Here’s NK’s highlights for the Microbattles tournament.

clocker and arbor

The day after was the big robot tournament.

Dragon Con is my annual robot party, since it’s precisely at the end of summer and represents the last bit of fun I’m allowed to have before flying back for the academic term. So I spend all summer building or upgrading the robots, among other activities, and bash it all up at the end.

This year, I brought both Arbor and Clocker. It’s been a while since I’ve run a 2-robot tournament, but with Robot Battle’s more laid back atmosphere, it wasn’t nearly as stressful as Motorama. In fact, I rather liked it.

Most of the usual suspects were back, with hacks, mods, and upgrades aplenty. Here’s (Big Blue Saw Presents) Jaws. Also back in the mix was Dale, Evil Robotics, MH, Found Objects, and others.

But this year also saw quite a few newcomers. The Armed Robotic Critters, for one, came with a whole fleet of critter-themed 12lb and 30lbers. Overall, attendance this year was back above pre-2009 levels. 2009 was sort of a bad year for the competition due to several builders having to skip the competition.

Then you have Sporkinok.

Really it’s not even an antweight, but Seth brought it (and a 12lber) anyway. Just for Grins and Chuckles™.

Only at Robot Battles…

….does this kind of stuff happen. You know what’s really hard to catch when you’re a 12 pound robot? A 1 pound robot.

I really can’t say enough about the level of audience energy at Robot Battles. The Regency 6 and 7 ballrooms combined sat over 1000 people….and again, during the event, was reduced to standing room only. The event also encourages the audienec to participate by helping start, end, and occasionally judge matches.

Yeah – you don’t come here for SRS BIDNESS TERNAMINT. You come here to put on a show.

Clocker did great for a while, but then immediately suffered another left-side drive failure. What the hell?

A quick examination revealed that the left gearbox output shaft was poorly assembled (read: did not press hard enough) and slipped its interference fit. Now, what was really weird was that shifting the whole shaft axially some times caused it to re-engage just enough to give the robot differential traction. So Clocker ran sporadically, but was crippled at other times. When the drive disengaged, I just threw on a Zip Tie Ratchet.

Here’s Clocker’s highlights video from the competition. I managed to execute another Robocopter spin with Jaws around a minute and some in.

That’s the move I designed Clocker to perform, and it did so admirably. Unfortunately, the clamp motor was unresponsive, so I couldn’t throw Jaws off the stage. As close as it turned out to the camera guys, this was probably for the better.

Oh, Cold Arbor.

As nice as the upgrades I made were, it still didn’t stop the saw from just catching and binding. I pretty much expected that to happen again, since this milling blade was made for multi-ton machines – not a 30 pound robot. Arbor was visually very impressive and garnered alot of audience applause, but ultimately it suffered two losses because it just couldn’t do anything.

If Arbor is to be actually competitive, I’d have to rethink the whole concept of the robot. Right now, it comes down to an issue of severe uncurable positive feedback – the forces of cutting are squarely directed into jamming the saw further into anything it contacts.

If you observe a regular cold saw or even power miter saw in action, you’d notice the saw’s swing is more vertical than horizontal. In other words, the tangential force of cutting is directed perpendicular (or nearly so) to the direction of saw motion.

Arbor’s movement is very horizontal – made even worse by pivoting the saw at the base of the robot. Therefore, the force of cutting is directed downwards and back into the robot, which is the same force vector I’d generate by cranking downwards on the saw with a pry bar. The net result is that any impact of the blade has to be compensated with massive torque inputs – realistically, more than the worm gear output can probably handle or anything short of an Etek can generate.

overall

Neither a win, nor a fail. I went to the event to put on a show (since there’s really nothing to win), and I think the bots did that just fine. I’m still keen on the concept of an actual working saw bot, however, so don’t expect Arbor to just disappear into MITERS. It will be rethought (possibly while I make sure Clocker’s gearboxes don’t let loose ever again, EVER).

Dragon*Con 2009 and Überclocker Remix: Epic Failwin Edition

Sep 09, 2009 in Bots, Dragon Con, Events, Project Build Reports, Überclocker Remix

So it’s over.

The lesson learned this time:

No matter how good of an idea you think it is to use sketchy $2.50 surplus drive motors, IT ISN’T. There’s a reason they’re on the surplus channel AND really cheap, it’s because they suck.

Anyways, here’s the pretty picture of the robot that I promised. What better backdrop for angry \m/echanical \m/ayhem is there than a flower garden?

I brought with me some assorted lighting products to comply with the power indicator requirement. So, some blue LEDs and resistors later, the bot had a “body glow”.

The emission of the LEDs is captured well by the camera. It’s actually much bluer in person.

After a last overview to add threadlocker on screws that were finger-tight for testing, I threw the robot and associated equipment back into the crate and hauled off to the event.

I ended up not bringing any insect bots this year, so there’s no bot report on the Sunday ants and beetles tournament, but I did take some pictures.

Anyways…

Welcome to Dragon*Con.

The most eclectic collection of comic book heroes, SciFi characters, anime schoolgirls,  ambiguously-gendered deviants in locally popular indie bands, and much much more, in the universe. This guy worked two years on a painstakingly accurate interpretation of… a character I have not heard of in a show I have not watched.

In the middle of all this, somehow, is robots. I am satisfied.

Here’s the “Microbattles” event on Sunday, which features full enclosed-arena combat with 1lb and 3lb bots.

Returning again is the super legit Atlanta Antweight Arena™, a 6 x 6 foot, quarter-inch polycarbonate-sheathed Box of Awesome.

After the last arena hazard exploded off in a violent expulsion of wheel chunks, plastic shavings, and angle grinder gears, it was determined by the community at large that robots should be less amenable to destruction via the hazard, and that the hazard should be designed more for… well, fucking around with the match.

So the new arena hazard is a solenoid-driven flipping ramp that is weight-sensitive. On average, when it is functional (i.e. the latch isn’t jammed), it will pitch a 1 pound robot a few inches up and two or three feet over.

My suggestion of a powered turntable was turned down.

Robots at the event ranged from the compact, durable, and elegant, to…

Yeah, about them robots.

Here’s a picture of robots (Segs and Pwnsauce). Fighting. Like on Battlebots.

The main event is a highlight during the Monday of the con, which is when things are always ending or wrapping up. It’s an open stage sumo-type event where big spinny things are not allowed due to the peculiar fact that the arena wall is the audience.

No, not really. But they still don’t allow spinners, flails and chains, or other surfaces that could conceivably travel at more than 20 feet per second, the prescribed speed limit.

The combat stage in question. Always the shittiest, most beaten up, and uneven stage risers that the hotel has, and usually recycled from the previous year (and beyond!), then littered with audience-sourced stage hazards to make life more interesting.

This year, we have objects as diverse as to run the gamut from shoes to donut boxes.

So about that whole robot fightin’ thing…

Bots at D*C tend to be less SRS BIZNESS,  if the brightly painted lawn mower shell with a popcorn toy on top doesn’t tell you already, than the more professional league events due to the fact that there’s nothing really to win besides glory and a plaque…. and the hearts of nearly a thousand audience members at any one time. The event average 80% seats full and approached standing room only at the end. Coming from a harder combat background, I’m slightly jaded, but the average Stormtrooper finds this very amusing.

Usually, big steel bars are bolted into the stage riser surface to perform one of several functions. They act as more floor hazards to discourage plain box and wedge designs which, while effective, are boring as hell.

They also, as was discovered at this event, keep the risers together. A few good shoves from flying 30 pounds robots and inches-wide seams would open up in the floor because the risers would physically move from the impract.

Floor-scraping wedges have a hard time navigating to begin with, but fast ones begin tearing up the stage surface. A few seams and edges had to be cut off, hammered, or re-screwed as the event progressed.

Here’s a cool shot of Überclocker performing clampbot gymnastics.

Okay, so that’s totally and utterly staged, but for good reason. I actually played most of the tournament with either one function drive side (the left one) or none at all.

Why? Because my sketchy-ass $2.50 surplus drive motors let out the smoke like nothing else I have ever seen.

I actually lost one of them before matches even started. During some test driving on the stage, the right side motor ceased functioning. By that, I mean if you try to power it, huge sparks shoot out from the brush end. Not smooth for robot work.

Knowing the bot wasn’t going to win at that point, I sort of just tossed it in the tournament for grins and chuckles™. This involved starting in increasingly absurd positions as the matches went on – it was a round robin tournament, so I had plenty of time for showmanship.

The reason for the failure is still unknown, but there was no way the bot would move at all with one motor dragging on the right side. So I took it out – leaving only the gearbox to add a very minimal amount of drag, so the robot would tend to curve in a wide right cirle.

The last minute hack that saved me to some degree was turning Überclocker into an elaborate cheap R/C car. You know, those things which go forward, but then turn in one direction when they reverse.

The magically-multipurposed zip tie comes to save the day. When the robot rolls forward, the gears bump the cut wire tie out of the way, and the robot moves without restriction.

However, when the robot attempts to reverse, the zip tie gets sucked into the gear teeth, jamming the wheels. As a result, the robot swings a left turn about the rear right wheel.

It was a very limited form of maneuverability that opponents were about to take advantage of, but hey.

See it working in the highlight video!!

Wrapup

You know what… for once, I’m actually satisfied with the robot. The failure this time was not something conceptual or something I had to fabricate. The fork and clamp worked extremely well when I could capture opponents, and the robot actually did not faceplant on a lift attempt. The torque limiting solution for the gearbox also worked excellently.

The only thing I need to do is not go “ooh, cheap and shiny” as much…especially on something as pivotal as drive motors.

Überclocker will probably compete in regional Sportsman 30lb class events and will return to Dragon Con next year. In the mean time, I have a year to perform upgrades and rebuild the insect bots that I neglected this time.