Archive for the 'Done!' Category

 

It’s Motorama 2017 Time! Überclocker Changes and Upgrades

Feb 15, 2017 in Bots, Events, Überclocker 4

Since Franklin Institute this past year, I’ve been spending quite some time thinking about what changes I need to make to Überclocker for the annual winter robot party, Motorama. It’s the largest event on the east coast for years running, and the ONLY one left with full-contact 30lbers; I’ve gone basically every year since 2013, and sporadically before that (2008, 2010). This year is slated to be some kind of BattleBots #season2 reunion (where Season 2 was called “Motorama, the TV Show” since so many builders who regularly participate ended up on teams!), and there are some of us who are taking the opportunity to do some… scale model testing. Quick! What is the Reynolds Number of a flying Tombstone!?

So here’s what has been going on during the past few weeks! In my summary of the Franklin event, I identified a couple of strategic issues with Clocker which would also concern Overhaul for #season3, given that they’re built so alike.

The first was having everything ‘line up’ in the front. While it also included making the pontoons more adjustable, higher priority on my mind was making sure the arms have enough constraint that they don’t just splay out. We saw this happen in the Overhaul vs. Beta match where I caught Beta with one arm over and one arm under, so the arms because angularly misaligned. Recall that Clocker 3 and before all have multiple spanning elements holding the forks together; alignment was never a problem with that, but Overhaul didn’t have those elements primarily for an aesthetic reason (to maximize the forkiness). While Clocker sort of did have those constraints at Franklin, it was just one spacer stack, and that was quickly lopped off by megatRON.

 

So I’m gonna add more, duh! These two additional spacer & tie rod stacks are located out-of-plane with the one at the end, which will yield much greater torsional stiffness.

One issue is that another 18″ of threaded rods and aluminum tubes will put the bot back overweight a few ounces. Nonetheless, I intend to just build everything out to my desires, and then try to weight-cut from there, rather than compromising early. To pre-compensate a little, I decided to order replacement smaller drive motors. The AXi motors are great, but they are dramatically overkill for power, and I can definitely afford to lose a few ounces. Going to the 42mm outrunners will save me about 3 ounces a side, which alone might be enough. In order to utilize the smaller, higher-Kv motors, I also decided to order a pair of Banebots P60s in the 4:1 ratio instead of my current 3:1s, which should allow me to keep about the same speed.

Now, the 2nd big strategic weakness I want to experiment with is where it gets a little interesting.

I mentioned in the FI post about minimizing my defensive cross-section when it comes to vertical weapons. Those things – including drums, drumlet-drumettes (smaller in diameter and width) and vertical discs/blades are actually what I fear the most designwise, because they do two things to you in a match. One is flip your bot over, from which you need to recover (and which would take precious seconds where you’re vulnerable to followup attack from a good driver), but the more insidious one is ruining any straight edges you might have had where the weapon hits. A small KE weapon will put all of its energy into your material like a singularity; it will deform wedges and protrusions, basically preventing you from having an advantage again. All it takes it one fuckup, as Clocker’s match with Duck Yeah and even better example Blacksmith vs. Minotaur show. Notice how Blacksmith more or less has control of the match before it gets dinged once.

So to counter these kinds of weapons, you would have to do two things. Number one is keep them away from you, and number two is present as small of an area for them to touch you in as possible. There’s a lot of precedent in the sport with “keep away sticks”, including one used to great effect on Icewave last time on the show. To reduce my “vulnerable edge length”, then, I basically had to distill the front wedges down to points.

I take that back: this got interesting very quickly.

 


DUAL WIELD

So that’s revision 1 of the design. See those perforations? That’s for if I mess up and somehow manage to plant these into someone’s weapon instead of besides it. This design is intended to be cut out of AR500 grade steel, which is extremely rigid and springy but won’t stretch that much, so it will preferentially break at the postage stamp line. It’s like an active salamander tail system.

The saw teeth on top are the real bad idea here. Instead of a keepaway stick, I wondered what would happen if I made it a part of the offensive strategy. Most of these little vertical weapons have rubber belts attaching them to their motors. What if I just went straight for that with a very sharp stick? Stab into the gap between weapon and robot frame until you damage the belt or take it right off. That would take some serious driving and luck to pull off, which lured me to the idea further.

There was only one thing I didn’t like, and it was one of those “come back to what you CADed up last night in the morning and think again”. One of my complaints in the FI recap was getting stuck on MegatRON when we charged at each other. These extra-long death-shanks are attached just as the pontoons are, so if I run up on someone else’s wedge I can just as easily prevent Clocker from getting back off. Which is serious bad news when it comes to avoiding a vertical disc/drum spinner, since now they can just turn slightly for a broadside.

This led to revision 2:

Yeah. “It looks like a sawfish-unicorn”, or an Overwhal. That’s right, I decided to affix it to the clamp arm instead, exactly in the fashion shown.

This position I liked a whole lot better for two reasons. One is that it’s implicitly height-adjustable, and can actually be a manipulator weapon of its own. Clocker’s top clamp arm is not trivial – it is designed and built for about 500-600 pounds of closing force. It will lift a lot of things on its own, and is more finely positionable than the lower forks. It’s also more durable with its leadscrew attachment, but the leadscrew anchor is also a mechanical fuse for if things go very wrong and it gets the uppercut treatment – it will break away and probably fling the clamp arm backwards and out of the way, leaving the forks still usable. If I attached this to the forks, and they get bent, then my life becomes very difficult.

The second is a takeoff from the height adjustability. I realized that offensive unicorn strategy #2 was that now I can reach around weapons and bring the house down on their retreating sides, where the disc necessarily disappears back into the robot. With crafty positioning (or a lot of flailing) I could pretty easily literally throw a wrench in the works and shove a wad of AR500 directly between the robot and its own weapon. This would probably result in a very sad unicorn horn and ideally more sad opponent; for me, that’s why the postage stamp holes are kept, so not only will it break away on a successful landing, but will also do it and leave me a 2nd chance if I miss.

Strategically now, I can keep the clamp arm closed and all the way down and use the horn as a keep-away stick of minimum attackable cross section, and also manipulate bots from afar, or get it caught in something else like exposed drive wheels.

….and if you thought it looks silly in the CAD, it looks 10 times as silly in real life. I actually want to make another one of a different length now!

This is another ‘attachment of several ounces’ which would necessitate shedding weight elsewhere, which I will find. One thing I designed up previously but never implemented in real life was a set of light wedges, to be made of sheet 1/8″ aluminum bent into shape. I’m going to go ahead and make them, since they’ll cut around 1 pound off the bot each (Those steel wedges are HEAVY!)

I won’t need that much reduction in weight to use the horn of course, so maybe the configuration will add something else interesting to make up the weight, or just ballast. There is literally no point in weighing less than 30.00 pounds.

So that does it for major design changes. Moving onto more minor quibbles, I wanted to go back and have a look at the wheels again. The custom 50A cast urethane wheels worked beautifully at Franklin, and I now had a bucket of Simpact 60 and Forsch URS-2160 (McMaster part number 8644K24), both 60A urethanes with much higher tear strength ratings, to try.

Now that I was confident in the process, I revisited the hub design. I just designed the first hubs with circular thru-holes for rubber retainment so they could print without support, but the circular holes caused the diameter of the hub to start getting large. I didn’t have much more than the 1/8″ tread pattern’s worth of tread thickness per wheel. With a more rigid rubber, I might be able to increase the relative thickness of the tread portion.

I updated the hub to look pretty much like a scooter or skate wheel core – through-slots replace the circular holes, and the walls are thinner. This brought inwards the OD about 1/4″, which is great!

I also wanted to play with another tire geometry. A little earlier in the year, when Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse was just being set up, we rented a floor grinder to strip the wooden floor of the decades of industrial grunge that had set up colonies within it:

Well gee, as soon as I saw that, how could I not clone the design in one of my own wheels? So if you’ve never used a floor grinder, a big sanding drum gets shoved over this flappy-wheel. To install it, you lock the rotation of the flappy-wheel and gently rotate the drum over it (in thise case, clockwise) while pushing it on. The flappy-wheel is effectively a huge sprag clutch with the drum as the outer race and the flaps as the ratchets/sprags. When the wheel is spun by the motor and the drum gets loaded against a floor, the flaps get forced open a little from the transmitted force of friction, causing them to push out against the drum harder, which causes more friction.

After I finished going “Well huh, that’s kinda smart’ I realized this design would get very good traction in one direction as each flap gets forcibly planted into the arena floor. The reverse direction might not be as spectacualr. Before I got ahead of myself with anisotropic traction designs, I decided to just imitate the flappiness  in my current tire design.

That’s the same helical tread sweep, just with many more slits of a greater depth and narrower width. I did this for “easy” (change the number and size of swept features) for the time being. I’d like to play with a straight-cut geometry like the floor scrubber in the future.

Printing this damn thing was an ordeal. Unlike the previous wheels, the molds could no longer be printed upright without support structures due to the way the helical threads are placed. Furthermore, the deeper tread features also prevent demolding in two halves, so I had to split the mold into quarters. Attempt #1 with supports was basically a no-go, since it was almost impossible to get them out cleanly and not leave little strands and hairs everywhere.

I next tried to print the mold wedges “pointy side up”, making a flat face on the outside of the circle for them to sit on. This was okay, but the nylon warped just enough on each print to make the edges not seal at all – this was attempts #2 and #3. I guess I could have made an Onyx mold too, since it has virtually no deflection, but by that time I’d mentally moved on.

The fourth and successful attempt was a single-piece mold which simply had the upper lip chopped off. I don’t even know why I thought the upper lip was needed now. Just fill to the top and be done!

That’s the model with the lip removed.

So how do you demold this damn thing? It was risky, but I decided the one-piece mold was okay because of the spiral nature of the tread allowed me to helically demold the cured wheel from the mold. And this ended up being completely true! I back out the hex bushing a half-inch, take a wrench, and untighten the wheel right out!

This worked quite well. Here are the two first wheels to emerge with the new material and tread! I stuffed the leftover mixed rubber into an old wheel/hub combination, because wheels are wheels. Notice the white core of the two new ones – they’re made from plain ABS, since I wasn’t about to waste the Onyx material on something I wasn’t sure could ever be removed from the mold. They’ll be on standby as low-priority spares nontheless.

Next up, the Forsch Polymers URS-5160. Forsch is one of those “Call Billy” companies that I always complain about – just go look at their 1997-chic website! Except this time, I was literally told that I had to call Billy (over in BILLING no less) and FAX him the order, then MAIL them a check. Credit card? Paypal? Pffff.       

Oh, Billy also leaves at 2pm each day, so I gave up after 3 days of failing to get in contact with him because I might have trouble waking up before 2pm on most days. Luckily, someone clued me in that McMaster’s general purpose pourable 60A urethane is manufactured by Forsch, otherwise I would have given up completely.

So why the hunt for a product which tries so desperately to not be purchased by anyone? Well, it advertises around 25% more tear strength and ultimate tensile strength than Smooth-on’s Simpact 60. Smooth-on is geared towards being easy to use – everything is made 1:1 or 1:2 mix ratios, so it doubtlessly sacrifies some strength and performance for convenience. I figured that polyurethanes worked like tacos – the shadier and harder to find that a Mexican restuarant is, the better the food. This has been almost bulletproof in my experience. I made it a point to obtain a Forsch product and use it like Robot Jesus Himself intended.

What I really want to try getting my hands on is the URS-2450, which has basically the same tear strength but in a 50A durometer. May Billy and I finally meet in the grand arena of procurement soon.

I cut new wedges out from AR500 plate. These were what they were meant to be, but I couldn’t get the material in 1/8″ (or 4mm-ish) thickness in time before Franklin. This was actually cut from one of Jamison’s spare plates left over from Sawblaze. I’m preparing them for welding here by grinding the incredibly thick scale they all seem to come with off.

Stay tuned for more, though with Motorama now 2 days away, I might just be updating after the fact! Still to come are the making of the pontoons, the spare lighter drive motors, and maybe a little bit of wheel testing!

12 O’Clocker & MassDestruction 6: Where I Rebuild a Bot After the Event is Done

Feb 09, 2017 in Bots, Events, Twelve O'Clocker

LET’S GET BACK TO SOME ROBOT CONTENT!

I feel like this website has become the Life of Charles, what with real editorials and non-stop round-the-clock van coverage and my tenuous professional aspirations… This is not the man I know. Where has he gone? *looks at own hands*

But now I’m back, with some new developments for Überclocker in preparation for Motorama coming up next week, as well as 12 O’Clocker stories to tell first. This bouncy little thing has been going to events and demos since 2013 with hardly any changes – just switching motors, basically. It’s gotten sufficiently worn down to a stub in the past few months that I decided to do a full teardown rebuild with some new parts!

To tell this story, we go back to the dark days of MassDestruction #5, like 3 months ago… Wait, CAN YOU BELIEVE THERE’S BEEN 5 OF THESE THINGS ALREADY? THAT’S MORE SEASON THAN BATTLEBOTS please take me back greg ;~;

This MassD, I took a more organizational role, helping judge and run matches. However, this didn’t prevent me from putting 12 O’Clocker (at the time, my only working bot -_-) into the arena in the somewhat informal 12lb Sportsman’s Class, where pretty neat matches like this occurred. MassDestruction has become a popular regional attraction; word has gotten out, and we pretty much filled out the Artisans’ Asylum event room to capacity. Like, look at this photo.

This is “filming a music video using the flashmob mosh pit at your post-phlegmpunk band’s free unannounced concert” level stuff. What’s better is that the builder population is getting more and more towards being newbie-dominated. This is a great problem to have.

12 O’Clocker came in 2nd place (out of like….3?) at this event, which was great, but it did take some damage. For the deterioriating ABS motor mounts that retained the lift motor finally gave out completely, wrenching the drill casing apart under its own torque:

Oooooh, that’s not good. I finished the tournament using a found drill motor given to me by an Artisans’ member, unceremoniously hot glue MIG-welded into the remaining mounting block pieces. At some point in the final against Snek Plissken, I also lost the lift motors which turned out to be one of the logic capacitors on the old RageBridge 1 units in 12 O’Clocker just breaking off the board. I also ended up demolishing another motor pinion just like at Momocon; the most recent set of motors for 12 O’Clocker came from some 12V Ryobi drill motors, and it seems like they were not up to the task of being run at ~20 volts.

Fast forward another 2 months, and MassDestruction the SIXTH! was on the horizon.  With the promise of more rematches with Alex Horne’s not-Sewer-Snake, I decided on a quick tuneup by replacing the broken ABS lift motor mounts with MarkForged Onyx prints because of course I did. New drive motors were also on the docket.

The Rage Panel slides out from the bottom, so I took the bottom plate off, which also let me do a hardware inspection on parts of the bot I rarely touch after finishing. This level of surgery was also needed to finally detach those ABS blocks.

So new drive motors were a bit of a conundrum. When 12 O’Clocker was built, it was still common to find generic cordless drill motors with 9-tooth pinion gears and 36:1 reduction (two 6:1 stages, 9 tooth sun, 18 tooth planets, and 45 tooth ring) gearboxes. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to find these kinds of gearboxes, with 24:1 being the most common such as being found in all of the Harbor Freight 18v drills and most other rebrands. The 24:1 boxes have a 4:1 first stage using a 15 tooth pinion.

Trouble is, 12 O’Clocker was already geared to go fast, and dropping the gear ratio another 50% would have made it impractically fast and probably burnt out the motors in short order. Those Ryobi drill motors that I kept slipping the pinion on were attempts to find more 9-tooth motor pinions to fit the existing gearboxes.

 

After some haunting online, I found that one of my usual Amazon suspects uxcell sold 18v rated 550-sized motors with steel pinions already installed. Well imagine that, a prepared artificially flavored drill motor!  So I got a bunch to play with. They certainly look like 550-size motors and quack like them. The cans are a little thin, pretty typical of a mature Chinese genericized product… I can pick them up with a screwdriver. Every possible area of cost cutting has been well optimized!  The bronze shaft bearings obviously have no oil in them, since they are a little rattly, but a drop of motor oil in each solved that.

What I did notice was that the pinions’ press fits weren’t that tight. It was actually easy to undo them with a flat-blade screwdriver alone. To pre-emptively avoid embarrassing public gear slips, I took the pinions off and repressed them with a healthy dose of lime-flavored Loctite.

You know what – I’m just all giddy at the fact that they’re motor-shaped at all.

At some point in one of its tournaments, 12 O’Clocker either fell off a Dragon Con stage and landed on its main sprocket, or I got beaned by some flying robot, because the sprocket developed a flat spot which caused the chain tension to vary cyclically, leading to some lost chain moments.

In a moment of either desperation or brilliance, I decided to use my Harbor Freight slide hammer kit with a hook end to pull the sprocket rim back out like you would pound a very reticient dent. I bought this originally for van repair, but it looks like it works for robot dent pulling too!

Putting things back together, sans battery. The Ragebridge 1 with the missing capacitor had that repaired; the capacitor ripped out a logic power trace when it fell off, so it just turned the controller off. All the caps were securely Goop’d in place after the replacement surgery. If you’re using a Rage or a Rage 2, you should do this just in case also.

The biggest problem plaguing 12 O’Clocker was its battery, which I balanced once in 2013 and never again since. The cells had drifted far enough apart since then such that two of them flatlined at MassD #5, and I could no longer revive them. This meant I had to cut the battery open and undo the cell joints to the point where I could pull the two dead cells out and replace them with fresh cells. I closed the battery up again after this replacement (the green tape is new and covers the modded solder joints) with some thicker heat shrink, and making my charger do 5 overnight balance-charge-to-discharge cycles evened the cells out.

One last mod before MassD #6 was the permanent resolution of the clamp motor coming loose. The threads in the face of these Pololu 25D HP motors had completely stripped, so the motor was really just holding on by the electroweak interaction at the end. To remedy this quickly, I just took the faceplate off, slammed a #6-32 tap through them both, and then countersunk the original mounting holes in my actuator body. #zerosigmas is best Sigmas!

If you use these motors, or any of the similar motors from Servocity or Kitbots (or the straight shit from eBay), make sure to also take the motor off, clean the area, and use blue Loctite or similar threadlocker on the reassembly path. The motor does like to also wiggle loose – this is what the “battle hardening” mod offered by Kitbots helps prevent.

So anyways, it’s the morning of 1/28. Time to….

literally all the robots

This is what I trained for.

That’s Overhaul, Sawblaze, and two lift carts in the back. With space for another smaller heavyweight, or a dozen 30lbers and tools & equipment. And probably like 27 people. Some times it’s nice to just bring the U.S.S. BROWN C. STENNIS to an event.

This time, the event was held at the Charles River Museum of Industry, in one of their large event rooms. I once again helped with event logistics including box setup and judging. Overhaul and Sawblaze were brought along for visual stimulation, which was unfortunately because the event room has neither loading dock nor wheelchair ramp, and was, of course, a New England First Floor – 6 feet up the stairs.

Running 12 O’Clocker – especially when things started breaking – and half a robot show at the same time was a unique and singular experience. I will never do it again.

Have some 12 O’Clocker matches!

The match against Don’t Step on Snek, a.k.a Snek Plissken, a.k.a Sewer Snek… god dammit Alex, pick a name already!

By this point, 12 O’Clocker had lost basically all of its forks. They finally reached their fatigue limit at this event, one by one breaking off, until I had basically a big spatula. In the match prior, the right side motor pinion slipped its press fit as I had feared, so I went into the final match (also against Alex) one-motored. Which is fine, since Alex at this point had also started to run out of motors. The finals match was such a headdesking, facepalming occasion that I’m not even going to bother finding a video.

Poor 12 O’Clocker before the finals with the forks arranged the best I can, so SOMETHING AT ALL is still sticking out ):

Well, that’s it for the event. I broke the damn thing so much that I felt like I might as well use the momentum of the event to make spare parts. As I needed to also waterjet-cut spares for Überclocker, I threw on replacement forks for 12 O’Clocker in the same run.

Tearing down the bot completely up front to replace the fork components! This is where I discovered that despite my best attempts at anti-seize grease usage, the lift sprocket’s hub had galled onto the aluminum tube shaft, so the slide hammer was needed again just to break those two apart. I reamed all the shaft collars out again and cleaned up the aluminum shaft surface. This time, I tightened all the collars as much as I could – no longer relying on clutching the lift sprocket for torque limitng, but just setting the RageBridge current limit low enough that running into itself will not cause problems.

The new forks are slightly modified from the current design by adding more meat to the areas where the tie rods pass through. This was previously where they broke, so I made sure to add at least a majority of the cross-sectional area found in the rest of the fork.

By the way, this tube-removing service is also a problem with Clocker, especially after everything got twanged far up its own ass at the Franklin Institute event. I’m going to reconsider using a live shaft with shaft collar hubs to the forks for this reason, possibly considering a more Overhaul-like tie rod and central hub approach. Otherwise, I’m going to make an attachment for the slide hammer specifically for this purpose!

And here’s the refreshed 12 O’Clocker! Hopefully a staple of many demos to come.

The Chronicles of Vantruck 2: Not-Yet-Electric Boogaloo

Jan 12, 2017 in mikuvan, vantruck

sigh

It’s a new year, and somehow I’m outside, in the middle of winter in Massachusetts, at night, fixing a van.

Again.

As I’ve said before, imagine if I ever exert this much effort doing something socially beneficial or self-improving.

I’ve been sparse lately, though, due to a similar kind of exertion that is called “working for yourself”. When you’re me and you take contracting work, you begin to adopt everyone else’s malformed, premature project embryos as your own, and raise them until they can walk on their own, often into a wall. The upside is that I can pick my battles and choose my projects, but the caveat is that I was never good at time management anyway, so it’s sort of easy for me to get lost in work. Overhaul has been living under a table and Clocker 4 hasn’t been repaired from Franklin Institute yet. Please make #season3 happen ):

I am, however, signed up for Motorama again, and you know what this means:


WE MEET AGAIN

 

This time, I will be unstoppable. I will be a worthy opponent!

But first, to get to that point, Vantruck has to be legal to operate in the state of Massachusetts, among other things. So time to get to work!

I have a habit of buying something and then doing research on what it is I just bought. This is why targeted internet advertising never works on me, because it’s too late to show me Ford truck ads now, guys.

To this end, I went ahead and picked up a copy of both the Chilton’s and Haynes service manuals, as well as copy of the Official Ford E/F-150-350 + Bronco Player’s Guide on CD, since I like information. Also, I’ve otherwise never owned a vehicle that had been worth writing an aftermarket service manual over. When one book can cover almost 30 years of one model, or SEVEN MODELS AT ONCE, that’s when you know that 1. it’s good, and 2. it’s why we need globalized diverified economies.

Okay, I’ll take number 1 back. These manuals suck. They’re definitely very “old school car guy” centric, but perhaps it’s just the ones written for old vehicles. The section on how to rebuild your carburetor or adjust the bands in the automatic transmission? Awesome! Checking all engine bearing, cam, and valve clearances? HUGE!

Electrical?

YES, THERE ARE WIRES (1978 F-150 W/ 6-302 ENGINE SHOWN; OTHER MODELS SIMILAR)

I’ll be up front, the only thing I know about carburetors is that a unicorn lives in each barrel and it decides how much fuel to mix with the incoming air. Vantruck’s Ford 460 engine has a 4-barrel carburetor, meaning it has 4 unicorn-power. At least 1 of those unicorns is slacking off when it gets below about 30 degrees, since it will only hold idle with a little bit of throttle application for a minute or so until it warms up. I am told the unicorn has to be choked to whip it back into shape, and the mechanism that does this might be sticky.

Whatever. I don’t care about carburetors. Maybe one day in the future I’ll write the Haynes manual on how to rebalance your future solar-powered bubblecopter’s main lift motors in excruiciating detail and some young hotshot will tell me that nobody uses electric motors any more and that all new bubblecopters manipulate the electroweak force to spontaneously decompose atoms in front of where you want the propellers to be.

So let’s see what I’m dealing with here…. Remember, the goal is to get turn signals and reversing lights working again!

Alright, so the circuit I’m interested in is protected by Fuse 10. I confirmed that yes, no matter how big a fuse I put in, it immediately blows on any turn of the key, so it’s a hard short to ground somewhere. Referring to the wiring diagrams in the manuals (which all say the same thing in slightly different line widths and wiring label mnemonics), I see that there is a combination switch on the transmission that directly controls the reversing lights.

Given that the hazard flasher still works, and the turn signals do flash with them, I suspected a hard short somewhere along the body harness for the reversing lights. The turn signals are on a different path and therefore not affected by the short, but it will blow the fuse and cause power loss to both.

Interesting fact: No matter how large the nose on a full-size American van, there is still an access port for the engine on the inside, and it’s the same for Chevy/GMC and Dodge too. This thing really has less lateral legroom than Mikuvan does, and it’s because the engine is slightly ahead of you, not slightly behind. You’re still basically sitting on top of it.

Why can’t you be a 1960s Econoline instead? They even made pre-truckified versions!

Here I am popping the doghouse off to inspect the wiring harness going to the transmission switch.

 

And I find the culprit immediately: A very fried and rotted wiring connector and harness that was touching the engine block. It seems to have been routed in the valley of the engine next to one of the cylinder heads – so I can only surmise that it’s gotten very hot, accelerating the decay of the legendary 80s US-made plastics. This connector shell basically turned to dust when I tried to open it, and the wiring insulation flaked off in large pieces.

 

Yeah, I picked the scab for a few minutes and separated the wires where they were exposed in order to make sure nothing was shorting,  I cut the harness wrap another few inches in both directions to look for additional shorted locations, but this was the only one.

And here we go – turn signals are back!

However, there were still no reversing lights. I metered the circuits and discovered the transmission switch’s reverse position had failed open – perhaps due to the shorted harness. So that’s a few bucks on eBay for another transmission switch!

Meanwhile, I moved onto excavating other wiring artifacts, playing such games as “Where the hell does this bare-ass connector go?”

I couldn’t find any mating end for this bare terminal; it’s on the same circuit as the power supplied to the transmission switch and is allegedly part of the ignition interlock (for no starting in-gear), but I can find no mention of it anywhere in the manuals – probably an aftermarket mod that was later removed. I taped it off for the time being.

Then we have this rare example of an American Wiring Kudzu:

Someone please tell me this is not OEM. Compared to Mikuvan’s “all in one extravaganza” wiring experience, this is borderline unreal.

I couldn’t identify what the leftmost and uppermost components (with rusty terminals) were, but one of the right hand side relays seemed to be a headlight relay and the other one a horn relay. If you know what those other things are, please let ME know. I just wire-brushed and dielectric-greased the terminals and called it a day.

Following the horn relay caused me to discover a very long-dead airhorn compressor buried near the front radiator supports. Since the plumbing seems to be in place, maybe I’ll try hooking up a new airhorn compressor at some point…

Flash forward a week and the new transmission switch has arrived. This is a photo of removing the old one – it was a very straightforward procedure, and I actually did it “by the book” as recommended.

Interesting fact: The orange tube seen in the first ‘doghouse’ photo is actually a linkage that connects the throttle body to a small lever on the transmission selector valve. Its termination is shown here. Not only is it actually a linkage, but it’s actually the connecting link in a 3-dimenional 4-bar linkage and moves in a circular arc centered somewhere inside the engine. It’s the transmission kickdown linkage, and when you hit the gas pedal hard enough, it moves outwards at the throttle body, translating through that circular motion into a downward motion at the switch here.

It doesn’t stop there; EVERYTHING IS LINKAGES. The throttle itself is a linkage, and the main gear shift selection lever also toggles the leftmost brown bar as a linkage. The parking brake linkage seems to move on the same set of pins this whole clusterfuck moves on, connected to the frame.  AND EVERY ONE OF THESE LINKAGES IS SLOPPY.

I legitimately don’t know if I should be horrified that someone thought this was a good idea, or amazed at the ingenuity that went into packaging everything.

Whatever. You’re all leaving for a sack of electrons in the next few years. I cleaned up the area and regreased all the pins and clevises for now. I should just pack everything with JB-weld so it fills the slop!

As the first wiring repair a few days later, I started with the most critical issue, the transmission harness. Here it is repaired with a few more inches to spare ; this extra length will let me route it up and over the hot part of the engine, over the air cleaner lid, and back down towards the transmission.

Alright, with my turn signals back on and the reversing light circuit showing continuity, I still had no reversing lights. Well, time to go see what other wires could be broken. The wire emerging from the transmission switch which allegedly goes straight backwards to the reversing lamps did not show continuity to ground, meaning it was broken somewhere along the way. First, I checked the light modules themselves, which meant starting at the back…

Bad mistake.

Judging by the aging of the various nylon splice connectors AND A WIRE NUT. WHO THE HELL USES WIRE NUTS HERE I think at least 2 jackasses have been here before me, making me the third ass. Several aftermarket trailer devices have probably lived and died here, and there were not only stubs of wires (some of which I might need) but splices like this rare Shadtree Wiring Octopus living in the back bumper area.

Speaking of trailer accessories, here’s a quick side story.

Since the beginning, Vantruck has had a magic switch installed on the underside of the dashboard. Neither the seller nor I nor my truck-buddy Dan who I blame for this whole thing could tell what it did, or where it led.  This magic switch had a yellow and a brown wire coming off it, with the yellow going directly to 12 volts at the fuse box. The brown wire, though, disappeared into the abyss.

As long as I had the dash and other panels off hunting for the transmission switch wiring, I decided to follow the brown wire.

From the switch, it runs downwards and follows the rest of the body harness out to the front driver’s side of the engine compartment. It’s definitely aftermarket, since it’s just stuffed into the bushing there, not part of any wrapped bundles.

Inside the engine compartment by the front left wheelwell, it makes a U-turn and dives under the frame. It runs allllllll the way back to just ahead of the rear axle, upon which it terminates in….

 

NOTHING

That was….. anticlimactic.

Oh well. I ripped this wire all the way out, along with the entire magic switch, and some of the wiring stock ended up making it back in the form of taillights.

At this point, I looked up and discovered this creative arrangement of fuel lines and seemingly a vestigial fuel-system switching valve. The seller had made it clear that the dual tank system doesn’t work. There is another switching valve to the right, a few feet closer to the front driver’s side, which is about equally disconnected.

Since it’s silly to have such a huge truck with less range than a Tesla Model S, this fuel system will be the focus of my next adventures. I’m just going to replumb everything from scratch – I don’t even care to detangle this right now. More importantly though, the fuel gauge sensor is faulty in the rear tank (left) and of unknown vintage on the front tank (right), so they are a higher priority than being able to cause 2 forms of global warming at the flick of a switch.

 

By the way, the yellow end of the magic switch ended in a wire nut by the fuse panel, which has a connection via a 30 amp fuse to….

…a wrapped bundle somewhere in the body harness again.

You know what, fuck it, I quit. I just removed all of the splices, trimmed the unknown broken wires, and put it back together.  Currently, power windows only work if I alligator clip the door harness to 12V, so I’m pretty sure one of these things actually went to them, in defiance of the manual telling me what color wires are supposed to do what. I’ll address this later…

Since I had to get access to the rear wiring anyway for the lights, and it hadn’t gotten that cold out yet, I decided to rust-treat the rear bumper’s inside cavities while it was off.

This thing was unexpectedly heavy. It’s made of mostly 1/8″ and 3/16″ steel with stamped brackets holding it to the frame with 5/8″ bolts.  I keep forgetting that I am working in a realm where everything was designed by and for much larger and manlier men than myself.  This is good – it keeps me on my toes, and makes it even weirder to everyone else around when I pop out of it at Motorama.

The treatment consisted of a wire brushing and air-blasting the rust powder off, then treating the remnant surface rust with converter, and a few layers of clearcoat over it once it dried. Probably overkill for surface rust on the stern of the Titanic, but hey, it’s iceberg season and I had work to do while the substances dried.

Getting it back on again was an even more hilarious adventure. dem gainz

Long story short, I basically rebuilt the rear harness using the shop books as a guide. I removed several ill-conceived marker lights, seen as shadows above the wiring loop. Clown #1 or #2 had just drilled a tiny hole through the sheet metal and shoved the wire through, un-bushed and liable to being torn on any one of those holes. I’ll do my own marker lights later if I feel like adding to the already gargantuan collection of LOOK AT ME I’M A TRUCK lights present.

Finally, after shaving most of the yaks living in this region, I pulled out the taillight modules and began playing hunt the wire. Here is another Shadetree Wiring Octopus habitat. The sheer number of splices on this length alone are mind-boggling, and make me suspect the taillights are not original.  I played a game of alligator clips trying to find out what was supposed to go to where – at this point, none of the colors lined up with the shop book, so I only had intuition to help along.

And an hour or so later, the corrected harness with rebuilt areas and 99% less splices emerges.

Luckily, the other side was actually in good shape, but this was the master side where the brake light, turn signal, and reversing light body harness came in, so it was the side which mattered. Everything was e-taped together, bundled, and shoved back in.

And there we go!

Those are some bright taillights… In fact, they’re the same ones I use on Mikuvan, the so-called 10W LED “buttheadlights”.

I discovered that beyond just hacking up the wiring, Clowns #1 or #2 had in fact installed the entire wrong bulb into the right side reversing light. They somehow stuffed a type 1157 dual-filament bulb into the socket for an 1156. Nothing made contact, and so that light didn’t work initially.

Not having direct replacements for the type 1156, I suddenly remembered I bought like 3 packs of those LED things and decided to just switch over right now to LEDs. I did not have 1157s for the taillights in LED, though, so that will come another day.

These are the “buttheadlights” in question, and I can vouch for their niceness.

Buttoned back up!

The story doesn’t end there, however. As long as there was a gaping hole in the fender, I couldn’t get an inspection sticker to be fully road-legal. At this point, I had plotted and schemed for 3 weeks on how to fix the hole, but the weather no longer permitted any outdoor work that involved curing or drying anything – and I did not have any place left to pull it indoors.  I finally decided to throw it in and took Vantruck to Richie’s Automotive in Waltham, a shop highly recommended by Dan which dealt a lot with trucks. This timed well with a spontaneous New Years trip to Atlanta, so I was able to leave it there and ask for the Have At It treatment.

And here we go! After I returned from driving vans for 3,000 miles, I was totally done with vans, so Dan got the privilege of piloting the battleship back to port. The fender patch is backed with sheet metal and all the damaged brackets were also repaired; I also had them go ahead and replace the exhaust system from the Y-pipe back since it had substantial rust holes in the muffler and other spots.

So that’s why it was so loud. I thought large American V8s just sounded like that all the time.

Finally, they threw in repairing all of the marker and trim lights, including all the little ones in the running boards which were out and I didn’t care enough to do with the other wiring, as well as the ones eviscerated from the fender. It’s great to have a shop well-connected to the industry, since I am definitely not knowledgeable on Giant American Truck things.

The current outlook is to replace the malfunctioning fuel gauge in the rear tank, which reads half when full and empty when about 5 gallons down out of 22, so it’s not helpful at all. I’m perfectly content having only about 250 miles of range on one tank, since that places it on the same refueling interval as Mikuvan. I’m therefore not inclined to actually repair the fuel tank switching valve system, but maybe just join the two tanks at the bottom with a hose or a transfer pump so I have use of both tanks, just not alternately.

After all, if I make it too good, I might be inclined to keep everything running…

In other exciting van news, however, this latest trip to Atlanta did result in Mikuvan rolling the grand ol’ 200K, in the most unromantic possible location: A few hundred feet from the entrance of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.

Hopefully I’ll captain this Space Battlevan-ship for many more parsecs to come. I’m eager for the weather to improve again so I can continue preparing it for the inevitable decals.

Franklin Institute 2016 – The Post-Event and Thoughts on #season3

Oct 21, 2016 in Events, Überclocker 4

So now that we’ve gone over the build of Clocker 4, it’s time to talk about how the bot did! The Franklin event was one that I went to the first time last year, and it was quite the experience – if not extremely busy since the whole tournament has to be finished in 1 day.

Everything I needed for this event fit on one handtruck. See? Why can’t we just build 30lbers for BattleBots? Film the whole damn tournament in macro so they look huge!

I was prepared to take a few last-minute MITERS people, so I showed up ready to go. However, plans suddenly changed…

Mr. “I’m not sure if I’m going to go and it’s 9PM the night before the event” decided to take 30lb-SawBlaze. Given its reliance on conventional lithium batteries, we had to really quickly make a replacement battery using 18650-sized A123 cells pulled from my stock, using the last minute MITERS robots’ prep time to do this. This battery furthermore had to fit in the former space occupied by two flat LiPoly packs, so it ended up looking like a weird laptop battery. The vertical cells leaked into spaces the flat packs did not, in order to get some more battery energy.

MegatRON/30-Sawblaze also uses the Axiii motors attached to P60s, incidentally. That means we’re well matched for speed and power. This should get exciting!

Five hours later, we emerge out of hyperspace into the orbit of Philadelphia, only losing $26 of toll money in the process. On the way, I stopped in Manhattan to pick up two spontaneous teammates, Cassandra and Allen-chan (for whom this is public notice towards to put a real damn website together). Cassandra took most of the photos to follow, since I was too busy running around headlessly.

 

All set up and ready at the event, with a pipefessionalism to the left.  The pits at Franklin are always tight due to the space available, so I actually shared a table with Jamison. Getting pointy 30lbers in and out of the aisles was always a dance routine.

What’s that on the back of Clocker? Why it’s chibi-Haru-chan! Join Cynthia in a month of drawing cute chibi-style BattleBots entries!

IT’S ROBOT FIGHTING TIME! In the Red Sharpie Blob, it’s… god dammit Charles, get out of here, you’re not Faruq!

Clocker’s first opponent was Melvin, a modular pushybot with different pushy type attachments. It was a fairly easy target to grab, and I didn’t feel particularly threatened by it so I took the time to get to know the drivetrain better. I got a few good grabs on it, and then….

…whoops. After those good slams, the upper jaw just comes off. Well, this is disappointing, but I can’t say that the dislocated look isn’t neat in its own way. The weak link was the linear actuator’s leadscrew anchor.

I had two 1/4″-20 set screws – the same kind that took out Overhaul – holding onto the leadscrew in a notch, but I guess the force of the lift and clamp crashing down was enough to tear the end of the notch, and off the leadscrew came.

This was resolved by using two oversize drill bits to drill deep dimples into the location where the set screws landed, turning them more into pins. I didn’t have issues with this the rest of the event.

So far: 1/0. Here’s a video of the first match against Melvin!

My next match was none other than Mr. “I’m glad there was still a registration spot open when I got there”, 30lb Sawblaze a.k.a Megatron. This was a spoiler for #season3 excellent driving and maneuvering match that I just barely lost. Having weight on the front of your robot still trumps (We need to find a new word for this activity eventually) any amount of fine compliant wedge tuning, I think. I was hard pressed to attack Megatron head-on, so I concentrated on keeping it rolling over and self-righting, but there were more moments when he had control. Once Clocker was propped on the prongs of Megatron’s plow, it was more difficult to un-prop.

Near the end, Clocker was stuck upside-down momentarily. I thought it was the DeWuts clutching out, but looking at one of the match video angles showed that Megatron had spun off one of the nuts that holds the cross-fork tie rod together, and the tie rod was fallen out and jammed between the forks and pontoon. It took several seconds of forcing it back and forth before it finally bent enough to let me flip back over. However, in that few seconds, I lost significant mojo with the judges.

So far: 1/1. Here’s the exciting maneuvering match!

Some nice sparks coming off Clocker’s pontoons from the sawblade!

After this match, the rear wheels were basically worn flat. This is fairly consistent behavior – a few Motoramas ago, Clocker ran out of wheels. After that, I was replacing the duallie BaneBots 50A durometer wheels once per tournament. This version of Clocker combines smaller wheel contact area with a lot more drive power, so I was expecting to burn them down faster. There’s still a lot of “eraser flakes” going on, so I might want to look into a harder compound or just more durable material. I also openly admit that my casting technique might need some work.

The front wheels suffered less, since they were unloaded somewhat by the pontoons. I’ll add that having the pontoons firmly on the ground was not that helpful – I felt like I had traction issues, but it was really the pontoons and forks making the bot act like it’s front-heavy. It drove much better if I had the forks up a little. This is actually good to know for #season3, and I’ll talk about that later.

Some nice gouge marks in the pontoons from being held under the saw for a few seconds!

This is the cause of the jamming. The threaded rod tying the forks together backed out – most likely due to the saw, given there’s a significant cut mark on the standoff like someone took a poorly sharpened lathe parting tool to it!

Alright, I had maybe 10 minutes until my next match (Franklin runs FAST – you aren’t guaranteed the usual 20 minutes of repair time). Can we change the wheels in time? I brought my pack of spares  that were cast days before. This batch had air bubble problems, clearly visible in the wheel, since I could not locate the makerspace’s vacuum mold degassing chamber. Someone probably ran off with it for New York Comic Con. I was curious now about how the airy wheels will wear down, so I swapped them on anyway.

The next match was against Duck Yeah, a vertical spinning “STD” bot (where STD has now become popular robot slang for Single Tooth Disc). This is architecturally similar to BattleBots like Witch Doctor, Brutus, or Hypershock, so I was excited for this match. I don’t have a good tactic against STDs or other vertical wedged weapons besides “Don’t Fuck Up”.

Well, I did. My penchant for backsliding into head-on assaults did not end well. In fact I fucked up almost immediately, and the pontoons and arms bent up enough for it to be almost impossible to get back under Duck Yeah.

I got tangled in a hit shortly after that which let Duck Yeah go Full Mike Tyson and nip off one of the ears. These ears were definitely more risky than Overhaul’s – I got stuck sideways on them once while the clamp was open and I forgot how to self-right. Overhaul 1 and 2′s self-righting do depend on the clamp being closed past a certain position, which is easy to forget without practice. PRACTICE DRIVING YOUR DAMN ROBOTS!

The bright red glow coming from the middle of Clocker is the clamp motor’s endcap which got blown off in an impact – the brushes are touching and heated to incandescence by the current flowing through them!

Match video here. About midway through, I gave up on lifting since the pontoon edges were mangled and the forks bent, and just drove it around slamming it into walls more.  I won the match on this basis.

 

So far: 2/1

The ear that got nibbled split pretty cleanly along layers. You can also see that the weapon made contact with my clamp motor at least once!

Alright, not much more time until I have to get back in the box, so I quickly swapped a spare clamp motor in. This actuator, thank goodness, is far easier to service than the previous ones!

One thing I did not have was spare forks. This was a pretty severe oversight, as I had the ability to cut them out the week before and dd not do so. I also didn’t have a big enough press, or enough time, to straighten them out again to a degree that would be useful. As such, out comes the angle grinder. I’d rather fight with 1 fork than two are are kind of at different levels.

After this bold move, I try testing the repaired clamp arm and……. nothing. The motor wiggles a whole lot, but doesn’t really move the leadscrew. Uh oh…. I pull the thing apart and discover that it had a totally different pinion. I grabbed a motor for an incompatible drill out of my bin, went “LOOKS OK FROM HERE”, and threw it in the parts box! The gear was similar in diameter, so it “kind of worked”, but really didn’t. Cue 10 minutes of trying to find either a replacement motor or a pinion puller – someone came through with the latter, and I was able to transfer the pinion off the destroyed motor.

The next match was another cripple fight against a decidedly less mobile Melvin. This time, Melvin busted out a thwackbot assembly since they could only spin in place with 1 functioning motor. This was a match where I drove a little harder and went for broke. I had so little time after discovering the motor mishap that I left the ears off. Nontheless, it was a match full of a few full power, cross-arena drives which I had not attempted up to that point. One of these dislodged the bumper inside the arena!

Here’s that match. Near the end, I stranded Melvin sideways on the bumper. I generally have a policy of freeing opponents if they get stuck once, but if I get them twice, I’m done. 3/1 now, and Clocker moves onto the Loser’s Bracket finals (aka the most winning of the losers!)

And who was my next match? A rather crippled Megatron, who just got recently bounced off the ceiling by Big Ripto, in an event which called into question the integrity of the arena. This match wasn’t long – Jamison didn’t have enough time, nor the means, to reattach the plow in a way beyond large quantities of what he calles “Harambe Tape”. Nor was the saw functional. So the plow fell off early on and he decided to call it. Here’s the match from Fred – this put Clocker in the finals at 4/1….. against Big Ripto.

The finals didn’t happen. You can tell because here’s a photo of Clocker still in one piece. The event organizers decided to ban Ripto from the arena again citing the danger of ejecting parts from the roof. This was made known to us when the organizers pulled Kyle and I aside and had a chat about the arena falling apart. While there was some rock-paper-scissors involved, I handed the victory to Kyle unconditionally. There was no way I would have stood a chance in the shape Clocker was in at this point, and Ripto had taken literally no damage. It’s a rock solid design that’s hard to counter, especially when nothing on the front of your bot lines up any more.

I just made the organizers promise to match Ripto and Clocker up first thing at Motorama 2017 next year. By then, hopefully my strategy against vertical weapons will be more evoled. That ought to be funny.

So that’s the story of how Überclocker 4 / 30-haul took 2nd place at Franklin 2016!

On the way out, we stopped for dinner at a place I was explicitly recommended to go for the best Philly Cheesesteak. While I agree that it was very good, we all fucked up on a very important aspect: Not realizing the place offered toppings. Now, up until this point, I had never ordered a geuine Philadelphia-sourced cheesesteak sandwich, so I thought it was SUPPOSED to be just an amalgamation of meat and cheese. Again, this was a very good amalgamation of meat and chese, but it could have had onions, peppers, bacon, more cheese, more bacon, and all sorts of sauces on it for no additional charge. So I lost this round, and will need to correct this next FI.

In the end, how does this event affect my outlook for #season3?  The “lessons learned” fall primarily into the strategic, but there were also physical results.

  • First off, the molded wheels worked excellently. They did wear quickly, but not unusually so. I would have actually accepted consuming a set of wheels per match. That’s actually why Overhaul ended up having so many spare wheels made. So the task at hand is to investigate more compounds and see if one or the other yields better wear life while not giving up traction. In terms of raw traction, I was satisfied. I’ll probably commission a few pull tests on a steel panel covered in the same “traction paint” as used in the box, on a small scale first with promising candidates moving to Overhaul-sized 5″ wheels.  While there were times I thought I had poor traction, it was largely interweaved with the ground force exerted by the forks and pontoons.
  • Speaking of which, I’m thinking some system of continuously adjustable ground force is needed.  Clocker begin the tournament with pontoons slightly too low, and this obviously impeded maneuverability since it preferentially loaded the rear wheels and left the fronts almost unworn – hence wasted. After some big hits, the pontoon edges became worn back and I actually began driving better as evidenced in my second MegatRON and Melvin matches. In fact, this is something Beta has the ability to do. I can pre-load the shock mounts using different height spacers, but it would be nice to have a set that’s adjustable in height somehow. This is to make sure I can perform fine tuning of the contact while Overhaul is loaded up in the test arena for functional verification before the match. I’ll have to think about if this system is worth pursuing and in what form it will manifest, but I want to MACHINE THE PAINT OFF THE FLOOR (so, you know, I can get better traction).

 

  • Likewise, I should think harder about an adjustable hard stop for the arm travel. Clocker 3 had one, but Clocker 4 just relies on the frame rail. This is not adjustable and obviously the zero point will change with damage. Same goes for Overhaul.

 

  • I’ve got a lot to learn about driving strategy now that I’m back in the high energy class. It’s completely acceptable to attack Sportsman’s class bots head-on since the chances of you exploding doing so are minimal, and this has clearly influenced my attack style with Clocker, since the ‘smash and grab’ visual is also an audience pleaser. This is obviously dangerous if you are liable to being fed into a vertical drumlet. I still consider the vertical wedged weapon the most dangerous adversary, given that Overhaul has taken on a high powered horizontal weapon well (okay…. you know what I mean) and Clocker fared so poorly against Duck Yeah. Ripto would have been a disaster for sure.

 

  • It’s very obvious  that I cannot count on every part of the bot lining up to make the front impregnable. I used to drive pushybots with hinged wedges which were lightly pressed against the ground. This, besides not interfering with traction unlike hard-mounted wedges, also affords a chance to escape if you go up on the opponent. In the first battle of MegatRON, Clocker was constantly getting stuck on the attack phase since I would charge into an equivalent charge by Jamison. It was also well evidenced against Beta that Overhaul was hard pressed to escape getting wedged. How to prevent this without compromising the function of the pontoons I am less sure – it could very likely just come down to more strategic driving.

 

  • I furthermore have some thoughts about minimizing my defensive cross section against vertical wedged weapons that I will keep offline for the time being. The upcoming MassDestruction event in 3 weeks might be a good chance for me to test some of the ideas on the beetleweight scale, where drums reign supreme. I’m tempted to build a simple beetleweight pushy-wedge (sigh) to exercise my skills and countermeasures against vertical weapons. (It’s important to note, however, that nothing scales directly; concepts can be expanded, but I can’t magnify everything I did on Clocker by 2x and expect it to behave the same way)

 

 

Completing Überclocker 4 & The Leadup to Franklin Institute 2016

Oct 15, 2016 in Bots, Events, Überclocker 4

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled build report for VAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNN TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME!

Contrary to most years that I’ve returned from Dragon Con by road, I did not have a job pressing need to return to Boston, so could take a few days to roam around Atlanta. This time, I revisited a couple of old haunting spots from the high school days – namely, junkyards, flea markets, electronics shops (what remained, anyway), aaaaand McMaster-Carr. When it was time to return, I decided to do something which I’d been thinking about for a while, and had been recommended by “car people” friends – hit up the mountain roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many moons ago, my parents took me on a road trip to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in North Carolina via some scenic routes such as U.S. 441, and I’d been reading up on the area as of late. Back then, I certainly didn’t appreciate the scenery or natural surroundings as much as I d…. nah, I still don’t, but those mountain curves I remembered as being awesome.

I solidified the plan as diffusing through North Georgia using U.S. 19/129 through Blairsville into North Carolina, then ascending via U.S. 74 eastwards until the intersection with N.C. 28. From there, I would follow the Tail of the Dragon (returning to U.S. 129) and eventually end up in Knoxville, from which it is easy to return to the Interstates. It was an incredibly scenic adventure – I definitely want to return here next year and perhaps try a different tourist trap on the way down – I’m hankering a little for the Diamondback 226.

The careful reader would notice that yes, this means I took a heavily-loaded Mikuvan filled with an entire Dragon Con of robot gear with Overhaul in the back and everything up and down twisty two-land forested mountain roads.

b o d y   r o l l

And bought the “unflattering water slide photo” at the end!

I must point out – loaded heavy in the back with about 500 pounds (Overhaul, all the robot gear and tools, all of Jamison’s robot gear and tools, and whatnot) made the handling and ride better than empty, I’m pretty sure. I tend to throw MV around like a go-kart, and the back end does get light due to the front mid-engine and front driving position. In winters, I regularly keep tools and heavy objects in the hatch to get more purchase during slushy or snowy weather. So I think riding empty might not have been any better, and it’s not like you can actually go that fast on the road while maintaining your lane. It took a few turns to “get it” (and probably warm the tires up a little) before I began really tossing it into the curves. “Continuous tire squeal” must have been concerning to bystanders…

Here’s the whole run from my high-mounted dashcam. Note that this is a very different and weird position compared to most dashcam videos – it’s mounted high up on the very tall cabin, pointed more down than forward, and Mikuvan has no front. Some people actually have said it made them dizzy due to the different motion experienced.

I think around the 3-minute mark is when I started getting more adventurous. Cynthia can be seen trying to constrain herself, her phone (recording a different perspective), and random objects in the cabin.

Anyways, fun times. But you guys came here to see Über-haul work! Here’s what went on in the few weeks before Franklin 2016. In this timeframe, I also went to New York Maker Faire to marshal the Power Racing Series race there again – Chibi Mikuvan came along as an exhibition item, but I didn’t race. I’ll need to post an update about the Detroit and New York Maker Faires at some point.

I did a fair amount of work in the remaining few days in Atlanta. One of the first things I did when I returned was drop by MITERS and use the large drill press to finish drilling some of the frame holes all the way. I then assembled the bot more completely to test the fit of everything.

Verdict: Yeah, sure, whatever. #zerosigmas

One element that has been missing up to this point which you people keep pointing out is that Clocker 4 is missing the classic Overhaul ears. Yes, yes I know, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

The purpose of the ears on Overhaul 1 were to permit self-righting – the bot had a stable 45-degree-roll upside-down orientation that in testing, we could not get out of. Overhaul 2 addressed that problem a little with geometry, but it was still there – so the ears appear in a slightly different shape. The shape of the ears is a compromise between eliminating this 45-degree stable spot and extending far enough up to tip the bot over once it was fully on its back, using the action of the forks.  OH2 traded some of this latter ‘stickup’ distance for more sideways extension, which is why its ears appear proportionally smaller and flatter than OH1. The tradeoff is it takes a full power swing of the forks to get back over, something I was not too happy about and which contributed to a fair amount of pre-event paranoia in the team.

For Clocker, I wanted to explore the ‘high stickup’ option. This meant the ears have to be shifted forward some to not interfere with making the upside-down stable spot worse. It also makes the bot look very much like some kind of micro-fox or Gundam headpiece.

The ears are designed to be printed using Onyx with additional carbon fiber perimeter reinforcement, so they ought to be immensely beefy. They have to stand being landed on if this thing gets flipped.

I printed these while in Atlanta, but the installation came afterwards. They push into one of the circular cutouts in the clamp arm, have a flange to maintain the tilt angle, and is sandwiched together with 4 bolts.  This configuration means they don’t wrench on the side plates of the clamp arm, which are aluminum and would likely bend, instead bracing each other using the bolted connection… It also hopefully also makes them replaceable. I may pursue a similar strategy for Overhaul this coming BattleBots season, even if the ears are individual weldments.

The chain path for Clocker 4 was never quite decided, but I figured there would be a third tensioner or chain guide involved to force the chain to contact the motor drive sprocket more. This manifested itself in this slip-on tensioner that I designed after seeing the most perfect location for it also coincided with one of the frame rail trusses, so it was easy to make something that  mounted directly on it. Unlike Überclocker 3, it doesn’t have roller tensioners on eggy cams, so is not adjustable in this manifestation, maybe the next one.

Problem: I got paranoid and piled everything onto my scale, and it came out two pounds overweight. Wait, what? The CAD model says 29.5 pounds!

After significant investigation, it turned out that my beautiful PAXi motors were never assigned a finished weight. They each contributed 2.2 pounds to the bot in real life, but were modeled as only 12 ounces apiece…. basically, the P80 parts that I did assign weights for during the design of Overhaul 2….

However, I might actually swap these out before FI 2016 for modified P60s, since having the armor weight back would be nice.

Well then. Turns out I needed more than armor weight! Even eliminating 1lb each would still put the bot overweight. The remainder, I figured, came from wiring (all the 12 gauge adds up) and additional hardware.

Alright, time to borrow a P60 model and smash the AXi onto it.  At this point, I do not own a P60, so I didn’t know how easy this was to do, but it was still 2 weeks out from FI so there was plenty of time to find out.

Since the frame was designed around and cut out for a P80, I actually had to make a P60 to P80 adapter plate. This attaches to the front of the motor using its existing tie rods in counterbored holes, so the front face is flush. The tapped holes are at the P80 bolt circle locations.

A week later, a pile of BaneBots equipment appears. I took the opportunity to also investigate their new BB series gearboxes – Building Block, so named because they feature stackable designs similar to the Vexboxen. I got a BB150 thinking it was similar to a P60.

I was wrong. It’s like a P70 or something, literally almost the middle in dimensions between the P60 and P80. Their BB220 gearbox is the same square size as the P80, however.  Internally, it’s quite massive and a huge improvement over the P60 architecturally, with widely spaced bearings and a double-thick output carrier plate.  I will keep the BB150 around for other applications – it’s too big for this one. Banebots have come a long way from their early brass gear days, but I feel like people never quite let them live that down. The six P80s in Overhaul 2 speak to that well.

THIS IS WHAT ROBOTIC FRUSTRATION LOOKS LIKE.

Mabuchi 700 series motor bolt circle: 2x M4 on 29mm

AXi 4120 bolt circle: 4x M4 on….

30mm.

Look at us, we’re so brushless we need to be just different enough to piss everyone off.

Luckily, “drill out the mounting holes 0.5mm larger each” was enough and the M4 cap screws just barely slipped into the existing counterbores.

To mount the pinion, I borrowed a 0.2357″ (6mm minus 0.0005″, because what are units?) reamer from Jamison and expanded the 5mm bore with it, then pressed the pinion on. This fit is backed up with green Loctite 609 retaining compound. It mildly makes me worry, bu Jamison swears it works… alright, we’ll find out. I’d personally have gone  -0.001″.

Here are the two completed P60 & Axi sandwiches ready to mount in the bot. This setup weighed 19oz each, down from 34oz of the P80 combos, putting the bot at still a half pound overweight.

With the motors now secure, I returned to the parts of the bot I stopped caring about before Dragon Con – namely, the electronics mounting. I first cooked up this DLUX 160 bracket in Atlanta and tried 3D printing a version. It worked fine, except there was not really a way to retain the top one since the gap now crossed by the N shape was open. I closed the gap using the diagonal brace that acts a little bit like a flexure spring.

Now the DLUX controllers take some effort to push in, which is great, since they won’t easily slide around.

The bracket attaches to the bottom of the bot with four #4-40 screws.

Next up? Battery tray. Clocker 3 just cinched the battery to the baseplate but I wanted something more constraining for the full contact 30lb class. Now the battery will sit in a 4-sided tray so it can’t move, and secured using nylon Velcro straps to that. The 4.4ah 7S lithium pack I had been using in Clocker was downsized to a 3.3Ah 6S pack to save more weight.

Clocker is known to work for exactly 1 match on a 2.3Ah battery thanks to FI 2015, and I originally used the 4.4Ah lipo packs because I had them and because Dragon Con matches tended to run back-to-back with minimal repair time.

The reason the tray looks oversized for that 3.3Ah battery is because it’s actually designed to house a row of A123 cells. The Franklin museum does not permit conventional Lithium batteries in anything above the 3lb class, since it’s entirely indoors in a museum and magic lithium smoke & fire cannot be tolerated. So, A123s it is. This means most bots run on reduced power for FI since you can’t fit as much battery into the same location using round cells as prismatic ones.

Pictured is 8 A123 cells. I plan on fitting as many cells in series as I have weight for at the end.

The final 3d printed bracket of convenience is the receiver and other electronics housing. This is taken care of by using the RageBridge lift & clamp controller as a cap! It’s a hollow case secured to the baseplate with more #4-40 screws, then the Rage comes in upside-down and is retained the same way.

After the New York Makre Faire, it’s time to perform the final fitting-out of the bot. Here’s everything being installed in place…

Another experiment I wanted to try in the interest of #season3 Overhaul was tilting the rubber shock mount wubbies to dig the front of the wedge into the ground. Since these wubbies were in a regular pattern, it was easy to put an equally regularly increasing spacer height under them progressively. For weight and lack of steel fender washer purposes, I made quick 3D-printed (this word….. I swear) spacers to test a few orientations. I think they’ll make it into the final assembly because nylon is still far more rigid than rubber – there’s actually no need for steel washers.

It’s coming down to the last three days before Franklin now, and I’ve started mass producing wheels and…………… set screws. I promised to bring a bag of them to the event to sprinkle into the arena. They’re 1.5″ diameter and 2″ tall, made of genuine organic Miku Blue PLA (get yours today!).

Wiring completion was fast, as more than half of was done in Atlanta. I just had to make a few more extensions and replace the 3mm bullet connectors on the AXi motors with 4mm ones. I decided to not make a switch panel for now, opting to just do it like most of my other smaller bots and just plug & unplug the battery cable.

Checking out the weight I had left over, I decided to run a 7S A123 pack instead. I weighed the bot with the FI-illegal lithium polymer battery to establish an upper limit, and then just added as many A123 cells as I could under that limit.

Now, look at that battery and tell me that you’d rather have that bullshit than a professionally made lithium cobalt battery!

And here it is! The finished Clocker 4, alongside a toy Overhaul for even more scaling fun.

But the story doesn’t stop there. At this point, the bot was still around 6 ounces overweight (with the FI-illegal battery, which is 2 ounces heavier than the 7S A123 pack). So I at minimum still had to cut off 4 ounces, preferably more.

I decided the best way to do this was to trim off the inside corners of the pontoons. They’re actually now shaped more like Overhaul’s. The flange on the interior only reaches back about 3/4″, which should be enough to still hide the edges from intruding weaponry. This actually removed about 3 ounces per side, putting me a healthy amount underweight.

Another funny robot exercise: Trimming the pontoon bottoms to be level and also riding flush with the ground. Just throw the whole thing on a belt grinder and have at it!

Just barely under now, with the 3.3Ah LiPo pack and all remaining hardware I could think of added, so I actually have a healthy margin for FI with the 7S A123 battery.

Here’s a test video of Clocker 4 playing with the (still working, just sans actuator) carcass of Clocker 3.

As I point out in the video, it’s way more stable when lifting than I anticipated. Clocker 3 is huge for a 30lber, and it just gets picked up and whammed around almost effortlessly. I was super happy with the speed of the lifter. While the clamp could be faster, the priority was on holding force for this edition with speed only coming from severely overvolting the clamp motor. Recall that the clamp motor is the same as what 12 O’Clocker used for drive this year – I just made sure to order a bunch of spare motors.

Time to pack it up. To come is the event report!