And here it is, the final chapter of a summer that was so full of content that it felt like an entire year; a summer that saw me dive deeper into silly van restoration than ever before, within a year that saw the company double in size, move to a new facility, and shift product lines. That’s a lot of things going on in just the past few months, and I often say that very few people can both profess to having such a life content density and tolerating it – but that’s for another Philosoraptor Charles Says post. This post will cover the continued little details from before and immediately after the Dragon Con 2019 trip, but mostly focus on the trip itself in a Vantruck-relevant way.
So to start, I basically skipped all of my usual robot building that goes on in the summer months. There WAS a dumpsterbot, of course. That was put together literally the week beforehand, since I did end up getting itchy robot fingers, and had a convenient gift available to perform unethical experiments on. In a way, Vantruck was to be my Dragon Con 2019 entry, along with an extended (for me!) trip away from company affairs. Of all possible vehicles you can go vacation with…
One of the last changes I made was getting a stock, OEM tailgate. You may remember Vantruck having a white dented tailgate, then a black airflow/5th wheel style one. My van salon determined the white dented tailgate was probably not worth trying to repair and then paint, as it was bent enough to not close properly, whereas I could score a gently used one on Craigslist for around $100. And that’s what I did! One weekend prior, I journeyed down to the Cape (yet again) and got this very nice condition tailgate. It’s actually dark green, not black, but is so dark green that it’s only visible under bright sunlight. The plan was to have the bed and tailgate repainted together once I returned; my intention is to ditch the chrome panel (more space for anime stickers) afterwards.
And so it was that I set off bright and earlywhen i woke up, so like noon on August 26th. I took my usual “New York Avoiding” corridor and encamped in Harrisonburg, VA at my favorite Motel 6 on Highway 33 – why the entire fuck do I have a favorite Motel 6 now – and continued onwards to North Carolina thereafter.
The goal was to hit up US 129 and other idyllic mountain roads in the Smokies, then descend towards Atlanta after crossing into Tennessee.
Somewhere on I-77 in Virginia as I began the descent down the Blue Ridge…
I encamped again just west of Asheville, NC and was well-poised the next day to begin #VansOnTheDragon.
But first, a van friend somewhere in Asheville’s further reaches!
I continued all the way into deep western NC on U.S. 74, then NC Highway 28, switching onto NC 143 to get to the Robbinsville area. The roads got incrementally narrower with each intersection!
Vans and the Dragon sculpture?!
Some say the place is oversold and overdone, but I personally would like to see more of this kind of thing across the country. Obviously there’s very few roads that would beget being this kind of attraction, since it would need to be sparsely traversed by locals and not have intensive development.
So how did it go? I ended up doing an outbound run and then back inbound. It was an entire different world from when I took Mikuvan in 2016 and then again over this past winter, which itself is an entire world away from doing it in a real sports car. Mikuvan is at least somewhat capable of performing agility-like behavior, what with its low mid-mounted engine, rear wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering with independent front double wishbones, and 52/48 weight distribution (Look all of this up. I have an exotic 80s sports car and none of you get to contest this). I can predictably squeal all 4 wheels on the many turns, and I never felt like I was about to sail off a cliff.
This time, I was basically driving a moving truck. Let’s face it, as tarted up as Vantruck is, it’s fundamentally still a U-Haul. It’s exactly the width of the road more or less, and there’s no steering feedback. Every move needs several turns of the wheel to accomplish, and there were a lot of god damned turns. I called this the “yeet the steering wheel” effect since I basically was standing up in the seat throwing the steering wheel around.
It also has an unfortunate positive-feedback state that occurs in turns if the outside wheel hits a bump. There’s some element of the Ford double-crossed-T-rex-arms (not actual name) suspension that interacts with the tires and possibly some very stale shock absorbers where the outside wheel will begin bouncing up and down, taking a good second or so to oscillate out. Obviously this causes traction loss and instantaneous understeer until it corrects itself. Color me enthused when I discovered several of the banked outside turns could excite this “mode”. Luckily, I have experience with this on curly highway offramps; just tapping the brakes will typically end it. But those cliffs got mighty inviting looking!
If you’re interested in seeing a very slow and soothing (from the video) drive through the Dragon, you can check out my dashcam upload of the outbound and the inbound. It’s not very exciting to experience just as a video, I can say that much.
A few local photographers are usually set up on the most scenic hairpins, and so I now have a couple of nicely done “press shots”. Of these, I tend to patronize Killboy.com the most – consistently they seem to have the best composition. A couple I bought from another vendor had visible roadside grass in the foreground, for instance, and others were under-exposed (possibly too fast of a shutter to try and minimize motion blur) or I flat out didn’t like the angle. Here’s one of the wide ones – check out the suspension travel difference between the inside and outside.
In the middle of a #YeetTheSteeringWheel operation here. Observe the angle of inclination formed by the Miku keychain plushie in the center.
And lastly, one of the other good ones – I call this “Ford stance” because every Ford vehicle lineup photo.
(I owe the whole world an explanation of what Waifuworkz is – one of many explanations of many things this year I owe in due time)
Well, we’ve made it to the end…
I decided to only get a small sticker, since there was no need to announce to the world that you can be qualified to drive a school bus for rural Tennessee-North Carolina school districts.
From there, I headed southwestwards on US 74 all the way towards Chattanooga, TN. US 74 is a wide state highway until it begins following the Ocoee River, upon which it becomes another 2-lane road with uncomfortably close rock faces. This part is extremely scenic, more beautiful than technical, following the whitewater river for several miles.
The nice thing about taking state roads? You get to stare at everyone’s hoarded decrepit property in their front yards, a likely prospect for me in the future from the other side. Like, look at this gorgeous mobile shed:
That’s a “The Diplomat II” Class A motorhome. It seems like it would clean up quite well, honestly. I didn’t check if they were selling, however.
I rolled into town on Wednesday evening, and proceeded to spend that and Thursday taking some random landmark photos. For instance, the “Duluth Jesus Sign”:
This sign just says JESUS on both sides. There’s not a church or pastor or other evangelist figure advertised on it. It literally just says JESUS, abutting I-85 next to a few hotels.
Checking out the Big Chicken in Marietta!
…and causing traffic problems at the AirBnB house I got for the convention with my ｖａｎｓｐｒｅａｄ.
Whoever you are, you have an excellent taste in off-road vehicles.
Here we are at the convention! The central lot between the Marriott and Sheration actually has “RV and bus parking” for the weekend, a rare find nearby. That also includes silly van parking. Quite a lot of folks seem to take advantage of this alternative to having to get one of the expensive hotel rooms. Behind the Class A on the left were several more RVs and trailers.
Vantruck isnt’ a good option for camping an entire weekend without having friends that have other facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens. However, I can see how a truck bed camper could alleviate this if I were so inclined.
Found in the same parking lot a few rows away, though, was a van friend!
I couldn’t get in close enough for a photo since the lot was pretty full. This was a pretty cool custom “turtle top” style high roof E350 build with an observation deck up top.
It looks like this was made out of a gently modified school minibus. Overall, very tall and quite impressive. The utility bumper on it appears to be custom made, and a larger version is what I have on deck for my personal design.
For my local get-around needs without having to vanspread everywhere, I made extensive use of rent-a-scooters. I did this some last year, but the rent-a-scooter ecosystem is now fully entrenched and some argue it needs population control, deer hunting style. To be entirely fair, I do agree after seeing just how many get thrown around on the street and not arranged in any useful way. As for exactly how, well, that isn’t my business problem.
My favorite new contender? These things. Not even scooters, but silly shaped e-bikes. They had wheels (hhhue) that were big enough to actually traverse both road features and sidewalk seams/cracks, and most importantly the curb cuts between them. I’ve generally been lukewarm on the actually scooter-based transit options since I didn’t think making the handlebar higher (to prevent you from being catapulted) was better than upping the wheel size to prevent it in the first place. They also packed more power, and with the better riding position, meant you can actually use it; there’s no point in putting 500+W into a compact scooter shape. Trust me on this one, I’m an expert!
Sadly, they weren’t as prevalent and widespread as the flood of Bird and Lime scooters. By the middle of the weekend, I actually went to hunt these down and bring them nearby wherever I was, because I liked them immensely. On Saturday, the most crowded day, I left Vantruck at the AirBnB house instead of fighting for 2+ parking spots at the same time – and hit town with one of these things.
I have a suspicion that everyone thinks I look just like this guy when I cruise around with Vantruck.
Anyways, one final Van Friend on the way back up:
This guy was doing whole #vanlyfe thing and the van was kitted out with a generator and lots of, uhh, rooftop storage.
I ended up staying the rest of the week to do some more Atlanta Things, setting back north that weekend, and getting back into town Monday morning. I’m very proud to say that Vantruck did not make a peep the entire ~2700 mile trip. I suppose the “van tax” that’s normally reserved for the Autozone parking lot or a U-haul trailer was just directly subsidizing the Houston, TX economy instead: The end-to-end gas mileage for the return trip was an incredible 10.1 mpg. Hey, double digits!
(I didn’t do a calculation for the trip down since it was indirect and involved a lot of fumbling around mountain roads).
Would I do this again? Probably, but only once a year. I have better ways of lighting money on fire for fun, such as robots.
While the “couching down the highway” effect is very relaxing, I’m really too small for the driving position it was designed for and it gets unergonomic after hour #6 or so. The seat is literally too deep for me to fill up, so I either have to slouch a lot (then I don’t see over the dashboard!) or kind of sit more on the edge, which isn’t conducive to back comfort. This is on my list of issues to address, namely getting rid of the couch-like front seats and replacing them with something a bit more modern.
The last remaining kibbles
The only thing I left unfinished due to time constraints before Dragon Con and not desiring to commit the money yet was painting the bed. I had it sanded by friends the day we commenced on cab painting, but didn’t follow through, so the bed was a slightly different texture and color than the cab for the trip. You can’t really tell in the photos though, much like the tailgate looks black enough.
After I got back, I decided to just have Maaco blast the thing. I had, at that point, talked to enough friends and people who had worked with them that my pre-conceptions about the company, springing mostly from Reddit horror stories, was more dialed back. I figured, too, the bed was a limited scope thing that (much like I did) was easy to handle independently, so I wouldn’t even be too mad if they did a me-quality paint job. Remember, I only go to mechanics and hire services when I’ve dug myself too deep. Yes, I’m one of those people – but I also like to think I know when to throw in the towel before things get horrifically tragic.
So I did a little of #BigChucksAutoBody and smoothed over some of the cracked areas and larger dimples that were primarily in the fiberglass fenders. No use painting over cracks and dents! Then I submitted it for consideration to a local Maaco branch.
A few days later… well, they definitely did the thing. Far better quality than I could have ever pulled off. They of course took the opportunity to let me know I can stop back any time to have them redo the cab properly!
The hot tub then goes back in, and the toolbox on top of that — I didn’t take a picture of it since plenty of photos exist with the toolbox.
With this, I’m declaring the end of Operation ＲＥＳＴＯＲＩＮＧ ＢＲＯＷＮ! There’s no near-term changes I am aiming to make at this point except more anime stickers. I’ll sum it up this way: It costs way less than robots would. As I mentioned last post, the end to end restoration cost was around $2000, and with the bed paint job and some small incidentals, we’re up to more $3000, which is still like 1/3rd of an Overhaul. Even counting the entire expenditure of Dragon Con including the far-exceeding-plane-ticket fuel bill!
But personally, I still found it not as enjoyable as robotting for a summer, at least with the fleeting facilities I have. I don’t have the capability right now of putting down infrastructure, so it’s working with what time and space I can get. It’s a lot messier and grungier, whereas at least a robot mess is usually just metal chips, not being covered in mysterious substances of varying carcinogenic rating.
The upside? It’s still a utility and a tool I can keep using, but now it’s nicer. I’d say it’s more akin to restoration work on a machine tool in that regard, such as the work I’ve done bringing Bridget and Taki-chan back up. I’m sure my assessment would be a lot different with a fixed workspace that I can embed into as hard as I’ve done with MIT/company facilities and with building robots. Vans are just simultaneously portable and very not-portable.
There are, of course, things I definitely want to do in the future. For instance, I still have the designs for the rear custom tow bumper and cow-destroying chin of power, but I’m going to shelve them and return to robotting – after all, the fall is really just preparation for #Season5. I’d like to focus on the interior next year, possible finally getting those new seats and having the floor re-upholstered in something that’s not (in the words of an auto upholsterer I visited) actually house carpeting. STAINED HOUSE CARPETING.
But in the mean time, I have plenty of market-fresh robot content to come!
Normally I’d be transporting down a whole production of robots from everybody and myself. Life, it seems, hits everyone eventually in the most inconvenient of ways, and a lot of my usual crew couldn’t make it (it seems startups are the robots and elaborate cosplays du jour). And so this time, I decided early on to stop any plans for developing the next Überclocker /30-haul during the 3 or so weeks of August I had, and only bring Overhaul for display and what of Roll Cake I could get together. I wouldn’t even pack a Markforged printer this time! Imagine that.
So really this was one of the lightest loadouts I’ve done for Dragon Con, ever. This was actually going to be different for me, and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it: Taking an eternity to get down there, actually maybe doing con stuff for once, and only whipping out a robot when convenient. Who the hell would ever do THAT? Go to an entire 100,000+ attendance convention to do stuff that’s not build robots!?
I did a speed-run departing Monday night before the con (Now featuring actual speed!) down to the area of Fancy Gap, VA where, the next day, I jumped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was more interested in the mountainous portions in North Carolina, more so than the scenery itself, so I elected to skip the portion in Virginia as well as not run the Skyline Drive park again. There were plenty of opportunities to take Vans Next to Nature photos.
This was somewhere in Western North Carolina. Where? Hell if I know. The group of motorcyclists in this same parking area didn’t seem to know either. It seems you’re not supposed to know, or pay attention, or care at all; just disappear into the woods and assume you’ll pop out the other side at some point.
I get it. Not as much as someone who actually likes Naturing would, but I do understand.
As night descended on Tuesday, I decided to call a stopping point in Little Swaziland Switzerland, a mountain resort town. This region is very popular with motorcycle tours, as can be seen with Mikuvan’s new and temporary friends here. When you need the size of a van with the cargo capacity of a motorcycle…. Polaris Slingshot. By the way, the NC222A loop around this area is absolutely fantastic. I’m sure it gets tiring if you have to drive it every day to go to work.
I lied. While I didn’t bring along a Markforged printer, I sure as hell did bring a printer in general! I grabbed my “derpy van of 3D printers” Flashforge to make some parts for…. something, on the way down. Yes, I ran it overnight in a hotel room. I ended up having to build a pillow fort around it so I could actually sleep.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, I’d reached the outer limits of Asheville and….. decided to tap out.
Keep in mind the Blue Ridge Parkway are all very winding, slow 2-lane roads, and that’s no way to cover distance effectively. At some point, I actually had to reach Atlanta and check into my AirCNC.
I decided to express the rest of the way after a harrowing foot-to-the-floor 55mph 4000RPM, 3rd gear climb up the side of Mount Mitchell for what felt like 10 minutes straight. If there was one moment that I was going to blow up my freshly rebuilt engine, I felt like it was going to be right there, but it would have been worth it. Worse, I was low on fuel at that point – there are no gas stations on the BRP – and feared that the straight uphill pull was going to get cut short. I basically coasted down the rest of the way into Asheville to try and conserve fuel.
From Asheville, I took I-40 west until US-74, then followed that down to US-23 – a well known historical path of mine, which I followed to basically outside my old front door…..
…step? Nah, in the intervening year, my parents sold the house. I instinctively glided into my favorite gas station from throughout high school and visits during my years at MIT, on Exit 111 on I-85, but realized I had no more business there afterwards. That was a strange moment indeed.
So, onwards we go to my aircnc house in downtown Atlanta. My local chariot was awaiting as soon as I got there! How positively quaint. There’s been a ton of fuss around Atlanta about scooter rentals lately. I mean, my whole goal of getting a place this close to the convention – right over the Downtown Connector in the “Most Boston part of Atlanta”, the Old Fourth Ward, was so I could just (as we memed it) “Millennial my way over” – whether that means rideshare app or silly scooter rental.
To be entirely based: I completely support silly scooter rentals. The only reason, in my mind, that they don’t work is because governments have outdated patchworks of laws regarding vehicular traffic that isn’t private passenger cars – our current society arguably came of age with the expansion of suburbs centered around the private car, and legislation has ossified around this concept to the point of being cancerous, just like infrastructure spending that is continually strongly biased towards private passenger car use. Much of the battle over scooter rentals is what kind of vehicle to tax, title, insure, and operate them as, and the context of legislative preference for FMVSS-certified normal people cars is unavoidable.
Fight me – I own several shitty cars and several more shitty scooters.
It would also help if people didn’t throw them in rivers.
Who I think were the owners of this Model 3 were watching me very intently from a restaurant outdoor seat, so I didn’t get any closer. I was otherwise going to get within an inch for this photo op.
Thursday Funday is over – onto the con!
Overhaul was going to live in the Robotics track room for the whole weekend, so I did that unloading Thursday night when everyone was getting in the area, so I had backup. It would be rolled out for the Battlebots-related panels and otherwise hidden under a tablecloth. It was part of the Battlebots watch party and the “How to Get on BattleBots” Q&A session.
So, how do you get on Battlebots? Well, hell if I know. It’s clear your robot doesn’t have to be good.
That night, I finished the last print at my AirCNC house (whose host said “Would the neighbors mind if I ran a 3D printer all night?” was the weirdest request he’d gotten). And what I’ve been printing all along were in fact parts for my Overhaul cosplay.
It’s a little known fact that Haru-chan, like all good characters, has a male analogue. We actually have a rough sketch of what I call “Haru-dude” made by Cynthia (Lushanarts) from after the rework of Haru-chan:
But he’s too hot for me to pull off, so I simply used it as a design guide and changed up a few things (and also making it more realistic to put together). The “Overhaul head scythe” would obviously not be happening for Dragon Con, but I’ll consider it for something in the future.
I basically modeled and printed the whole thing on the fly, literally during the trip down and on site. I brought a handful of things I figured would be helpful, such as Velcro straps and hot glue and the like. Most parts were not actually modified from the CAD models of Overhaul parts, but made from scratch to exaggerate certain features that would appear too small if I just printed wheel_hub_assy.iam.
3D printing: Replacing the time-honored artform of hand-crafting costume pieces with on-demand kitted disposable bullshit, as-a-service, just like every good millennial trend!
So here we are.
Oddly enough, I was once again behind the camera 99% of the time and only really got this one photo taken of me (credit to Aaron Fan). Oh well, it was the prototype anyway. I actually don’t know of any full-body photos at the moment.
Besides the wrist shanks, I got a gray utility vest and added button snaps to reflect the staggered bolt pattern on the frame rails. I made two “edgelord belt chains”, one out of actual number #40H roller chain from Sadbot’s pokey stick) and one with orange wire loom wrapped around it.
I also made some cartoony wheel sprockets (which are hijacked #80 sprocket models, because again, teeth that are realistic can’t be seen in real life) to clip onto my repurposed motorcycle boots which I used for “dude-Ruby”. I had a few different shades of blue going on, which I’d like to fix for a future more proper rendition.
Saturday night robots with a few more of the crew. A couple of AirBnB houses around the area definitely suffered some robot building shenanigans. This was primarily to finish the 30lber seen on the right, but also to work on beetleweights because Sunday SUNDAY ＳＵＮＤＡＹ is the Robot Microbattles!
Likewise, after I got done working on other peoples’ robots, I put the last few solder joints in on Roll Cake, then test drove it in the hallway (“Do you mind if I test robots indoors?”). It’s quick, but controllably so, and I was fairly comfortable handling it after a few minutes. I like this new drivetrain a whole lot – the slight lag and torque ceiling of the hub motors is completely gone. It’s almost too twitchy now, and I know for a fact the drive motor size can come down to the next smaller outrunner class and be fine – this will be on the docket for a revision.
Now, back to the post title. I said there was a lot of postmodernism in the robots this year. What do I mean by that as applied to robots?
Postmodernism, broadly speaking, encompasses schools of thought which criticize traditional rationality and notions of objectiveness, calling into question the nature of what we call objective truth. In its basest form it often revolves around the ironic deconstruction and decontextualization of something in a disseminable media format, whether it be visual, text, audio, etc.. In a postmodern reading of something, then, nothing is considered “sacred” or free from reproach, and ideas are stripped down to their essence, lampooned and prodded, and then promptly bolted to the front of your robot.
Stance Stance Revolution is an instantiation of postmodernism in robot fighting: from a vertical spinner foundation, the discs are rotated to lie at angles to create an entirely new robot concept. It simultaneously derives from yet rejects the notions of the traditional vertical disc spinner, and is a complete eyesore while doing so. It raises questions at once of why the epistemological fuck would you do that and huh, I never would have thought of that. That’s kind of cool. I guess.
i am the department head of the school of postmodern robotics. don’t question me.
In short, it seemed to me like more robots than usual this year were doing away with, or severely reinterpreting “being competitive”. For instance, this….
….is quite the expression of postmodern robotics. Elements from a proven topology – a 2WD vertical “eggbeater” style drum – are seen as the foundation, but it destroys all notions of being outwardly serious and competitive by the fully functional LED-lit rubber duck mounted to it.
The duck is a liability. It’s a target for opponents. It prevents any form of operating upside down or self-righting. It might fall off and end the match right then… because all the electronics were stuffed inside it.
But it is the central statement of the bot, at the end of the day. This is truly the beauty of Postmodern Robotics.
From another branch of Postmodern Robotics, this robot is simply a knife with wheels. Why? Fuck you. It’s a knife with wheels. Are you really going to argue?
Roll Cake after the battles were all done. It gave some damage, and took some damage. But most importantly, it moved! And spun! And flipped things, mostly itself!
Full Disclosure: I actually slept through half of MicroBattles. ggwp. I showed up in time to watch a few more matches and participate in two rumbles at the end. Overall, I’m content with how the bot handled itself in the arena. One of the drive motor pinions ended up letting go and I was down one drive side for much of the first rumble, but used the gyroscopic forces of the drum to hobble around and make a few more hits.
One thing I ended up discovering was that the flipper arm wasn’t aggressive enough, due to the more conservative linkage travels I designed in. If your flywheel doesn’t slow down much per use, it’s oversized for the load power. I can probably make the linkage fan out more and trade some more efficiency points for a higher travel.
I ended up not really having time to recharge the battery for the second rumble, so it was running out of power around the middle. Overall, not a very competitive outing, but it showed me the drivetrain idea was sound now and the weapon drive system is fairly flexible in terms of actual layout. I’ll design up another version which is more Roll Cake 3.1 than 4.0 with some changes, but in the back of my mind is also a flipper-focused (non-exposed drum/flywheel) version, more like Magneato of NERC 30lb Sportsmans which Überclocker has fought a few times.
Now, we move onto Monday and the full-size Robot Battles. Remember when I said something about bad ideas just being bolted to your robot? Well some times it’s not even with threaded hardware….
That’s…. an interesting approach. Why so many ducks? Well, why not!? Better yet, they’re all squeak toys. Whenever this robot landed off the stage, it usually let out a protracted squeal sound from one OR MORE! of the ducks deflating.
It was otherwise a nondescript 4-drill-drive pusher bot. Postmodernism!
This is a robot which solely used a pool noodle for a weapon.
Appropriately named “Eyesore”, a newbie team (yay!) with a love for fluorescent paint.
nice bite force
Now we’re getting extra weird here. What do the ladybug balloons do on this robot? Nothing in particular. Yes, it fought every match with them!
There were not one, but two mildly-modified Roombas (and Roomba clones, as seen above) with things appended to them. One was in fact still “autonomous”, as autonomous as a Roomba can be, and was simply set loose on the stage.
This is a….
You know what? This isn’t even postmodernism any more. An entry with a FULLY FUNCTIONAL, ALL 3D-PRINTED tower crane on top of it? Now you could say we’re hitting on the territory of…
Get it? It’s a crane. Structures. Hhhhueuheue
This little saw-bot returns from previous years with an overpowering serving of new incongruently-themed stickers.
(Saws on an open stage?! I always take the time to explain that all freely-spinning appendages of robots are limited to 20ft per second tip speed in the Robot Battles rules, in case the message doesn’t carry through on first glance).
And finally, the robot I was helping work on, Skuld! Built by Leanne from Valkyrie, it’s a 30lber that has a very competently-powerd hammer with a 63mm-class outrunner. This thing could hit hard if it needed! It also had brushless drive with some highly geared inrunners.
That’s not a safety cover on the hammer arm end. That is the hammer arm end: One of several interchangeable plushies.
This is what the ideal robot fight looks like. You may not like it, but this is peak performance.
I don’t even know what the snout-on-a-piece-of-wood is from, but it paired with a powerful drive base is surprisingly effective.
Look! I entered a robot this year! It’s only 217 pounds overweight, no biggie.
On a last minute whim before the 12lb 30lb rumbles, we decided to heave Overhaul on stage to act as an arena hazard (it’s not running since I haven’t repaired the ESC damage from #season3 yet). It added an interesting play element: Suddenly, there was something to drive around and play hide-and-seek behind. People used Overhaul immediately to their advantage this way, skulking around looking for easy openings. Bots with giant wheels could escape by just driving up and over the forks. At one point, 3 or 4 30lbers teamed up to try and push Overhaul – they got a few inches in before the party got violent and broke out into fighting.
Probably one of the best rumbles I’ve ever witnessed come out of this event. It really makes me want to add a terrain element to the MassDestruction arena even more, in order to change up the small-bot game.
And this concludes your introductory lecture to Postmodern Robotics! I took a while to meander back north afterwards. Overall, I can say this Dragon Con was way more stress-free than any previous one. I was happy to see the competitive edge coming off of Robot Battles again, because a few years ago, when I and Jamison and many others were in (or around) colleges, we went through what I call the Tryhard Era of Robot Battles where the matches were becoming just as intense as any of the NERC parties and newbies were getting shut out or demolished. With the return of the TV shows, a lot more folks are cutting their teeth (metaphotical, drum, or otherwise) at these events, and I’ll happily step aside (or sleep through) them to let the interesting unjaded, sacrilegious designs fluorish.
On deck for the immediate arrival of fall is a lot of company-related pregaming before winter really sets in, so I’ll probably have limited content again for a little while. I’ll be slowly picking at 30haul, Overhaul, and the silly van nation in the mean time, but probably aren’t going to do any intense building until well after the new year.
Hey, remember: whenever I disappear for an unexplained period of time, it’s always because I’m working on something hilarious. This time it’s extra hilarious, I promise! Obviously I’m always itching to keep everything updated here on my latest, but just like the first BattleBots build season, externalities which if broken would make other people look like assholes prevent me from saying anything at the moment. See, I don’t mind me alone looking like an asshole…
Anyways, backing up a little in life, I decided to redesign Roll Cake from the ground up following my hub drive experiments earlier. MomoCon came and went, but the Hobbyking orders kept stacking up, so I decided to roll it all in with Überclocker’s changes for Dragon Con!
It all begins with a wheel.
Doing the drive test with the SimonK ESCs and the Multistar 460kv motors convinced me that the hub motor direct drive would work out, at least better than the previous BS I tried to do. I went shopping for high pole-count, low Kv drone motors since they’re pancakey. The plan was just to approximate wrapping an O-ring as close as I could to the motor. I ordered a few of these AX4006 motors for their combination of weight, low Kv, and high pole count.
Roll Cake is a bot which faces some packaging difficulties, since the middle of the bot has to be left pretty open for the flipper linkage. It would actually be easier in a 12 or 30lb design, since ‘noise floor’ of part sizes is much smaller compared to the bot size. If I scaled this design up to a 30lber right now, those would basically be 6″ hub motors, which is unnecessarily large.
There’s other architectures and shapes for the bot which might alleviate this, but for the time being I decided to try and keep the cheese wedge shape but make it a little more…
…round. Remember that the flat sided shape was just an attempt at vomiting my vision of a bot that I’ve had for a while now, not making sure it works. When you ditch the need for 6WD, things get a little simpler! Even this is technically unoptimal packaging since there will be a lot of wasted space in the narrower parts of the cheese wedge. I’m basically just reskinning Roll Cake v1 and using all the same parts, since the goal is to get it driving and flipping things reliably, albeit not spectacularly, before deciding what aspect of the design to improve.
Once I had the parts placed reasonably, I started generating frame features to accommodate, such as wheel cutouts and future bearing blocks. The chassis will no longer split in the middle – that required so much extra effort to get everything to line up. Instead, I’ll be splitting the rounded caps next to the bearings off as its own print in the future.
The previous image showed the old linear slider trigger, but packaging necessitated switching to a swinging style. This means Roll Cake won’t fire when upside-down with the drum running in reverse – I’d still have to ‘self right’ so to speak. That’s fine, since I’m also ditching the double-sided linkage due to it taking up the entire center of the bot from swing space. At least keeping the flipper single-sided lets it still have structure in the middle!
The chassis is now taking shape pretty well, showing the swing trigger’s backing and “drilled” bearing cap holes and the like. I’m designing this to print ‘upside down’ on the flat top face.
After defining critical part anchor locations, I hollowed things out to accommodate the flipper linkage and irritatingly rectillinear things like batteries. Seriously, if there’s one thing this design is sorely lacking, it’s a battery worth having. I much prefer this to be 4S, but can only fit a 3S pack of adequate capacity for now.
As I model the body, I can give components final homes constrained by mounting holes and then adjust the cutouts and spacings to fit. So there was a fair amount of tuning going on at this point, including a change of wheel size to be smaller in order to shift the wheels more rearward (to give me battery space!)
After that, the fun part became linkage design. The goal is to get a linkage design which travels as far up as I can manage using the roughly 1″ throw of the cam ring, and generally has no linkage interacting at more than 45 degrees starting angle.
My insistence on a “pull” action on the main cam linkage means I have to transform the motion through a bell crank (the bottom and right side short line) to become an upward motion. Strictly speaking, I could potentially accept a push action from the cam linkage and that can directly interface with the flipper arm and move it upwards, but it would need to be designed much more heavy to stand the compressive force instead of tension (pulling) force.
This bell crank itself went through a few revisions in order to minimize the impact it has on the middle of the bot, the large bulkhead that runs across the two sides.
Here, I’m comparing designed linkage travel with actual part placement, seeing how much of the middle of the bot has to be cut out. The bell crank center distances and topology have also changed. The previous design intruded on the center of the bot with its full height, whereas this “T” design means only the short leg of the T pokes through the center bulkhead.
Then I decided to wrap the bulkhead around the bell crank instead of hollowing it out pre-emptively. It’s all going to be 3D printed in 50% density anyway, so no need to pre-emptively deny myself cross sectional area (which is very important to 3D printed parts)
After I was satisfied with the bell crank geometry, I made a crude flipper arm model to start out with.
The linkages will have to fold into themselves a fair amount, so I pre-emptively carved space for them before doing anything else.
The intermediate linkage is a bit of an awkward shape – here it is taking form. It has to adapt the narrow bell crank to the wide flipper linkage. I decided to do it here, and reinforce the middle of this linkage with a big flange, instead of trying to flare the end of the bell crank wider due to my desire to print it flat and have fully un-interrupted perimeters to maximize strength.
Here, see the aforementioned flange in the center of the intermediate linkage. I’ve now hollowed the flipper arm, which will be top-skinned with hardened spring steel.
The armor for this bot is quite simple – primarily Onyx in massive hollow-ish sections for the crumple zone effect, and blue-temper spring steel covering the important parts and providing access hatches.
I added a little feeder leg next to a region with unused material thickness. This will be a machined piece which is captured with nuts and flat-headed screws.
Finished and ready for printing!
I had to split the geometry first into the printable sections. I extracted the bearing cap by making a 5-sided surface box in Inventor and using a split body by surface function. Only one was needed – the other was disposed of. Other sections such as the mostly empty tail were cut off also in order to reach the print volume, and they were designed to be bolted back on.
A day later… Her’s the frame finished, printed in 3-perimeter 50% density Onyx. Ought to be plenty! You can see where I cut the end of the wedge off and have modeled in a few tappable holes to hold them on.
Here’s a pretend-o-bot to make sure the dimensions all fit. The bearing cap was something I was particularly nervous about. I didn’t design clearances into the linkage parts to save design effort (read: I’m too lazy to make proper constraints) so some filing was needed to get them sliding freely.
Hardware installation time! I made sure to make little access ports for the motor wires, because wouldn’t that be embarrassing?
We move now to my old high school workbench down in Atlanta, which is somehow still there and in operation (maybe being 16 feet long has something to do with it). I got all the mechanical hardware installed before leaving, and decided to save the wiring for the Dirty South.
Pictured in the foreground is my new best friend: the itty-bitty-baby-offset-screwdriver-bit-ratchet. It’s McMaster part number 52725A31, and it’s positively adorable AND the only way some screws on Roll Cake are accessible at all. I designed it this way, so it’s legit, right!?
As usual with this thing, wiring is a disaster. The ESCs of choice are the Afro 30 Race with SimonK set up to do reversing with my usual tricks. They’re small, but not THAT small. I decided to keep the ESCs on the same side of the bot as their motors in order to reduce the amount of long wiring runs, so there’s two on the right side of the bot and one on the left.
All the motor connections have now been made, and I left one task for last before I soldered the 3-pin signal wires to the receiver….
I had to program the SimonK firmware to activate reversing and braking and my preferred goodies. I planned ahead and made this servo to tiny-clippy-jiggle breakout cable which I’ve termed “The Simonator 2.0” in order to grip the signal wires of the ESCs. While I could have programmed them all beforehand when the servo conectors were all still there, I decided I needed this cable regardless just in case I had to change something in the field, post-installation.
I brought the finished bot to one of the robot panels at Dragon Con. Sadly this year I fell off the bus and did not host any panels, but I’ll make sure that changes next time! I’m glad that recently, my Makers presentation hasn’t really been needed – in the most recent years I delivered it, the percentage of the audience who’ve experienced CAD or soldering LEDs together, etc. has grown immensely, in my opinion greater than the rate of self-selection for these things.
Here’s the linkage fully opened! Note the preponderence of little shoulder screws forming the joint pins – I standardized all of these to the same length to save myself from my historic habit of making my robots all shoulder screw nightmares.
….and now announcing my new 6lb multibot entry??? This is the head of Lucy‘s Mei cosplay, the freeze-ray dispensing Snowball. overwatch has ruined my life run away now
I’ll post some of the test videos of Roll Cake soon – I was happy enough with its performance in the garage in terms of drivability and flipping, even if it won’t prove that impressive in the box due to being repackaged test rig parts.
We now move onto good ol’ Clocker, which has looked like this since Motorama…
Pretty depressing, eh? In the final rumble of the 30lbers, I burned out one of the SK3 4240 drive motors, so I was on the hunt for replacements, and Hobbyking didn’t have stock in that size at the time.
What they did have is a sale on their new NTM line, which had a similar size motor:
So I scored a couple of these – they were physically the same dimension, but unfortunately these motors were slightly faster again, so I was facing the very real prospect of Clocker hitting 25mph without much provocation, which could be a liability on the Dragon Con stage.
I emptied the bag of Clocker remnants to see what I could salvage and what I’d have to remachine – the answer was really basically everything minus the motor output gear :p
To extricate the motors, I had to disassemble the frame, which proved a little…. challenging after Glasgow Kiss gave it a once-over. There were some special extraction techniques I had to use here on this machined corner!
From the spare Clocker parts bin I extracted another section of the 1/2″-10 leadscrew and flanged bronze nut that fit it. I’d bought a few spares last year in anticipation of needing to machine them eventually, and here we are.
The bronze nut gets machined all the way down to be smashed into the bore of the modified Vex Pro spur gear. When the gear spins, the leadscrew gets sucked in and out of the nut, and its own reaction forces are taken up by the bronze bushings surrounding it. All solid, all friction, all the time, but it gets the job done.
I’d like to eventually rebuild Overhaul’s actuator in this way, except with preloaded tapered roller bearings, for #season3 whenever it ends up being :'(
Mate this up with new waterjetted plates that I drilled and tapped and we have a new actuator. The drill gearbox was reassembled from stock pieces from my giant decade-old (…) bag of Chinese cordless drill parts, using the original shaft which was not damaged in the fight. I have enough pieces now to straight up make two whole actuators, which is nice.
After that, I repaired the bottom plate of the bot by stitching new holes in between the hole ones. I’m not sure if I’d use #4 screws like this anywhere in a loadbearing path (which the top and bottom plates do count as) if I redesigned Clocker again, since the indirect shock loads from the 30lb Featherweight class alone (in the form of getting socked by a spinning weapon) is much higher than Sportsmans. One of the corner hits from Glasgow Kiss sheared off a half dozen of my bottom plate screws just by momentarily bowing out the frame enough.
While I was in there, I swapped in the spare wheels made from 60A Mystery McMaster Urethane (actually OEM’d by Forsch Polymer, the most 1997 company extant in 2017). The white Smooth-on Simpact wheels had worked well enough, so I wanted to see how these would do.
Well, everything is technically ready for reassembly!
I rememberd a much better way of taking the entire top off Clocker. Previously, it involved trying to drive the center lift shaft out through ALL of the components that were shaft collar’d onto it. This was patently painful. Unlike Overhaul’s unboltable lift towers, Clocker has solid ones built into the frame rails. It turns out if I just unbolt the outer and inner frame rail on one side as a unit (9 screws), there’s enough room to wiggle the shaft out of the bearings and pop the whole thing off.
Clocker was the last thing I wanted to put the Brushless Rage test units in before shipping them off for production. The severely under-geared high-Kv motors will be a good stress test for the architecture, since on the Dragon Con stage I’ll mostly be driving at low speeds and turning/reversing often.
Check out that little Onyx bracket I made to hold the units. I wanted to place them flat against the frame rail behind them here, but this arrangement kept the wiring cleaner and away from the outrunner motors.
A new waterjet-cut gear and some quality Taki-time later, and everything is now back together. I did some drive testing outside, which showed me that the Brushless Rages were working great even under duress – the gearing on the motors is low enough that the bot has trouble turning in place on a high traction floor. So here I was hoping that it would be even able to turn at all on the Dragon Con stage carpet! But once it takes off… boy does it want to keep going.
the charles and the dragon con
Welcome to Dragon Con! Have a van.
I would have loved to bring ＶＡＮＴＲＵＣＫ instead this year, as it has been now impeccably reliable after its lobotomy and subsequent headcrab installation, but could not even begin to justify the 9 miles per gallon each way. It’s beginning to dawn on me that the kind of person who would have bought one of these things new, never ever thought about the cost of fueling and ownership. I’m not quite to that level in life yet.
Overall, this con worked out a lot differently than some of my past Dragon Cons. See, I wasn’t scrambling to finish a robot every day for once – Roll Cake’s finishing work and testing occurred before the con started. Instead of trucking around a giant transforming mechanical prop, Cynthia instead prepared a bunch of pieces for the Dragon Con art show (which as I found out was nontrivial to get into)
On top of that, it’s become more of a yearly reunion for some of the BattleBots competitors and friends who have moved around the country & world. For example, I found Lisa Winter!
The cotton candy committee has arrived.
I attempted to replicate her tattoos in the middle of talking at a panel. Nailed it!?!
And for the first time in probably over 10 years, I actually played in a gaming tournament. There was an Overwatch ruined my life run away now tournament being hosted at the convention gaming center, and a few of us essentially set up #BattleBotsPlaysOverwatch.
The house equipment was sub-par, though, so we didnt’ do too well – people who have clearly been to more than one tournament brought their own mice, keyboards, headsets, and pillows and stuff. Now that’s pro.
HELLO FOR I AM MECHANICALLY THEMED VIDEO GAME GANDER AT MY CURATED ARRANGEMENT OF MECHANICALLY THEMED ITEMS
Alright, you know how Dragon Con goes down. Let me spare you the details and get to some robots!
MicroBattles has grown to the point where it has to be single eliminations only and running across two arenas to keep up. I’m glad that it’s a good problem to have! However, it does mean you’re pretty much one-and-done.
There wasn’t much to do with Roll Cake beforehand except get some driving in. I decided to move the tail on the flipper downwards one mounting bolt such that it was more likely to rest on the floor – otherwise, the bot tipped abouts its wheels a little. However, it kept weight on the feeder wedge, so that was a plus.
Robot Battles features mostly local builders who kind of keep to that series of events around the Southeast. It’s refreshing to see bots which haven’t been forced to become the small monolithic dense bricks that most competitions have forced them into being. These two, for instance, are hand-bent sheet metal from Home Depot, with a hand-soldered custom motor driver inside. I honestly miss these kinds of builds.
Pool noodle wheels were fully in fashion this year, made popular by the Dale robot Noodles. Hey, they’re totally not entanglement devices. The wheels aren’t supposed to come off, just incidentally if you hit them with your spinning thing! Wink wink. I suspect this kind of thing might get roundabout-banned somehow, but on the other hand, it’s 2017 – get a reversible ESC on your weapon already!
Sheet metal everything, down to the weapon! Now this is robot fighting.
Other builders who had too much time on their hands chose to adorn their robots in….. creative ways. That’s hand trimmed and applied fake wood veneer vinyl on Margin of Safety here…
I was pretty eager to fight Noodles since it’s high ground clearance and invertibility would have made for a whole match of flips with Roll Cake.
Besides the wacky builds, you had your usual array of kit-bots and modified kit-bots.
Roll Cake was matched with Margin of Safety first, obviously a fight that I was hard pressed to win. Aaron put on the miniature vertical drum module for the match, so we went head to head trading blows. Margins having the the smaller drum advantage, Roll Cake got flipped over and I spent a while trying to self-right, but at the time didn’t have any skids on top of the bot, so I trundled it around a few times trying to get him to flip me back over.
See the two little hex nuts sticking up from the top? That was added after this match so I could get flipped over in the rumble and maybe get back up. With the drum bouncing off the ground, it wasn’t going to get enough momentum to roll it self back over, so after a while of trying, I decided to save the effort for the rumble.
In said rumble, the drum promptly threw the rubber o-ring belt and jammed as soon as it started. Well bugger me with a #1/2-20 tap, that sure didn’t come up in testing! So I spent the whole time running around like an idiot.
I suspect that spinning up quickly made the belt stretch enough (since rubber cord doesn’t have a tension element in the middle like fibers) to jump out out of the pulley enough to get grabbed by the drum. In Roll Cake 1, the pulley spacing was far enough apart that it would have just fallen off, but this time I had to move the drum closer and so there is a lot of overlap with the drum iself.
Hey, all things considered, I walked out with a working bot. It’s now time to get serious with Roll Cake. I’m extremely confident in the mechanism now, and so it’s time for it to stop being a test jig on wheels. The weapon motor is severely undersized – if there was one design which should have a motor-in-drum setup, it’s this one! And, furthermore, freeing up the space occupied by the weapon motor might mean I could use more conventional drive motors. The hub drive worked well enough, but I still prefer the positive feel of a geared motor.
And now it’s Monday!
With the return of all the robotty TV shows, we’ve seen a serious and sustained rise in the audience count. The room filled up to this level well before matches began, and the line continued out the door the entire day.
An entry being finished in the pit area before matches begin! How quaint.
Lisa brought itty-bitty Tento, weighing about 8 pounds, and entered it in the 12lb class for fun. This thing was built as a “how to build a robot” demo piece. Unfortunately, it suffered a gearbox failure literally right before matches began and it was of a type that nobody else was using, so spares couldn’t be located. Sad day – maybe next time!
Clocker just needed battery charging (and the replacement of a chain tensioner block) this whole event, so I’m quite pleased.
I only ended up having two matches – one against this giant purple thing (which had radio problems at the end – notice us both running onstage to disarm it), and the second against Dale’s Pushy Grabber. This thing has been sweeping RB events (literally) with the lynchpin strategy of wiggling under your bot almost no matter what. Now, normally I offer at least some resistance to Dale, but this thing I had to approach either at a very specific angle or risk getting plowed off the stage almost instantaneously. We had 4 total matchups, in the middle of which Dale had to reattach one of the rollers and I had to replace a chain tensioner block which finally decided to wear through and fall off.
This event really showed that, much like my arena-optimzed Test Bot v4 days in the Late Aughties, wide ground-hugging wedge surfaces really are more of a liability on the stage than an asset. Notice how in the final Pushy Grabber matchup, I tried executing the same strategy, but got hung up on the edge just long enough to become vulnetable. The only weakness of Pushy Grabber right now is a long-reach forked robot like Nyx with the lifter attachment – Clocker did not have enough “stickout” to really get a good handle on it – nor did it really on other bots.
Unlike version 2 and 3 where the clamp arm reached all the way to the end of the forks, this one for the sake of looking more like Overhaul has the ‘grab point’ more inwards, so I had a harder time getting opponents into the clamp in the first place unless I took a straight run at them with some velocity – upon which I would often run into the stage edges.
I stuck around for Rumble #1 which I won by virtue of trying to get around the damn stage and mostly ignoring opponents…. and in Rumble #2, I just took the wedges off and ran around like an idiot some more, accidentally handing the win to the purple thing after doing some kind of J-turn rocket jump off the stage. Oops.
This event was also the final straw for me in terms of gearing down the drive motors more. I’ve been threatening to go to 2-stage gearboxes for the drive, and now it’s more necessary than ever. Clocker v3 was geared for 19mph and was already a rocket, and there was barely any need for it on the stage. I’ll probably move to 11:1 2-stage P60s and use smaller 35mm drive motors.
Yes, this kind of thing is legal here, with a catch: It doesn’t exceed either 500 RPM, or 20 ft/s edge speed. It’s driven by a geared motor, so it will more lift your bot up and chew at it.
Replicas of BattleBots entries are the in thing right now! This is Tuskin Raider, a 12lb Razorback-alike that Jamison built. It got all the way to the 12lb finals.
This is a 12lb shell spinner.
And here we have the assembled Power Rangers shot of all the scale models. Hey, we can film #season3 right now if we just get all the cameras up really close. I keep bugging Jamison about why he didn’t make Tuskin a 30lber instead of a 12lber.
So that’s it for Dragon Con! Two working robots remaining, shenigans abound, and…. no van adventures. Wow, when did my life become routine? Obviously it’s time for another all-vans update soon….
Oh hello everybody! It’s a few days after Dragon Con and I’ve finally woken back up. Where the hell am I?! What is this metallic coating all over my face? Why have I gained 20 delicious pounds?
Here it is, the Post Dragon Con 2016 recap. I didn’t get a change to put out another update before leaving for Atlanta, and then it was a mad pre-convention dash. So this update will cover all of the construction of Roll Cake, as well as get started on the Bot that Charles Forgot – Überclocker 4.0, a.k.a “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Overhaul!”.
Amazingly enough, there were no van shenanigans on the way down. I’m staying in Atlanta a few days later again, so the return trip is still clouded in the ether, but at this time (Boston to Atlanta and now a few hundred miles locally) there are no issues to report.
Alright, I lied a little – at some point a few weeks (months???) ago, the rearmost portion of the exhaust pipe decided to fall off. It had a hanger at the very back of the frame, so did not fall completely off, but just rattled haplessly.
I think it was due to the bend passing over the rear axle being repeatedly struck by said axle when Mikuvan is loaded heavy – such as the trip to Detroit Maker Faire. So anyway, all it manifested in was things being a little louder, but at times due to the exhaust being trapped under the body and in my 3-mile-long wake vorticies, exhaust smell would creep into the cabin. This is not something I wanted to deal with for the long trip down, so I repaired in the best WEEABOO REDNECK way possible:
None of this BEER CAN bullshit… only the best Ramune bottles will be used for MY hoodrat repairs!
This held all the way until South Carolina. When I rolled into town, one of my pre-convention stops was the local Advance Auto Parts to pick up a patch pipe. The whole system is definitely in need of replacement, though. Who wants to hook me up with D U A L F L O W M A S T E R S?
Anyways, without further ado, here are the sections of this roman noir de robots:
So this is where we build up to that ‘preview picture’ I posted last time. One of the first things I did as soon as I put the frame pieces printing on the Mark Two was go and do basically the only machining thing, which was make the drum.
For this, I brought back an old friend. One of my first major tool purchases was this little indexing head, which made its first appearance here in a LOLioKart build report. It became my most prized possession for some time thereafter, but I left it in the shop when I mostly scuttled off to main campus and upstairs into the IDC for graduate school nonsense. With my departure, it began becoming decrepit under usage by random newbies. One of the dividing plates was lost, and one of the tilting locks was also lost after someone cranked the locking bolt too tight and sheared it off.
Every once in a while, someone does find it again and use it, so I knew it was still operational. I gave it a once-over cleanup and adjustment before starting here.
The drum blank was carved out on New MITERlathe before being transferred to the indexing head for feature drilling. I originally specified 6 bolt holes. But as it turns out, 8 holes is easier to use the indexer for, since it didn’t involve going in partial circles using the dividing plates. Just 5 cranks of the handle… So, 8 holes it is.
Next up, putting the big 1/2″-13 threads in for the cap screw “teeth”.
One tricky operation was broaching the 8mm bore for a 2mm keyway. Since Roll Cake is being built from Banebots P80 parts, so it must be compatible with an 8mm keyed shaft. I could not get a 8mm bushing & 2mm broach in time – nor did i want to spent dozens of dollars for the honor. So I did what, I guess, I would do, and carefully hacked at it with a 1/16″ endmill until I got a 2mm slot with a bit of radius at the end.
Precision! Craftsmanship! Finesse! We strive to be the opposite of this at Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse. Zero sigmas, guaranteed, or I’m keeping your damn money anyway.
The frame parts have finished printing from the new Onyx material!
Well, hold up a little… These are extremely hollow prints that were solely to test for dimensional correctness. Things like “Does the motor fit in this hole?” and similar.
Here is a mock fit with some of the parts. I used a paint marker to pinpoint locations which needed rework – generally increasing slop or tolerances in the CAD model to get a better fit in real life.
Another arrangement of “DO NOT USE THESE FOR REAL” parts, which all had X marked on them so I was not tempted.
The two main frame halves are actually made from regular nylon for the most part, with carbon fiber loops in the center of the bot to strengthen the area. Otherwise, the regular nylon is tough and a bit flexible, which will hopefully help against some impacts.
A little pile of wheels with grommet-tires installed…
I next synthesized these planet gears from spare P80 4:1 and 3:1 planet gears. The 4:1 gears were bored out and cut to half a normal pinion length. Then the 3:1 gears were machined down for half their length, and then promptly shoved into the 4:1 hollow half-gears. The shoving first involved lining one tooth with one valley between teeth on each gear. As mentioned in the design post, these compound gears require the correct phasing of teeth to be assembled succesfully. I was probably off by some fractions of a degree on each gear.
THAT’S WHY WE HAVE A PLASTIC RING GEAR
The ring gear itself has also been reprinted in carbon fiber back Onyx (a material we came to call RMCC – Reinforced MarkForged Carbon-Carbon). I made the number of engagement dogs lower to guarantee the servo being able to reach between them.
Assembly for realsies begins with the bolting together of the sides. On each side, three #4-40 cap screws with washers and nuts retain the sides to the center U, and at the very rear, a #4-40 threaded rod with 4 nuts provides last-ditch backup if those front fasteners fail.
The ‘flaps’ are waterjet-cut 6061 aluminum 1/16″ thick sheet, which are bent up at the edges like so:
Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. I really need to watch some tutorials on how to use a box-and-pan metal brake correctly, because I clearly can’t do so, ever – and it probably doesn’t help that I make sheet metal parts infrequently enough that the shared machinery is never in the same condition twice (or some times working at all), so I have no clue how it’s supposed to behave. Anyways, no two bends on this thing are alike in location and alignment. One side is workable, the other side is very twisted… Oh well, we’ll fix it in post.
Time to solve the never-quite-solved wiring problem. I made access tunnel paths for the hypothetical wiring through the back end of the U-bracket that makes the center of the bot, but physically doing it was another whole issue. “Haphazard” and “ad-hoc” are two words that each don’t quite describe Roll Cake’s wiring on their own.
I basically had to make three long cables, fish them through the two wire tunnels, and then wire everything in-place at the ends and cut them to length. These cables were the main battery, left side drive motor, and firing servo cables. The right side drive motor also passed through the right tunnel, so really it was 4 cables.
For this purpose, I used the thinnest wire I could find for the drive motors, which was some 30 gauge blue wirewrapping wire.
Everything in the bot could run directly off 11.1v – the drive ESCs (VEX controllers), even the Hobbyking TR6Av2 receiver believe it or not – you can run basically every new receiver from battery voltages since they have onboard regulators for the microcontrollers. However, the firing servo still needs 5 volts to not go crazy and burn out.
Therefore, I made a super small in-line 5V regulator from two Chinese’d LM1117 parts.
Don’t give me no “that’s racist” bullshit – you and I know this happens on a regular basis.
This 5V line then feeds the receiver, and the servo cable is a 3-pin custom cable which comes from that. Essentially as if I were to plug it in without hacking anything.
After the electronics are installed, I made the orange roundbelts and started closing everything up. The round belts are measured using the hypothetical pitch line in the belt circle drawing in the CAD model, then shortened about 10% to accommodate stretching.
The final act is to install the linkages. This is done using long M3 bolts cut down such that their unthreaded shoulder acted as the joint pin, but I could still put a locknut on the end.
Here is the finished bot from the flappy end.
And a photo from the ‘business end’.
So how does this thing work? Well, it doesn’t really. The serpentine roundbelt drive has too much friction for the Fingertech motors to overcome. While Stance Stance Revolution used two 22:1 Fingertech motors, they were direct driving small wheels. Each pulley adds some friction, since the belts need to be tight to transmit torque and the pulleys do not have rolling bearings, just nylon on shoulder screws. Roll Cake therefore could not move at all. I’ve built some pretty damn immobile bots, but this is literally the most immobile thing I’ve ever made!
You can hear the motors strain to move, slipping on the belt, and occasionally it scoots forward a fraction of an inch. That’s about it. In doing this, I actually burned out one of my 22:1 motors.
I began making arrangements to get some 33:1 motors from fellow competitors down in Atlanta, which should help the torque problem, and also began the search for small timing belts. MXL and 2mm timing belts come in 1/8″ wide / 3mm wide, so I could redesign the pulleys to that tooth profile. Then, the matter becomes if the Mark Two can hold the kind of tolerances needed for the tooth geometry to work out. I decided to leave that to Atlanta.
While the driving test was a bust, I did get a few flipper tests in with the drum going full speed. I’m glad to say that this part seems to work great. The servo engagement is clean and predictable. Here’s a test against a roughly 3.5 pound empty toolbox. Note that I don’t have anything springy or elastic that’s preferentially loading the linkage closed, so it depends on good firing servo timing to bring it back down.
That was actually the second test. The first test was against a heavier (4.5 pound) aluminum rail – coincidentally, the unmachined blank frame rail for Uberclocker 4. On this test, the deceleration of the drum was severe enough that the bot rotated forward against the linkage… causing the drum to strike the ground and hilarity to ensue.
Well, truth be told, that was the part of the bot I cared about. I packed all of the parts up for Roll Cake anticipating needing to do some re-engineering once I was on site. Just prior to leaving, I ordered two sizes of timing belts from SDP-SI based on the existing pitch length and what was closest to it – two 155 tooth 1/8″ wide MXL belts, and two 160 tooth ones. At least one of these will be close enough after I redesign the pulleys to be timing belt profiles with roughly the same pitch circle.
No fake-outs with wheels this time! This is the real deal now.
I’d been MEANING to retire Clocker version 3 (Überclocker Advance) since after Motorama 2015. Then came Dragon Con 2015…and then Franklin Institute 2015. After it won handily at FI, I decided to force myself to retire it, leaving the broken actuator unrepaired. Clocker 4.0, which has no witty Engrish name, was meant to be designed much earlier in the summer, post #season2.
Well that clearly didn’t happen… I actually started working on the design on and off in mid-July, but some contract work was keeping me entertained at the time – so designing didn’t start in earnest until August. That’s one side of being “funemployed” is that the work you do pick up is often stuff you like to do, meaning you adopt it as your own, meaning certain death if you have zero time management ability like me.
The first thing I designed up was actually the custom cast wheels that I talked about last time. I decided to use Clocker 4 as a smaller-scale experiment to try out the technique and different materials without wasting a bunch of money. The wheels were made with a 3/4 hex hub, which Clocker 3 uses and which I intend to carry over to the new bot. They were made in two sizes – 3 inch and 2 inch – to reflect the needs of the new bot.
So let’s go through the design of the bot now! Keep in mind through all of this that the principal design constraint was “Is this dimension about 50% of what it would be on Overhaul 2?” and is definitely a departure from my usual tactic of letting the part placement drive the robot. In fact, you could argue that both Roll Cake and Clocker 4 represent me trying to “design to look like something first” – Roll Cake being an old robot vision from years ago, and Clocker 4 being a scale model of Overhaul.
Just like with Overhaul 2, I began with a sanity check sketch to make sure the dimensions aren’t impossible. In this picture, the only things fixed are the wheel sizes and chassis height. Much like OH2’s design phase, I was going to let the length of the frame be malleable in order to fit components. But it should end up somewhere around 30″ in the ideal case.
I focused a little more on the pontoons first. The rectangles shown are a size of wubbie that is the closest to 50% scaled down from the type used in OH2. While their final shape and dimensions is not settled by this sketch, I just wanted to factor them in to get an idea of the size boundaries.
Bringing in more geometry into the mix now by playing with lifting fork lengths and the height of the arm towers.
Probably the terminal stage of The One Sketch has the 2.5″ square DeWut motor profiles imported, the length of the frame adjusted, and the first pass at the upper clamp arm also drawn. Most dimensions line up with OH2 within 10% or so, which is fine. Nothing truly scales directly in robotworld, and I figure so long as the visual is complete, nobody else but me will notice!
The beginnings of the 3D design went much the same way as with most of my bots, Overhaul included, with the generation of frame rails. You have to start somewhere, so I usually start with the back or left side, and everything sort of grows off that.
I imported the One Sketch and aligned it with the bot as a reference.
Moving on ahead a little bit, here is a more complete drive side. The front wheel is inset significantly into the plane of the front endcaps which hold the rubber shock mounts. I wanted to do this to maximize the wheelbase. Previous Clockers have had the “reactive outriggers” up front to maintain front traction when an opponent gets picked up. This version is relying solely on the rubber shock mounts deflecting, and it will be riding on the front edge of the pontoons thereafter. To maximize the chances of retaining traction in that scenario, I wanted to push the front wheels as far forward as I could.
This does open up a gap in the otherwise fully constrained tab of the frame rail, so here’s hoping that spamming the region with cap screws will make up for it.
Frame rail service for Clocker will also be a little harder harder than Overhaul. In this design, to pull the left frame rail, the pontoons and three of the six shock mounts have to be removed, and there is now more than 1 bit driver size needed. However, you could argue that OH2 also needed two bit sizes – 7/32 for the pontoon screws and 5/16 for the frame bolts.
Cloning stuff to the other side…
A very difficult step came afterwards. I now had to fit the DeWuts from Clocker 3 into this frame (I SOLEMNLY PROMISE DEWUTS WILL BE BACK IN STOCK SOON) . This presented a very serious problem, which is well summarized by NO.
You see, the average Featherweight, full-contact 30lber is generally much smaller than the Sportsman class bots, since they’re built denser with thicker materials to take KE weapon impacts. Clocker 3 is very large for a 30lb bot to begin with, at 20″ wide and 27″ long end to end, it’s almost the footprint of some of the denser 250lbers like Poison Arrow.
In order to make weight, as well as stay roughly true to Overhaul’s dimensions, Clocker 4 needs to be around 16″ wide. However, this utterly precludes the use of the DeWuts. I would need to make the bot at least 18″ wide to use them. That means proportionally more weight to cover the additional width of the bot, as well as a lot of inside space that’s kind of wasted lengthwise since more components would be able to fit next to the motors. This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but two DeWuts back to back kind of forces a different shape robot than what I was pursuing.
So I began working on the inevitable: going brushless with the drivetrain to save volume. I studied a few options which all revolved around a handful of AXi motors I picked up a few months ago (get yours today!). I borrowed a BaneBots P60 model since Jamison had already played with mounting P60s to the AXi motors. I also investigated stuffing the AXi motors into my spare P80s from Overhaul.
In the name of expediency – namely, that I had the spare P80 drive motors on hand, the AXi + P80 combination won. The 4:1 Overhaul P80s combined with the AXi motors at 7S (26v) ought to give a top speed of about 17mph, which is plenty.
The downside is extra weight. While the P80 and AXi combo weighs less than the DeWut, it weighs more than the P60 equivalent which would handle the motor power just fine. For Robot Battles where I won’t need extensive armor, I figured that letting the drive motors have 2 more pounds is fine.
However, I might actually swap these out before FI 2016 for modified P60s, since having the armor weight back would be nice.
Now importing more components – the space inside the bot is filling up fast!
I devised this quickly-3D-printable-from-Onyx mounting bracket for the AXi motor. A new pinion with a 6mm bore will be crafted out of spare 4:1 planet gears, which have 4mm bores I can hollow out.
So the AXi drive will solve the issue of width in the bot. I’m now toying with placement of the internal components. To start with, I’ll be using two of the spare DLUX 160A controllers I took out of Overhaul before the Season 2 tournament began, with a possible upgrade to Brushless Rage later using a 6-FET board (think Brushless HalfRage)
I settled for the two DLUX controllers up front mounted to a (not yet modeled) non-structural interior bulkhead, and the RageBridge in the rear corner to handle lift and clamp, also with a yet-unmodeled bracket.
Let’s begin on the fork tines now. I traced out the basic shape of Overhaul’s fork, but unlike Overhaul which uses a dead (fixed) lift shaft, I’m keeping the live life shaft of Clocker 3 since it’s fairly easy to attach to. The force transmission will be using clamp shaft collars made into hubs. There won’t be a central tube structure in the fork – both will just be held together with standoffs. The forks should, like in Overhaul, never be taking direct impacts unless I messed up horribly.
After I imported the quick fork model, which is still missing specific details like standoff mounting, I also began playing with the clamp actuator. I imported a few older Clocker actuators to check size and placement.
For this edition, I really wanted to move back to a full 550 motor actuator. This should actually give the bot a clamping force of several hundred pounds, which I wanted to have since most Featherweight class bots have negligible top armor.
The issue wasn’t so much weight (it would weigh around 1 cheap drill motor) as space. It had to fit in between the side plates of the clamp arm, first of all, and then anchor itself in a useful location that won’t impede the fork travel much. Overhaul has some issues with this which I would like to remedy for #season3 – so in a way, this is once again using the small bot to pilot something for the big one.
More details have been modeled into the fork plates now. The cross holes will have standoffs like good ol’ Clocker, not just to hold the fork sides together, but keep them level between arms. Overhaul has no such crossing feature near the tip of the arms, only the base. This was the cause of the forks becoming cockeyed during the Beta match when it got a good boop in on one of them, and I’d definitely like to solve this problem.
I decided to pursue the full 550 motor actuator at all costs, so I made one similar in construction to Clocker 3’s final actuator. The motor and gearbox? Just a 12 O’Clocker spare motor! The gears will be purchased from Vex, then modified – one to a 12mm bore, the other bored out to shove an Acme nut into.
Not shown in the above image is an “anti-buckle” MarkTwo printed piece that bridges the two thin plates and cradles the leadscrew for more of its travel. The actuator sides are in tension when clamping, but will be subject to sudden compression shock if the bot lands upside-down or I try reversing out of a grab, so I didn’t want to count on JUST 1/8″ aluminum plates.
Here it is loaded in place and showing placement. The upper anchor point was open to negotiation because the clamp arm sides hadn’t been designed yet. The lower anchor point for the leadscrew will just be a pin that is shoved through the first hole in the fork side plates, closest to the pivot point. The neat thing is this is somewhat adjustable for leverage ratios if I choose to use another hole instead.
I generated the fork side plates based on the dimensions of the One Sketch. It, too, will be held together by a bunch of standoffs – no welding here. This drawing shows some possible standoff positions. I was going to alternate inside and outside circles as I moved from left to right, like so:
The standoffs used are just some big McMaster-Carr 5/8″ hex aluminum standoffs, which for some reason are almost half the price of the neighboring sizes.
Actuator placement was a compromise between “How far does the motor stick out the top?” vs. “How far does the motor stick into the grabbing region?” since I could make the leadscrew as long or short as I pleased.
About this time, I threw Clocker 3 into the CAD model. The size different is almost comical, and at this point I wondered if Clocker 4 could pick up anything at all without falling on its face. Definitely will have trouble with the average 30SC sized bot, but again, 30lb Featherweights are smaller in general.
Anyways, moving on.
One of the next mods I want to make to Overhaul is what I call the “Anti-Cobalt System” – in other words, putting something between the frame rails so this doesn’t happen again. For Overhaul, I’ve been mentally designing it as a top and bottom plate fastened together in the middle, to close off the box and transfer sideway forces more rearward in the bot.
Since Clocker will now be competing in a high-energy class, I decided to implement the ACS for the most part on the bottom of the bot. This also acts to keep the drive chains above the plate, so they’ll be less vulnerable. I could still see this having a failure mode where in a very energetic sideways hit, the frame rails will deform in a parallelogram between the ACS plate on the bottom and the angled endcap on the top.
I’m now in the stage of generating top and bottom plates as well as random spacers. MarkForged spacers for everybody!
The single tooth will be made from some left over 1/2″ AR500 steel – good enough for the task.
I began the process of making the armor pontoons using the same method as on Overhaul. I made a master 2D sketch that represents the front face, and then a series of 3D Sketches thereafter, then defined surfaces using the sketch lines as their bounds.
The geometry for Clocker 4 is a lot simpler. There are no vertical forward-facing or side-facing wubbies, just the six widely spaced ones on the angled face. In a future revision I may consider adding forward-facing ones like Overhaul, if this decision comes back to bite me.
One major difference with these? They ride a lot closer to the ground than Overhaul’s. In fact, I will most definitely have to finish-grind the bottom edge to get enough clearance to not get hung up on them.
This is a good thing, because it resolves the other weakness of Overhaul that was clear during the beta match – the pontoons were simply up too high to be helpful, being designed to take a whomping instead of be good foot-in-the-door implements.
An overhead view of the bot basically done – you can see the standoffs between each pair of fork plates, the tie bar between the forks, and the tube which acts as the anchor for the leadscrew.
I added tabs and slots the same way as on Overhaul to prepare the pontoons for cutting and welding.
Here’s the finished bot minus cat ears!
The ears don’t seem to be necessary on Clocker 4, but it just doesn’t look right, man. I will probably design a pair up to be printed in RMCC which will bolt to the topmost hole in the clamp arm.
I left design of the internal brackets as an exercise to be done in Atlanta, since by this point I was running up on the last week available for fabrication. Hot off the CAD presses and into real life we go!
Man, it’s been a LONG TIME since I’ve done a one-shot epic waterjetting session to pop out a robot. Pictured above is the “Clocker kit”… or some 10 gauge mild steel, 1/4″ 1/2″ and 3/4″ aluminum, and some 1/16” FR-4 laminate.
Sadly, in my cruftiness, waterjetting is no longer free – this is probably around $400 of machine time.
To prevent the FR-4 from delaminating, I brought back one of my tricks of cutting the outer profile only, and using another material as a template. So here’s how this part went – I routed the parts manually to ensure it does all the interior holes first, then the outer profile.
I laid a piece of plywood in the machine first and had it cut only the holes. Then I clamped the FR-4 on top of the plywood and continued the toolpath to cut only the profile. The 1/2″ plywood pieces then become drilling templates for conventional drilling of the holes later, which otherwise might (WILL) delaminate since they’re piercing close to the edges.
While the design was slow-cooking to completion, I continued casting wheels, making 4 of each total. I’ve basically gotten this process down, so the next step is to try out different materials.
Here, I’m readying the frame rails for countersinking and counterboring. It’s built in the same style as Overhaul, and also many 30lbers and 12lbers. The frame rails will need machining to key into each other slightly too.
One of the last operations I was able to pull off before having to depart for Atlanta was the coring of the large lift gear. This was done using MITERlathe and like 5 different tools. MITERS didn’t have a spoon-type boring bar to make a plunging face cut easy, so I had to make do using a few different types of insert cutters, switching left-hand and right-hand tools to clean out the blind pocket.
Sadly, Monday the 28th of August was upon me. I actually spent more time in the week preceding finishing Roll Cake, since I cared a lot more about perfecting that mechanism, so Clocker 4 fell by the wayside. Clocker traveled to Atlanta in kit form, shown above. I needed to do some (lol) work on it in Atlanta, such as milling the frame slots, before it could be assembled.
And that’s the bot half of the story. Next, what about the convention!? I came this far for something, I think. Whatever is causing all that noise next to the robot events, dammit!
Robot Battles & Dragon Con 2016
So before we get to the convention proper, let me interject with a proud announcement that…
…I finally got pulled over for speeding.
You didn’t think it was physically possible, right?
I’d like to thank my parents, uhh… Boston area highways…. and, of course and Smooth Automotive for the Accidental Engine Rebuild of 2015 which has restored Mikuvan’s former power so much that I legitimately now can speed. I mean, it takes a little while to get there, and no hills please, but otherwise, I can cruise at 75mph all day – just enough to get in trouble in Virginia when the speed limit drops to 60mph for an upcoming work zone and I ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY MUST PASS THIS ONE LAST MOTHERFUCKER ON THE RIGHT HERE and… Dammit.
He got me fair and square. In fact, he didn’t even mention how I Boston’d someone immediately before the orange construction barrel forest began. So thank you in that way, Virginia State Trooper. I’m not even going to look at this ticket until I’m back in town now, because Virginia sucks.
Alright, enough of that. As I mentioned at the beginning, there were no van shenanigans to be had. I got into town around 4:30PM Wednesday, and immediately began plotting robot finishing tactics. The first order of business was getting Roll Cake its timing belt setup, which I designed quickly once I settled in and put on print. What?
Yes, I dragged the Mark Two provided by my lovely sponsor MarkForged along. Hey guys, how’s about some hot and humid weather testing?!
The SDP-SI timing belt order arrived on Thursday afternoon, so I could test the fit immediately. More importantly, though, on Thursday…
I busted into Dale‘s shop like the good ol’ days and basically took over his entire workbench. On deck were finishing some milling and turning parts for Clocker 4. I machined the axles, finished off the wheel hubs, and made the motor pinions, among other unfinished business.
The big rear chamfer for the frame rails was also cut by tilting the head of his CNC mill 30 degrees.
Friday bot work was mostly done at the GT Invention Studio. I primarily worked on Roll Cake, doing the final installation and tuning of the timing belt drive:
The pulleys were sized by how close they were to the pitch line defined in my belt loop sketch. The difference was then made up by changing the motor pulley tooth count until the tension was reasonable (just going from 21 tooth to 18 tooth in one try was enough).
This worked….. a little. Roll Cake’s movement was still extremely strained. There was no binding of the drivetrain anywhere I could see, just that there’s too many moving things for the 22:1 Fingertech motors. It moved slowly and quite arduously, and still could not turn.
Well, there wasn’t much else I could do to alleviate this problem except swap to the 33:1 gearmotors which I was able to pick up day-of MicroBattles from Mike Jeffries. Before the event started, I went ahead and did the motor transplant.
Operating sheets and all! This was so I didn’t get any abrasive/metallic grunge into the bot while cutting down the motor shafts.
The end result? I got Roll Cake to move somewhat reliably on the floor, so I went ahead and decided to put it in its first match anyway…. against Kurtis’ Black Adder.
Unfortunately, in the arena, it moved all of 18 inches or so before farting out again. It at least managed to flip Black Adder over with a chance collision. At this point, I stopped caring, since watching the mechanism test fire was more important to me than the rest of the bot, so I just kept flapping until the end.
Poor Roll Cake. It had such a bright future.
Okay, not really.
So the flipper mechanism kept working up until the end, even though I technically never got a direct shot at Black Adder.
That’s okay – I’m already out to rebuild this thing correctly such that it’s mobile. Roll Cake 2 will just have two brushless gimbal motors for drive, as hub motors, with the same Afro30 SimonK-enabled controllers driving them. It will have 2 larger wheels up front like a classic drumbot, not this 6WD business. Since Stance Stance Revolution could basically drive upside-down on its two discs, I’m much more confident in this setup working.
So that’s it for Roll Cake. Now back to your regularly scheduled Überclocker:
In the same work session as finishing out Roll Cake, I assembled all of the modules within Überclocker – the actuator, both drive motors, wheels, and the DeWut for the liftgear.
On Sunday afternoon, I returned to Dale’s shop to make a mess one more time. This time, to carve out the giant pocket that is in the back frame rail, formerly solid 6061 aluminum. Final weight estimates showed that I did need around 1.2 pounds out of the frame rail, so I calculated the pocket size needed, gave it some more oversize for weight tolerances, and went to town.
The next operation in Dale’s shop was putting some pilot holes into the end-tapped frame rails. I figured I could run with 1 bolt in each frame rail for now, and then drill them later once I had access again to a large drill press back at Artisan’s Asylum or MIT. This let me put most of the frame together on Sunday evening.
After I went back home, I did what I could using the remains of my high school workbench, which contained a small 10″ drill press, hand drill, and jigsaw, plus the hand tools and cordless tools I brought down, and a few kibbles of tooling that I didn’t take up to Boston with me originally.
The above was…. basically all that I could do. Mount the shaft collar to the big lift gear using a counterbore I brought. I didn’t even have any clamps left, and by the time I got back home, all of the hardware stores and home improvement stores were closed for Sunday night. I tried drilling and tapping a few of the frame screws by hand, which was an arduous procedure. I basically called it quits around 6AM Monday after trying to work on putting it together all night, and not getting much further than 10 or so drilled holes.
Basically the most important part of having tools is having consistent tools. Maybe these tools were enough for me during high school, but I also built bots in completely different ways to accommodate them (e.g. making things from UHMW plastic). Designing for tools that are not consistently available, or totally unavailable, will just end in disappointment. I realized no matter what, I could only hack Clocker so far in the remnants of my parents’ garage if it depended on a full service shop to be put together.
So here is the assembled husk of Clocker 4 next Overhaul at Robot Battles on Monday, showing what could have been if I didn’t kick my own ass… or as Will Bales puts it, Will Balesing.
By the way, shoutouts to Matt and Dan of Chaos Corps for taking the pieces of the pontoons from me on Friday and returning them completely welded on Saturday. Not just welded, but all ground and wire brushed. I owe you guys a small water balloon filled with argon!
But wait! The story doesn’t end there!
I also brought 12 O’Clocker along, figuring that I’d be able to run something in the Monday event at least. 12 O’Clocker was working fine after Momocon, so I basically packed it right back up with some spare motors. The clamp motor on it was a little baked, so I reached out to the group for spare Kitbots/1000rpm-style motors.
It actually got a few matches in and entertained the audience immensely.
In the rumble, the lift sprocket got bent hard enough to pop the lift chain off. Otherwise, 12 O’Clocker takes no damage once again! Gosh, maybe I should just scale this thing UP instead of Overhaul DOWN, right?
So no prizes this year, and not a very good Dragon Con for robots. I’m going to continue finishing Clocker 4 in the interest of Franklin Institute Robot Conflict 2016, where I hopefully will get to play with some of the big energy bots. I never had a strategy for Overhaul against vertical weapons like drums and discs (e.g. Hypershock, Witch Doctor) – besides Don’t Get Owned, I mean. I hope the Featherweight class, which is full of vertical spinners, will let me fine tune how to approach bots like that better for #season3.
By the way, there was a trip to the new Atlanta McMaster-Carr warehouse to pick up last-minute hardware. This place is
Okay, REALLY REALLY BIG. Douglasville and the surrounding west Atlanta area is kind of a new target for development, and besides industrial plazas and The McMastergon, there were plenty of housing developments. What could be better than stumbling out of bed and over to Will-Call to pick up your last night’s blurrily-assembled orders? Or hell, just wheel the robot over and work on it in the Will Call parking lot. It’s like working on your shitty car in an Advance Auto Parts parking lot! Who the hell’s ever done that… not me! Nope, never.
So wait… wasn’t there an ENTIRE CONVENTION going on besides just me working on robots? Absolutely… so let’s see how that went.
As usual, I’m too lazy to put together a worthwhile costume, so I went lazily all days as “me”. Just the Overhaul team shirt, and also wearing the Axent Wear headphones around.
I got stopped way more times than I expected.
Shown above is the crew of Jamison, Cynthia, Hannalin, and Lucy, formerly all of JACD last season. This year’s group is Overwatch. Overwatch is a video game. I haven’t played a video game with any degree of seriousness since Descent II Vertigo. I assume this is all legit. Wait until you see the construction Cynthia put into the giant bow…
There was a massive Overwatch photo gathering which took us an hour or more to get out of. Pictured above in the group are Pizoobie and Bonnie.
I generally haunt costumes which have had a lot of work put into them, especially very large and unwieldy ones. I swear at some point I will make an overly complex and elaborate costume. You could argue that Overhaul is in fact such a prop.
This was cool, too. These guys were cruisingly slowly around the convention. P I P E S
Okay, I don’t even know what’s going on any more. Overwatch players, I assume this is something you’d understand.
Alright, I usually don’t give a spare minute for Kantai Collection because it’s utterly destroyed my favorite genre. But I will make exceptions for well done ones. Behold, the U.S.S. Iowa. I watched her being “assembled” on the spot, and before that, I followed the ant trail of battleship parts being carried high overhead down the packed street by her pit crew. Her drydock workers?
I’m telling you all, #season3 will be one big weeb convention. Everything is falling into place, exactly according to keikaku. Cynthia is the designer of Haru-Chan, so it was only natural that she also sketched up plans for Sawblaze and Road Rash.
Now for the event recap!
MicroBattles this year was bigger than ever. With the insect classes (1s and 3s) being the easiest and cheapest to start in, the newbie and first timer proportion this year was immense. We ended up getting over 40 robots!
Sadly I actually missed a lot of the action getting Roll Cake prepared, but here are some of my favorites.
Here we have the wild Killer Colsonbot, which is believed to have evolved from escaped Domestic Colsonbots.
That’s Pvt. Slicer, or what happens when Mike gets ahold of the Colsonbot CAD. The cage is made of layers of waterjet-cut 4130 steel carefully welded together. It had friction drive reliability issues, but it somehow won 2 matches as round pushybot. When the cage met a vertical spinner, it died.
Representing the “meh” department of Dale’s Homemade Robots, this is Noodles, a 4wd pushybot. Besides all brushless drive, steering gyro, and a crafty urethane-sheet-mounted steel plow, it has pool noodle wheels which caused a bit of controversy because in the final a piece of them came off and jammed Black Adder’s drum.
Now, unintentional entanglement is allowed in the rules for the precise reason of a part inadvertantly coming off and getting stuck in something (as opposed to intentionally throwing things into a weapon to jam it), but there was still a fair bit of “Who do you think won this match?” talk. I actually think repeatedly hitting the ceiling against Black Adder and coming back each time is a mark against the effectiveness of Black Adder’s weapon in this match.
It’s big bot time! After being forced to run 12 O’Clocker only, I had more time to go around and appreciate the 12s and 30s. The newbie count was great at this event also – I think probably 25% first or second events.
Pictured above, The Magical Lipo-Fire or…. something or other. The build looked great! Sadly only one match however, and fortunately did not live up to its name.
First time 30lb entry “STICK A FORK IN IT!” which was having some DeWut clutch issues this event. Hey, people, read the manual! Tighten down your DeWut clutches before using!
Team JACD Season 1 principal cheerleader Andrew brings Pusheen-Bot, a pushy-bot. It’s laser-cut out of wood, so naturally it faced a chainsaw first match. This thing actually has two 50mm outrunners in it. It’s basically BurnoutChibi in a 30lb bot, so-illustrated by Andrew riding the bot around the room before (and during…) the event.
Another new 30lber with some heavy inspiration from Clocker and megaRon (under whichever moniker Jamison decides to run it at Robot Battles…)
There were obviously a lot of bots that I skipped, and you kind of get the idea. With the return of BattleBots to a mass audience, so the hobby grows! Robot Battles, fortunately, is one of the lowest barriers-to-entry competitions there is.
12 O’Clocker all set up and with spare clamp motor installed, ready for its first match. I had immense fun in its match with Dingleframus – it was the hardest physical driving match I’ve had in a little while, and in the end, a missed charge basically caused it to hover off the stage.
Here’s “Metric Brushless Hipster 12 O’Clocker” LiftLord, a Xo creation but shown with optional interchangeable Aaron module.
12 O’Clocker ready for its first match against Abrasive Personality, a design I really want to see more of – it has a belt sander running the length of the bot, with a backstop and all. I think this kind of design needs exploring. Putting more horsepower behind it and using a super gritty belt might actually result in some serious unconventional damage.
So what the hell are those blue things on the stage that have been appearing in every video so far?
They’re my secret weapon: 3D printed model set screws. I printed about a dozen, then another dozen or so followed me to Atlanta courtesy of RocketProps. Some local folks contributed a few more…. and suddenly, a stage full of giant set screws. Robot Battles: serious business since 1967 or whatever.
Not sure what I was doing here – probably double checking the chain drive after the rumble where it was derailed due to the main sprocket being physically bent. 12 o’clocker went 1/1 plus hanging around during the rumble, which was hugely entertaining.
Well look who’s on display! I’m told that Witch Doctor & Hypershock were also going to be present. Lies! I didn’t see any of y’all this whole weekend, so Overhaul had to have all the fans to itself. Such a sad day.
That’s a wrap for Dragon Con 2016. Once again, I’m staying a few days extra in Atlanta, and will diffuse back up north some time this week. On deck for robot work is finishing Clocker and a quick revamp of Roll Cake before FI in about 1 month. Otherwise, I’ll be hopefully creating more problems for myself with van work soon, since I want to re-winterize a few spots before things get cold (e.g. in 2 months or so). Some of my earliest rust repair is starting to come apart finally, and I have better weaponry against it now. Further down the line is word about # s e a s o n 3 and starting Overhaul….overhaul…. work in earnest. This will ideally occur over the coming winter.
The flurry of RageBridge 2 development in the past few weeks was primarily to make sure I had a few demo units ready for folks going to Dragon Con 2015. Basically, I sent a batch down ahead of time to be integrated into some bots that were going to compete at Robot Battles, as well as prepared some for a few new local builds. There were some other things going on also, including Clocker repairs and upgrades, and yet another entirely new random beetleweight. Oh, and the harrowing tale of having Mikuvan’s engine accidentally rebuilt before departure, and the followup shenanigans!
Oh no! Which way is it facing!? Which way does it spin? How does it move?! Don’t worry if you’re getting a headache looking at it. This is entirely by design.
What you are looking at is the world’s first counter-rotating 45 degree spinner! An answer to a design question literally nobody saw coming.
It all started, really, after the debut of Plan X on ABC BattleBots, with its primary weapon that spun downwards (really it could spin either way, being reversible). For the next little while, every time a new robot was presented, everyone would ask which way it spun. That led to many joke Facebook Group threads, including a snippet of this one…
I sat down with a blank CAD screen to decide how I wanted to do this. It was literally going to be Counter Revolution deformed through its center axis. I planned for a beetleweight, to act as the dopey-cop counter to Colsonbot. So it was probably going to be a 3D printed unibody, like Colsonbot, for convenience so it could be put together quickly. After all, heaven forbid I take this joke too seriously.
Let the Eschering begin… I created this mockup a day or so later and posted it to great fanfare and cries of “MY EYES!!!”
The blade design was a simple porting of Jamison Go‘s DDT, for which he had several spare blades. I played around with them, but ultimately decided to go with a custom blade design.
Creating those 45 degree struts meant a whole lot of messing with reference planes and other reference geometry. I first created a rotated, offset plane from the center axis of the robot, the blade tower midplane, then made an offset plane from THAT to set the width between the towers. The towers were brute-force mirrored across the midplane, then the parts which stuck out the bottom cut off flush. This is a look at the finished frame – all these steps were taken in the first few features, as seen on the left.
The bot as seen from the front. With the midplane method, it was easy to adjust the blade “offset”. The blades aren’t shown in their final positions either, since at this point I hadn’t looked at how to drive the blades. I decided to try and push the blade “exit point” from the frame as far to the corners as possible so it was easier to aim – “Try to hit with the corners” was going to be the strategy.
After some debate, I decided to just go simple and use pancake-style multirotor motors in a direct drive configuration. My last vertical KE weapon bot, Nuclear Kitten, used a custom-machined hub motor. These days, the flat multirotor motors are much the same form factor. I didn’t expect this configuration to live too long, because those motors are not built to take direct impacts from solid steel things. Direct drive sort of went away as the energy levels present in small bot contests went up. But it would live just long enough to make everyone’s heads spin!
Shown above, the “blue” motors are some Quanum 5208 multirotor motors. I was looking for motors which had the same stator diameter & size as NK’s old motor. However, they were ultimately too heavy.
Stepping down a pay grade (or stator diameter range) were the Multistar 4822s with 40mm stators, and which were nearly 80 grams lighter. It became apparent to me while shopping for motors that putting what is basically two full size weapons for a beetleweight in one bot was going to be difficult. The 4822 motors weigh only 98 grams (less with their long wire pigtails trimmed).
Luckily they were available in a U.S. warehouse, so I was able to get them in a few days to fully model them up, as shown above.
Here’s more brainfuck for you. It might actually hurt a little more to look at from underneath.
The underside and drivetrain was going to be a contortioning game. I planned to use two 22:1 Silver Spark motors – it wouldn’t be quick, but would provide basic maneuverability for the weapons platform. The question was where to put everything else. Even simulating component placement using bounding boxes, I knew it was going to be impossible to stuff everything inside. The weapon ESCs have to go outside, mounted to the blade towers, as you’ll see.
Some finalizing work, and here’s the design. With ripped off logo and all!
A 1/8″ diameter shoulder screw forms the idler axle, and the Fingertech switch is mounted awkwardly outside one of the two symmetrical cutouts permitting wire access to the weapon motor controllers.
CAD family shot next to Colsonbot! I guess Colsonbot would be the Captain Shrederator of the world of perverted miniaturized BattleBots 2015 entries I’m making here….
I wanted to use the MarkFrog to make this frame out of nylon with fiber strands, but unfortunately it was too big in every single dimension. To make it in Nylon would have mean better impact strength, but GUYS GET ME A BIGGER MACHINE PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE!Jamison’s new DDT is all printed on this machine and it did excellently at the event. Maybe I should have scaled this to an antweight instead…
Thus, I popped the frame out in ABS plastic.
The Multistar motors arrive, so it’s time to design the blade. From looking at their product photos, I decided to make cutouts in a blade with a large inner diameter such that they sat on the endcaps, instead of being supported only by the shaft. I was also intending to use the prop adapters (which bolt on) in an external bearing to offer some semblance of double-support. Now, the aluminum these things tend to be made of is so soft I don’t think it even matters (How do they even machine it without it bending?!), but it made me feel better.
I was able to finish out the blade design and cut it out of prehardened 4140, the same plate that I made Nuclear Kitten’s blades out of all the way back in 2008! 4140 prehard isn’t THAT hard – Rockwell 30C or so, so it’s not the best choice and far inferior to a heat treated blade… but something about taking jokes too seriously.
The blade centers were dished inward a little to sit on the motor can.
Retainment was through a big aluminum machined washer. This bolted through the prop adapter, necessitating longer screws – which… GREAT! Because the screws that come with these motors are suspiciously soft for looking like black oxide cap screws. 10.8? 8.8? Probably more like -1.8.
Blades mounted. The outboard bearing is some small 6mm bore flanged bearings I had, from some unknown appliance which died valiantly (and probably chaotically) for the cause.
Remember when I said the weapon ESCs had to go outside the bot? They’re nestled in the blade trench, a half inch away from whirling death. I put in an indentation and cable tie anchoring point specifically to use a zip tie to hold them together. The motor wires are cut super short and soldered directly to the controllers.
I’d like to pause for a bit and discuss these controllers. They’re the “Afro” series from Hobbyking, and besides making me wonder how they came up with that name, I also really enjoy their extensibility. You see, the DIY multirotor community has been working on a better firmware suited their needs for years. They now have a massive database of upgraded firmwares for many of the ATMega-based brushless controllers. the Afro line evolved out of this community’s needs, and in fact contains a bootloader onboard such that you can upload new firmware using only the PWM wire – no need to try and find the programming pins on the boards. The firmwares offer many configurable options, including reversing.
Hmm. It’s piqued the interest of a few robot community folks, one of whom put together a guide on how to update the firmware to a “bot compatible” one. I performed these mods on my ESCs and did a demo video on how it affected a relatively high inertia load like a blade. The result was stellar. I dunno what Mr. SimonK did with the state estimator part of the sensorless firmware, but I can hard-reverse repeatedly without killing the ESC, and it will try to keep track of the motor all the way down to zero speed. The starting routine seems far more robust. A Hobbyking controller with stock firmware would have died instantly.
The best part is, there’s a guide on how to find the pin settings for your ESC – which opens the realm up, if I feel like exploring it, of putting it on one of these. A few builders have already done brushless driveexperiments using this, and the results are far better than a stock Hobbyking car ESC with reverse functionality. Only a few bots have dared run brushless drive before now, but I suspect the smaller classes will see an explosion of ESCs of brushless drives, saving weight to get the same performance.
It also means that Brushless Rage is obsolete ;_;
Here is the real-life contortioning game. The receiver also ended up having no place to live because of the battery wires. So it gets piled on top of the battery! Luckily the battery (which is shared with Colsonbot) is short enough….
A final weigh-in… just barely under the 3lb limit!
SSR leaves very unique 45 degree impact marks on testing subjects.
Here’s a testing video showing a few hits on the empty Dimension cartridge. As you can see, it flies. One issue is the blade hitting the ground since it swings so low. I suspect in an arena with a wooden floor, it could dig in and send the bot flying, which would be most excellent indeed.
Another interesting behavior: When it hits, it tends to twirl around. I kind of want to practice the “one-two” of hitting with one blade enough to spin it around to hit with the other. This is a result of the blade having a horizontal, downward component to its impact. In this case, the rear counterrotating blade is spinning the correct direction to twist the bot opposite the direction of hit-induced turn, keeping it upright.
Finally, you can see that with enough bouncing, it will self-right very easily, doing a barrel roll in the process.
This joke is ending up more hilarious than any of us could have thought.
And a final beauty shot, if you consider it a beautiful thing.
I ended up replacing the idler rollers with hard plastic ones. I tried to link the two wheels on each side with O-rings, but the o-rings would keep sliding off since they also touched the ground. It handled well enough with “corner drive”.
Alas, poor Clocker.
After Motorama, it was sort of in a heap with a broken off front leg replaced with a chunk of cutting board. I remade 2 of the stripped hubs before a demo session to high schoolers over the summer, but besides that it’s not changed much.
For this Dragon Con, I wanted to move back to double-supported legs. Basically, while the single supported version 3 legs worked well, enough bouncing around caused the attachment parts and hardware to start stress fracturing, eventually breaking off.
Clocker version 2 had double-supported legs, but they were built in such a way that it was very difficult to service the drivetrain… and if there’s one thing Clocker v2 needed, it was drivetrain service. The reaction to this led me to the single-sided legs, but now I think if I put a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittle more mental energy into it, I could design the legs to use the same screw head as the drivetrain side plates, such that it doesn’t take forever to remove.
Wild idea, huh?
Growing the design from simple geometry. The legs pivot on a flanged standoff-like entity which is fully tightened to the frame. On the other side, I moved from single-shear to double-shear support for the spring.
Other side, with hardware loaded. The use of 1/4″-20 button headed screws allows me to use the same 5/32″ allen key driver to zip the entire outside on and off.
Time to take the whole thing apart! I also ended up remaking the front axle standoffs and straightening out the inner side rails, because the single-point bending of the leg had also affected them significantly. The new legs slide right together (due to correct nozzle offset on the waterjet cutter – the one it defaults to usually leaves far too much material!) and bolt through using large standoffs. No more using the 1/8″ intermediate plate as the fastening device as on Clocker v2.
Bolting together the springy-leg trunion side.
What the installation looks like after the flanged standoffs are installed. There’s one on each side. The inner side is Loctite’d to prevent rotation, while the outer side is free to be removed. The fit is deliberately loose to let it take some damage without binding.
And a final overhead view of the bot. No, Clocker’s not running RageBridge 2 beta units. I leave that to my guinea pigs loyal subjects.
Dragon Con 2015
This year, I fell into a classic convention trap – doing so many panels and things with your fan track (Makers & Robotics) that you pretty much forget the rest of the con existed! I was involved in 4 panels and looked on at many more. In fact, analyzing my camera contents, I in fact only took one photo of Miku cosplayers.
That’s 99.18% less than the historical average.
First up, my Maker’s Resources panel, which was condensed down to ~1 hour (SORRY VAL!) and focused more on getting people set up with CAD. With Autodesk furiously pushing Fusion 360, it is in my opinion the current “missing link” for mechanical hobbyists and well-featured CAD programs. I got the hang of it a week beforehand, and was prepared to give a live demo, but sadly, showing off Inventor and Solidworks and Fusion 360 was too much for my computer to handle.
I was also involved in the Rapid Prototyping for Costumes panel with Chris Lee, Jamison, and Cynthia, who debuted her version3! RWBY scythe project to some dramatic fanfare.
Next up, a few of us from JACD took part in the Battlebots New Season panel with quite a few other competitors who ended up deciding to attend after hearing that the BattleBots organizers were going to be in town. Unfortunately, I had to miss the “Highlights and Memories” panel, but I told everybody to make fun of me as much as possible so I’ll await the video results from that.
Finally, I also took part in the Power Racing Series panel hosted by several local Southeast builders. We had a whole lineup of entries I was otherwise not used to seeing from teams and builders who have mostly gone to events in the region – I’d witnessed the construction of these cars on the PRS Google and Facebook groups, but they weren’t at Detroit Maker Faire. There isn’t usually much region cross-pollinating due to the races being spread far apart and the stakes not being (that) high (yet).
Luckily, this time I changed that. If forcing everyone on the New York Thruway to stare at me was bad enough, this time I trolled all of I-81:
After having rigged CMV enough times for New Yorks and Detroits, I figured that it had already traveled 1 Dragon Con or so of mileage, and therefore was eligible to be brought down to Atlanta. In 2014, I decided against this idea because there was no race and I questioned my rigging ability. As it turns out, if your load experiences several hundreds of pounds of load, or multiple G’s of acceleration, enough to break or unravel the straps, something very bad has already happened. With this in mind, I was far more comfortable driving long distances with Chibi-Mikuvan strapped to the roof, distracting small children and tired vacationers alike. The green pallet wrapping is for bug splat prevention on the front white portions.
So this year, I signed up for the Dragon Con Parade…
PC: Jen Herchenroeder
The PRS racers got their own ‘block’ in the parade, and we (mostly) stayed together and showed off to the crowd. At the first major intersection, I decided to try something stupid and initiate some donuts. To my utter disbelief, this worked. I think it’s a combination of running in “infinity mode” (50A regulation fuse bypassed) and the rear tires being practically bald from the Detroit race. I proceeded to pull this stunt any time there was open space – most of the street intersections sufficed.
That is starting to look like some kind of old 16-bit racing game. Still waiting on someone to find video of it all, but with sufficiently worn-out tires, CMV can do powered donuts on dry asphalt. Hmm…. more moxie awaits at New York Maker Faire?
Immediately afterwards, we allTORE ASS DOWN COURTLAND AND PORTMAN STREET AND THROUGH THE MARRIOTT *ahem* maneuvered most of the karts into the lineup for the Power Racing Series panel.
From the evening before, a lot of the cars in a row at an impromptu car show in the Marriott. I didn’t bring CMV with me everywhere, so it sat this one out back in my mom’s garage.
Since I’ve basically been part of the Robotics & Makers panels since its inception, I’ve steadily watched not only the content variety grow, but also the skillset of the audience. This time, during my Resources talk, I’d say a strong plurality had designed something and either fabricated it manually at home, or had something 3D printed or used a makerspaces’ tools. When I polled for how many people had used CAD, a solid 75% of hands went up, and Solidworks in particular was something like 1 in 5. Damn, what do you guys need me for!?
I’m sure some of it is “audience self-selection”, but the strong gains each year in those who have tinkered with stuff on a hobbyist level impress me nonetheless. All the panels I led or were involved in were packed houses. I’m happy with anything which shows more and more folks are becoming involved in the Makerverse.
Stolen from builder Collin Royster, here’s a photo of the PRS panel. Chibi-Mikuvan is well-hidden behind the front table from this perspective.
Jim brought Nightmare up from Florida for the BattleBots panels and for general shenaniganry. I was briefly considering bringing Overhaul… sadly, it proved to be too impractical since it didn’t tessellate well with anything else, and I do not need 250 pounds on the roof. So there goes the prospects for the wimpy hotel room grudge re-match!
The staff of Big Hero 6 above are actually the three ladies of Team JACD: Hanna, Lucy, and Cynthia, who discovered their names are a great basis for their own team. Hence they splintered from JACD. I guess they were finally done with putting up with our bullshit. For Dragon Con, team HaLuCyNation built Destroying Angel:
It’s a 30lb rear-hinged lifter using 3 DeWut motors, a RageBridge, and a 6S lipoly battery. In other words, all parts that were hanging around. It was put together in little more than a the week prior (though designed for a month or more beforehand).
Moving onto Saturday evening, it’s robot time. Here, Colsonbot is getting a ‘body swap’ to the latest version of the frame. This version trims another half ounce or so off the weight by eliminating the front left and right chambers. There’s still plenty of electronics volume left. Hypothetically, this permits dual weapon motors, though I only brought the one. There’s no other changes. I completed this swap in about half an hour, since it just entailed desoldering and resoldering.
This year, due to a Certain Robot-Oriented TV Show, both Robot Battles events had record turnout as well as a flock of new builders. The schedule was pushed to the max, even with two small bot arenas running simultaneously. The tournament had to be single elimination for expediency. Yet I’m super happy, because the builder population had been stagnant for years. Just look at how much Clocker vs. Nyx vs. Dale’s Homemade Robots there have been for the past few years.
Colsonbot won yet another match mostly due to driving – the four 11:1 Silver Sparks actually make for a very nimble drivetrain for a spinner. In its first match against Moxxi, a (mostly) wedge with a small undercutting blade which was not working well, I lost the heat shrink “tire” of the 28mm NTM motor in like 10 seconds. Therefore, the rest of the match was a pushing contest.
I’m considering moving the motor size down one notch and actually running two weapon motors, due to the limited space there is to put a “tire” – what worked the best after that match was actually winding electrical tape tightly against the rotation direction (such that it did not put force on the tape’s leading edge) for a few wraps. In its rematch against Moxxi, it spun up quite well and knocked stuff around.
It then face Jamison’s Silent Spring twice. Once by draw (no knockout or hole-shot after 2 minutes) where both bots worked consistently:
The next match was a win when SS stopped working, but Colsonbot was too damaged to be repaired in time for its next match.
It was extremely vulnerable to Silent Spring’s under-cutting blade, which took out the weapon motor and its surrounding mount area. Somehow not a single drive motor, even though the wheels were missing bits!
At least it kept driving until the end. I suppose I could have ditched the spin and made Colsonbot into a pusher, but there wasn’t really a point in doing so and it would only add to the tournament scheduling chaos. So Colsonbot exits the tournament effectively 1/1.
As for Stance Stance Revolution…
Poor Stance Stance Revolution.
In an eerie replay of Tombstone vs. Counter Revolution, I drew Silent Spring as the FIRST! beetleweight fight of the tournament! And it ended about as fruitfully.
After a flurry of blade-to-blade impacts, the ABS unibody fractured at the places it was the thinnest, and SSR broke in half. Now, to be fair, both halves DO still work….
It was really meant to be made from Nylon (using the Markfr4ck), a much higher-impact and resilient plastic, but after looking at the section areas that broke, I need to reconsider some of those parts. I intend to bring SSR right back since it’s too hilarious to not keep working. So that was it for the little bots. Damn you Jamison – I shall exact my revenge some day, probably at Franklin Institute next month.
It’s big bot time!
This time, I had no 12lber. 12 O’Clocker required quite a bit more work than I remembered, and I couldn’t fit it into the last week’s schedule before departure.
Then I remembered I had a 12lber back in my parents’ garage.
Ahh, good old Test Bot v3.
Now sporting two different kinds of ballast – the old nickel drill pack wouldn’t revive, and that SLA brick has been in there as ballast for as long as I can recall. A spare RageBridge 1 was installed, and a tiny little lipo pack which can source more current than either of those two old batteries ever hoped to. So now I have a 12lber! It’s actually still dramatically underweight at 11.1 pounds. How did this thing ever make weight?
I mentioned earlier that both Robot Battles tournaments saw record attendance and new entries. I’d say that there were around 10 totally new bots this time, in addition to veterans who left but returned and people who have built before, just not for RB at Dragon Con. Here are a few samples of the new entries… I hope they have staying power for tournaments to come.
This pair of 12lb wedges was built by a father-son team local to the area. Named “Busted” and “Rusted”, they actually got paired up first for the first 12lber match, which was hilarious because they were also both new bot drivers…. and the bots were slow. I’m not sure what drive motors they were using, but taking it easy doesn’t even begin to describe the slowness. Lots of potential from the design, though, so perhaps a simple motor upgrade is in order for next year….
Here is “Aluminum Box”, a valiant first bot effort with a set of fairly standard components – drills on 3″ colsons. It didn’t have a weapon, but could push pretty well if it got a grip. Since this kind of design can hardly go wrong, I suspect it will have more attachments and shenanigans if it returns in the future.
I have a bit of investment in this newbie bot since the high school builders not only came all the way from New York City by train (That’s a level of dedication I will never reach, and probably never reached), they’re using a set of donated DeWuts.
A 30lb pneumatic flipper bot that did more lifting than flipping, and which used a lot of Vex gear. The lid stays put – only the center arm pops up. Unfortunately, it lost after being unable to self-right. Bigger piston time?
Jim (of Nightmare) with a wholly new 12lber, ShaBoomBox, which allegedly was put together mere hours before departure. It’s literally made of P60 gearboxes, using them as structural blocks to bind top and bottom plates together. Hey, it works. Jim has had enough practice with this kind of design since he has an antweight, and heavyweight built off the same concept.
Terry, a returning veteran, shows up with the 30lber version of Ventilator. I remembered the 60lb Ventilator way back when Robot Battles was still running 60lbers on stage (basically, before they got too terrifying with new high powered parts). Pretty sure this is in fact it with a different hammer mechanism (with less swing) and without the big round shell…
HaLuCyNation gets some Dragon Con TV press attention before their first match.
Alas, poor Clocker.
The careful reader will notice that in its update section, I merely said “I remade the stripped hubs”. No, I didn’t remake them better, I remade them as-is. That decision pretty much ended the way everyone expected, including me, because no matter how loud I was screaming “This is going to be REALLY SKETCHY” at myself, I didn’t listen.
Clocker, therefore, did not do too much this tournament. It had two tournament, with 2 (effective) losses, and the only win being against HaLuCyNation. In fact, the problem first cropped up in the exhibition match where the organizers of BattleBots themselves(Trey and Greg) drove the bots. Gee, with that embarrassment, will I ever be allowed back into Season 2!?
Subsequent to the match against Destroying Angel, I ran out of drive options. I decided to throw it into the rumble as a stationary arena hazard, grabbing whomever I got shoved up against…
…and won? All of the “plate and standoff fork” robots briefly got tangled up, then something happened which made everyone else bail off the stage. I still can’t quite figure out what happened, but… Yay! Clocker won something by doing absolutely jack shit! Perhaps that should just be my strategy from now on, seeing as how I seemingly insist on shooting myself in the foot in terms of mobility every time. The hex hub system is nice…. if I can bother to do it right. Part of the issue is weight – Clocker is bumped right against the 30lb limit with the plastic hubs, but that was with the previous thick aluminum pole legs up front. I actually didn’t re-weigh it right before leaving. Most likely, I have the weight for aluminum hubs like they were originally meant to be.
This event was supposed to be Clocker’s Last Tournament™, but I refuse to let my machinery die of stupidity… so I’m just going to make the aluminum hubs for Franklin Institute ಠ____ಠ
Test Bot fared a little better for itself. I was quite out of practice driving it, and being underweight didn’t help pushing traction as much. It lost to Omega Force after a spirited pushing and driving match ending in a 360 degree flip (There were 2 halves to this match – after the first one, the unrestrained battery knocked the logic power inductor off the Ragebridge 1 board, which I jumped 5V to using an offboard BEC) It then won against Aluminum Box before losing to Test Bot v4. Actually, I meant Dolos, but I sold the TB4.5 frame to Mike, whose friend is operating it with modifications as Dolos! In other words… good, the newer version was better than the older one.
In the 12lb rumble, I sent Test Bot into the fray (after starting it in a nonsensical position because come at me) and lasted up until the end when I ran straight into the loving hug of Hypnos, which TB seemed to fit perfectly square into.
Now that I have Test Bot v3 back in my possession, I’ll probably keep it operational (and loaded up to 12 pounds) as a handy practice bot.
That concludes all the robot shenanigans this time. None of the bots I brought made a spectacular showing, and it might seem that I’m losing interest in them with my hurried repairs and modifications, but what balanced it out was helping so many new folks out with their bots. I think I’ve been around the block enough to “get it”… and seeing so many new builders this time, many of which I connected with online before and dispensed questionably-sagely advice to, in attendance at this event meant to me that I really built like 5 or 6 robots :p
Overall, the time constraints and preferred format of Robot Battles was showing its limits here this year. You can only have so many bots before the “show” is forced to become a tournament. The “two out of three” system really adds to the length of match times, and with the convention seemingly unwilling to allot more time to RB, some hard decisions about the future of the tournament might be needed if the popularity of BattleBots keeps up.
Be prepared for the most action packed van adventure yet!
Not that it’s a good thing. In fact, I’d strongly have preferred to not deal with any of it, but now that I’ve had to fix it before, during, and after Dragon Con, everything finally works great! Can I go to Dragon Con now?!!
The story begins duringDetroit Maker Faire. I didn’t notice exactly when in particular, but at some point I stopped to refuel and noticed that hey, it sounds a little like an idling school bus. An idling pulsation that was steady, and which went away once I stepped on the throttle a little but which was noticeable when trying to accelerate at low speed. It gradually became worse and worse as the trip progressed, but I was at least able to make it back into town. While unsteady at low speeds, it was smooth on the highway despite noticeably lacking some power.
Thus began the teardown. I was thinking a fuel system problem, specifically perhaps a malfunctioning injector. Too bad the symptoms literally pointed to everything; from said injector or perhaps an ignition/spark plug issue, all the way up to blown head gaskets and cracked pistons. Give that I had some time after Detroit Maker Faire, I dove in and did some testing as well as replacement of parts I had on hand.
I started with the obvious – using a timing light to double check that the spark plugs were getting voltage. I also just went ahead and replaced the plugs, since the ones that were installed were “Original-as-of-when-I-got-it-running” crappy plugs picked up at Autozone in 2013. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
I next tried a vacuum test. It turns out you can deduce a whole lotabout the state of an engine if you have a vacuum gauge and know a couple of other variables about the engine. It was easy to shove the gauge into the brake booster vacuum line and run it a few times. But to me, it showed nothing out of the ordinary either, besides the manifold vacuum being a bit short of normal.
Well, with a whole lot of physical things wrong with the vibrating metal bits of the engine seemingly ruled out, I decided to take an intermission to just also replace the fuel system parts.
The injectors are reasonably accessible, but to reach them, a few hoses, connectors, and surrounding components had to be disconnected. To not utterly fuck up on the assembly, path, I marked the steps with numbers. So clearly, if I have to do this again, I can just follow my own breadcrumbs!
In a “Well, I’m already this deep” moment, I swapped in a new ignition coil for the old one, because why not!
A kit of new Bosch spark plug wires also made it on. The ones in there were unmarked and of unknown vintage and quality, so why not!
All of this above effort, of course, did not affect the problem at all, which was persisting – not getting better nor worse, but staying just out of reach such that I could still trundle over to Harbor Freight but most definitely not to Dragon Con. Well, it was T-minus 3 weeks at this point, and that was not a preferred state of things…
One thing I noticed, especially during the latter half of the Detroit trip, was how much more quickly it was losing oil. Specifically losing – it wasn’t burning, but just puking everywhere out of every opportune area. For instance, this is what the oil cap area and valve cover looked like after a trip to Home Depot or something.
That oil vapor also looked really suspicious, though the Internet seemed to suggest some amount of vapor is normal. Regardless, the “oil being forced out of places” scenario seemed to support the crankcase being pressurized abnormally, since it is supposed to be constantly evacuated by the PCV System. The problem being “just” the PCV valve seemed unlikely, because why would it only run badly in one cylinder? I double checked and cleaned the PCV valve anyway.
The rabbit hole was beginning to get a bit deeper.
I borrowed a compression testing gauge to check those numbers. Really I should have done this first, because
32 PSI ಠ _____ ಠ
The number 3 cylinder showed very little compression. No matter what, at this point, the head had to come off. I pinged the good folks at Smooth Automotive (within hobbling distance, and with whom I’ve done plenty of business already) to get an assessment – yes, head gasket failures into oil passages (hence the crankcase) can happen, but it’s more likely to be between cylinders 2 and 3 (which was ruled out, because cylinder 2 had good compression) or into a coolant passage, upon which I would see effects in the cooling system or engine butter, neither of which were present.
What it effectively meant was that I was at minimum needing a head gasket and at most…. there’s no bottom to the rabbit hole until it is reached!
With Dragon Con departure being now 2 weeks away, I decided to throw it in, and let them work their professionlulz magic. You see, a more sane person would PUSSY OUTrent a car, perhaps, but that ruins more than half the point of the trip for me, so I was willing to play my Automotive Wheel of Fortune game for now.
I got to watch the process firsthand and pester them with “Ooh, what does this do?” questions. Here is the single overhead camshaft in all its glory. They got it to this stage within… oh, like half an hour. Gee, it’s almost like you guys do this every day or something. For instance, I didn’t even know that the giant octopus of wire harnesses and throttle cables just came off as a single block to be set aside.
Oh god. The head came off. WHERE IS THE HEAD? WHERE DID IT GO?
Right here. I can’t explain why there’s exactly 1 white valve, but everything else has been leaking oil into the cylinders – Mikuvan is well known for an occasional small smokescreen on a cold start, a classic sign of worn out valve guide seals.
Here is a “literally, leak-down test” in progress. What it showed was that cylinders 1 and 4 were well-sealed, cylinder 2 and 3 were less so. The difference between 2 and 3 is that this photograph was taken the day after, and according to them, cylinder 3 was gone within a few minutes. With cylinder 2 showing good compression when I tested, cylinder 3 became the culprit.
And there it is. At the end of it all was destroyed piston ring lands. This was unfortunate, because it took the better part of a week (of on-and-off work – I’m clearly far from the only customer) to get here, and now many parts need to be obtained. Besides the obvious such as new gaskets and seals, and a timing belt set, I needed at least 1 new piston and ring set. Nobody in their usual parts supplier lineup had any. I would not have expected any different, really, because who the hell stocks parts for an obscure model of 1980s van that was mostly sold in California?!
Fortunately, Rock Auto had 1 full kit of pistons in stock. I will forever love Rock Auto, because this post has been a rolling advertisement for them (all of the parts I replaced myself came from them at some binge-purchasing point…)
And here they are!
We decided to only replace piston #3 for now. The cylinder wall did not exhibit scuffing or other damage (….somehow), and since all the other cylinders showed good compression, and time was of the essence, it was the quickest way to get rolling. If the cylinder wall itself was damaged, that would have been the end of the game, and I would have better spent my time welding up a mounting cage for a Siemens 1PV5135 motor. Besides, now that I have witnessed this whole process, I can do it all myself! Muahahahahahaha. That will end splendidly.
None of it ended up being exceptionally difficult, but just in areas I had never been and did not want to waste time fucking around before a major trip. The pistons are easily accessible with the oil pan and cylinder head removed – the “big end” bolts are in the open, and they pop out from the top.
While this work was occurring, the cylinder head was also being rebuilt by an associate shop specializing in engine block and cylinder head operations, Arlington Automotive Machine. New valve guides and seals, reground valve seats, and new hydraulic valve lifters were in order since all of the (original?) ones had long died (This manifested itself in the classic “tappeting” sound when the engine hadn’t yet warmed up).
All told, this adventure cost me $1700 not including parts. But the end result not only worked beautifully, it also sounded way, way better. It also revealed where all the exhaust leaks were, because now that the engine was properly running and the valves were actually stiff and responsive, the rustiest parts of pipe and the most weathered of gaskets began giving way! Yay!
and we haven’t even left for dragon con yet
It’s Tuesday afternoon, September 1st, and it was time to leave for Dragon Con. Cynthia and I packed everything up and rigged Chibi-Mikuvan to the roof.
An old heater hose explodes before we made it to the highway. Oh, right, the water pump was also replaced as part of a front-end operation (“When you’re down this deep…”) and the newly healthy engine and increased coolant pressures made the old pipe very sad. That is a photo of the broken portion of the pipe drooling coolant, which I took from underneath on the side of Memorial Drive in Cambridgeshire.
I hobbled back to Smooth Automotive running air-cooled half the way since the coolant loop bled out very quickly. I was horrified at the prospect of potentially cooking my BRAND NEW HEAD GASKET to overheating like…. 2 days after getting it done, so when possible, I shifted into neutral to coast, and gently revved the engine to fan itself. This hose was in the rear heater core loop, so the quick hack applied was to bypass it entirely. I plan on un-bypassing it soon, since fall is approaching.
Next, somewhere in southern Connecticut, I lose the speedometer. Something felt a little weird, so I look down and was pretty sure I was not going 0mph.
What the f….
That’s the speedometer cable I’m holding, which attaches to the output of the transmission through a little worm gear. It has a collar which screws onto said attachment point. This collar seems to have loosened up and gradually backed itself out.
This is the only photo I have of the process…
No, I didn’t cut off the cable. The driving spline portion which mates the two haves is probably still hanging out on I-95 somewhere, but in essence, it’s a small metal key that fits into the slot in the cable end and has a mating slot in the transmission end. Just a simple peg with two keyed portions. So what piece of material did I have which could approximate the key?
I purchased those jigsaw blades on a whim from some hardware store years ago and they’ve been sitting in the center console since. It turns out the steel stock they’re made from is a perfect fit width and thickness-wise to act as the speedometer cable key.
So I broke off a chunk of jigsaw blade, dipped it in motor oil for lubrication, shoved it in there, and went on my way with a speed reading again. Maybe I was actually worse off for this, because I definitely drove with more care when I didn’t have a direct speed readout.
Fortunately, all seemed uneventful for the rest of the trip until I got close(ish) to Atlanta – around “late South Carolina-ish”, I started getting some intermittent power loss at high revs on the Interstate.
cue ominous music
Being extra paranoid, I scheduled a check-in with Suwanee Auto Repair, which appeared to be very reputable for my area, with focus on the fuel system since that’s what it felt like (highly scientific terms here…) They reported no abnormalities with fuel pressure, injectors, and filter, and also recommended I get some water remover for fuel (e.g. HEET) in case there was water contamination in the fuel system. With nothing else presenting itself locally, I was comfortable driving back up to Boston, but with one catch – I’d return to the I-95 route which I had sworn off, because it was much closer to civilization in general and I had possible bailout points and friends with trucks along the way. Just, you know, paranoia. Just because the van is working, it doesn’t mean everyone’s not out to get you.
The order of events on September 8th was:
be south of Richmond, VA
> can’t rev past 4,000
be nearing Richmond, VA
> can’t rev past 3000 or go past 55mph
be in Richmond, VA
> stall out in the middle of town for a good 10 minutes
gently hobble towards Advance Auto Parts
> barely keep up with 25mph local traffic, limited to basically high-idling
Something was not happy. Falling back onto the symptoms I knew well from last year, I was still 99.95% convinced it was a fuel system problem. But swapping in my “crash kit” fuel filter – which I now keep a spare of in the back at all times, because fuck the world – didn’t resolve the problem at all. It would simply come back after less than a mile. Something was causing a severe constriction in the fuel feed, worse than last time. And like last year, I couldn’t cross-debug anything else that was wrong, the ECU blinked no Hobbyking-esque codes, and even calling up Frank at Smooth Automotive for some heartfelt remote diagnostics ruled out anything else. Once again, I was stuck in Virginia with a van of dubious functionality. And a town ending in “burg” was nowhere to be found, so what should I do!?
As I was low on fuel at this point anyway, I decided to grab a gallon or two more, in case I had to hobble to a shop or to a hotel. I didn’t want to get a full tank, in case I had to drain it at the side of the road.
> runs beautifully
This got me thinking. Something about just getting gas caused it to start running again. But not all the way – I could still barely rev past 4,000 RPM. Whatever is upstream of the fuel filter is causing the problem. It dawned on me that it might be the fuel pump itself, but I replaced that in 2014… before the Dragon Con 2014 trip which ended in me feeling gassy. But the fuel pump itself has a intake filter on it, the little sock-looking thing filled with fuel-resistant teddy bear plush.
I still am wondering why there is a filter on my filter and why these two filters can’t be 1. the same one and 2. outside the fuel tank. But the bottom line then was that I had to drop the fuel tank to investigate. Dusk was settling, and I faced a choice between finding a shop which could look at it ASAP or winging it to at least Washington D.C. where I had some cohorts summoned. The area of north of Richmond I was in (Google Maps tells me it’s called “Glen Allen”) was healthy with automotive services, but they were all booked and busy – the earliest opportunity being the next day, with no guarantees.
Therefore, I made a betting-man’s decision to try and drown whatever was causing the blockage with fuel. I went back to the same Shell station and filled completely up. I even rocked Mikuvan left and right by pushing on it while filling up, which probably made me look like a lunatic to everybody else. All to try and dislodge any material that was hypothetically in the fuel pump intake sock.
Using this witchcraft, I was able to cruise to Baltimore without significant trouble keeping up with traffic. By the time I got past Baltimore, the issue had begun to return, so I stopped to top off again. The problem was that the clog was clearly pulling itself back together quicker than I could run through fuel – which, with restrictions to begin with, I was getting spectacular gas mileage. This was utterly unsustainable – I was going to have to drain and waste a full tank of gas in the near future if this kept up, and if that is the case, I’d rather lose 1 day and have the fuel tank totally cleaned and inspected.
I decided to call ahead to my dad, who luckily lives in New Jersey right now,and explain to him slowly how his son has insisted on getting in trouble with his old broken truck again. The plan was to coast fashionably into New Brunswick and find a shop in the morning after some sleep. Driving 50 to 55mph on the New Jersey Turnpike is one of those things I strongly prefer not to do again.
In the morning, I rolled into E-G Tire & Auto Center in Dayton. The E-G part stands for Edison Generator, which is a way more badass name – I asked why the business changed names, and it seems that the owner simply spun off the car repair business when he sold Edison Generator-the-business-that-does-electrical-stuff. I’m quite fond of “old style” company names, because fuck stupid postmodern one-made-up-word startup names, and power to Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse & Auto Body Center.
Oh, luckily they’re a tire shop too, because on the way there, this happened.
Welcome to New Jersey. Fuck you and don’t come back.
This was about 70% my fault and 30% Fuck You; I’ve gotten a bit careless with shaving curbs in Boston and Cambridge, admittedly, but New Jersey-class curbs are made of sharp stone mixed with some domestically-produced Fuck You. In fact, this happened across the street from E-G, but because it’s New Jersey, the nearest way to turn around to get to them was a mile away. Not wanting to risk driving and damaging the rim, I had to mount the spare tire in clear view of the tire shop that’s going to fix it.
In fact, they recognized Mikuvan by make and model, from my pre-arrival call, and had actually been watching wondering why I was just parked across the streethighway whatever New Jersey calls its roads where you cannot physically ever make a U-turn.
E-G was a nice and friendly place to hang out while they dropped the tank and had a look. In fact, the chief tech’s son was a huge BattleBots fan, so I got to provide my first random celebrity moment, I suppose? No, that did not discount my labor rate.
Here is the fuel pump intake sock as-extracted…
You can’t really see it here, but if I squeeze the little bag, the whole thing turns black and it feels very, very mushy and most definitely not like a synthetic fuel-resistant teddy bear. This part was replaced, along with the main fuel filter again, just in case – they are fairly cheap, and as long as We’re This Deep and very paranoid….
By 3PM on the 9th, I was back on my way again.
I decided to save the old intake sock as a memento piece to my statistically improbable luck with fossil fuels. Here it is cut up to reveal the inner layers!
The observant might be wondering why Suwanee Auto Repair didn’t catch this as a problem. While I think they could have dug deeper or performed a more thorough test, I really only gave them Friday before Dragon Con to do so. With the understanding that I needed it back by closing time, they did not inspect the fuel tank because I asked specifically to check the filter and everything forward of that (e.g. injectors) – since that was what bit me in the past. Good quality repair work always takes time, as my experience with Smooth Automotive showed. Unless you literally know exactly what is going down, it is better to let theprofessionals you hire do their work thoroughly. If I had been wrong about the fuel pump intake, then my trip to E-G would also have been frivolous (minus the dose of good ol’ New Jersey Fuck You).
So that’s the story of how I made it back into town with 3 winter tires and 1 dorky all-season, an accidentally-mandatory engine rebuild, a piece of jigsaw blade embedded in an improper location, and a refreshed fuel system! Now that everything works incredibly well, I’m back making midnight speedruns to Chinatown! going to New York Maker Faire this weekend. All said and done, this trip cost a little north of $2100 for all the servicing and repairs needed.
See you at the side of the Milford service plaza on 95!