And We’re Back In Business! An Equals Zero Return to Form, or So I Hope

After much ado about a whole lot of things, this site is now at least in a working state where all my information is accessible… even if it doesn’t look quite all aligned, all my plugins are missing, things might not be in the right place, and so on. This website is still a van, just a newer one.

By the way, I noticed all of your 63 emails asking what happened to the site! Hell, I didn’t know people still had the patience to read blog posts in this era of Youtube subscriptions and TikTok follows. A lot of valuable info resides here, so I definitely had the incentive to get everything running again, just a matter of willpower (This will be a theme for this post…)

So I had to relearn a lot of “Internet Stuff” since the last real revamp of the site from 2009. The biggest challenge ended up being re-importing the database which actually dates back to 2007 (the earliest posts on this site now), which is why this site was a potato dealership for a few days.

First, I had trouble importing the 200-something megabyte database dump, and it took several retries in different browsers and different times of day. Not only that, but fancy hax0r Charles of 2006 named all of his WordPress databases fancy names, so the new WordPress install didn’t know ass from teakettle. Next, because all of my domains are now unified on one hosting account (Equals Zero Designs and Marconi Motors), I had to connect all the subdomain dots. I’ve also never seen cPanel in my life, despite it being available back then also – I did pretty much all of the setup and back end work through FTP and phpMyAdmin directly, so there was just button clicking to learn.

I’m still going from theme to theme, so the immediate appearance of this site might change in the next few days. I’m trying to keep it a dark and easily browsable theme. The one I have as of 1/11 also has a banner image like the previous rendition, but I haven’t reuploaded those yet. It also has a bad habit of displaying the past few posts all together making the front page infinitely long, and I have yet to find the setting for breaking it up into previews only! I also still need to get used to the visual editor that WordPress ships with now – I’m not a fan of it so far, since it’s more of a walled garden experience and it’s a little harder to use my historic file and photo structure. But alas, welcome to the Internet of Today.

Anyways, after all of my makeshift database adminning, here we are again – I’m sure I’ll make a post like this again in another 11-14 years. All of the old posts should be there, but I have not (and will not) check them for layout or importation mishaps, as I consider those pretty much static archives at this point. Look, my van posts are here for my own reference and that’s all that matters.

So! Onto the new content. Besides now the Summer of Ven and Overhaul 3 Design & Build series posts I need to backfill, there’s some new stuff in the pipeline because I will somehow always find new vans to work on. I’ll just add this to the “List of Things I Still Have To Blog About”. Here’s the short story of, I dunno, since late September or thereabouts.

dromes

You know what? I miss having my own drone. I keep working on everyone else’s drones, but I haven’t had one truly of my own since all the way back in the Tinycopter days. Back then, I had the audacity to code my own flight controller, but these days most of my work is integrating Arducopter and PX4, flight controller firmwares that are….. less haphazardly put together. With safety and what not. Somehow I’ve built dromes for many entities since then, including KIWI of course, and my current place of employ, but what measure is a drome engineer if he doesn’t have any of his own?

And so I went to pray at the Altar of Lord Bezos and visited the Oracle of Jack Ma. You know the adage “Buy right, or buy twice”? My take it on it is “Why buy right when you can buy very specifically wrong and buy a lot?” It’s like getting a 0 on the SAT, since you have to answer every question incorrectly and can’t just shotgun it at random. You have to specifically know what not to buy, so your pile of parts has a minimal chance of cooperating, maximizing your chances of failure but forcing an exploration of the tradespace into places no sensible engineer would touch. Long time readers will understand this is my M.O. for everything – I know what to do, so why do it when you can try something dumb since nothing matters and we’re all going to hell anyway?

As such, crafted out of a tote of deprecated KIWI parts and my robot electronics bins, helped along by some deconstructed Seg-baby packs dating back to 2015 (RIP seg-thing), and with the blessing of the lowest-priced drone parts AliExpress could provide, I present Trashcopter:

The least fine drome that money can maybe buy!

This thing is…. a drone. There’s nothing special about it. I just wanted a beater drone to fly when I felt like it. It works fine, I went through the usual setup and tuning and fine craftsmanship associated with putting a kit drone together, and it is still in one piece as of this writing. It can fly autonomous missions, take off and land itself, follow terrains and avoid (large, visible to IR light) objects, and do a barrel roll in mid-air once. (Okay, it was for a brief couple of hours not in one piece). It ain’t a Skydio II, it’s basically a potato someone threw very hard, very controllably.

I explored the sub-basement steam room of drone parts on this build by purposefully trying to sort by price lowest and free shipping. What I found is an entire under the fallen log ecosystem of used drone parts, selling motors and ESCs and subassemblies for $1-$5 apiece. As expected, I now own like 50 motors pulled from XiaoMi drones, and the ESCs that go with them.

The frame is the cheapest, most terrible DJI FlameWheel knockoff I could find. The finish is so ratchet that I had to deburr everything before using it (and correct some of the heatset insert work, and open up some of the PCB chassis plate holes…), but I also now have 6 frames worth of questionably molded nylon arms. I mean you should see the sink marks on these arms. What I’m saying is, I can build as many terrible drones as I feel like now, for less than the cost of getting parts stateside for one single functional unit.

I furthermore went shopping for the crappiest radio I could find – the “Can I find something even cheaper than the 4 channel HobbyKing 2.4Ghz radio?” and that result is sitting next to it, the “MicroZone MC6” series. Like Trashcopter, it is “An Radio”. It has all the right shapes and tchotchkes in the right places, and Doesn’t Not Work. Hell, it’s even 6 (secretly 7) channels.

The build report for this guy will expound more on the process I took to get the parts, exploring some of the parts themselves including taking apart the cheapo radio, and just generally show the setup of a modern-day Pixhawk and Arducopter based multirotor from end to end for posterity.

But that’s not all.

I hinted in the original Robot Trap House post that I had unfinished business in the sector of Very Lörge Dromes that I still wanted to explore and develop, but which wasn’t relevant to the KIWI business needs at the time. One of these in particular is my strong belief that the “One motor per prop” multirotor architecture doesn’t really scale to large, flying van levels. You CAN make it work, and many companies have, often at great expense of either buying or developing cutting-edge custom motors and materials for airframe and propellers.

That clashed with my general philosophy of “Don’t custom unless you want to make a project out of the custom thing”, and consequently the direction of KIWI, where every aerospace engineer we tried to hire dropped to the floor and foamed at the mouth as soon as they witnessed our extremely BattleBot-like building approach: COTS and easy sheet metal and extrusion weldments.

The magic sauce to me when it comes to electromechanical hardware startups lies not in exotic in-house cooked and served materials and genetically-evolved one-piece structures, but getting out into the field with a working, reliable robot in front of the customer and a practiced means of getting there many times. I’m a bad CTO – I don’t like technology.

So how do I aim to demonstrate an alternative? Well, I reached just a little bit back into history, like a few years, into the domain of the Variable-Pitch Multirotor. Also called “Heliquads” or “Collective Pitch Multirotors”, they trade a little bit of mechanical complexity (The collective-only rotor head) for, in my soon-qualifiable opinion, a broad increase in the maneuverability space and control bandwidth.

My still-in-progress entry into this design tradespace will be what I affectionately named “Wigglecopter“:

Yes, that is my dinner table. No, nobody ever comes over.

In short, for a minor increase in thrust for vehicle attitude correction, a conventional multirotor has to spin up and down the propellers. Your torque to inertia proportions really, REALLY matter. Everything needs to be as light as have as little MOI as possible, and your motors need to be as torque dense as possible, to get a high enough control loop bandwidth to keep the vehicle stable.

Conversely a VPM/CPM can issue corrections by adjusting the pitch of its propellers. Single-degree movements will induce variations in thrust corresponding to possibly hundreds of RPM of motor speed. There is a lot of literature in the advanced aerospace controls scene pertaining to these, and I’ll collate and dive into a few papers I’ve taken a liking to in its build reports.

I actually tried to buy one of these, as they were sold for a while in the Early Teenies by a few hobby vendors with models such as the HobbyKing Reaper 450, WLToys V383, and the CJY Stinger 500. They’ve pretty much all died out, so instead of hunting around for used or new-old ones, I decided the mechanical problem was simple enough to just put together and get the point across.

If you look closely, Wigglecopter is just made from the same pile of garbage that Trashcopter emerged from. I just ordered a few DJI F450 quad frame cards from Amazon to make it a quad, and had to gently re-engineer the motors to accept the collective pitch mechanism and propellers. I’m going to put some more legitimate gear into this thing from the flight control and sensing side, as I’d like for it to be a development platform.

Notice that it still does have four independent motors? Well, you can still do that with a CPM, provided you now keep the motor speed constant so your thrust output is not a multivariate surface of sagging motor speed and flexible propeller blades…. just one of them, as much as possible. I decided trying to make a serpentine belt drive was just going too hard the first time out, and will just bypass this issue with inertia rings pressed onto the motors if need be, and with the ESCs set to speed govern. We’ll see what it does!

My LTE plan for Wigglecopter is to finish and validate it, then start getting larger and larger. I’m going to need to modify the firmware a little for myself, as I would like to make a collective-pitch Hex and Octo down the line. Wigglecopter itself should be all done and ready this spring, and its bloodline is completely unplanned except for daydreaming of lifting Kei vans in the air.

Overhaul 1 Restoration

A very exciting new development in my life is that I now have Overhaul 1 in my possession again. In November, I made a speedrun up to Boston to collect the remainder of the several hundred pounds of life I left in the ol’ vape shop. At this point, I was able to extract Overhaul 1 from its dormant state. For the past few weeks, I’ve been going through it (there’s not much, mind you) and getting it back in running order.

There’s no intention of putting it back in battle except a few token matches with Sadbot, Overhaul 2, and Overhaul 3. Yes, somehow I will soon have four operational heavyweight Battlebots. It’s like vans, they just keep spawning. Everyone I know agrees that it would be incredibly funny if Overhaul 3 loses to every preceding generation of Overhaul. I mean, it’s never won against Sadbot, so this is a distinct possibility.

I designed up a retrofit for the drive motors on the shuffle pods, implementing a design idea we should have done but didn’t have the time to execute. Right now, the electronics bay is a small plastic tote bungee-corded to the frame, but I’m going to design up an integrated battery case and electronics deck so I can close it up. It won’t be as (unnecessarily) fast as it was before, as as a bot I’ll probably reserve for demos and showings only, doesn’t need to be anyway.

I also had to straighten out a lot of bent parts. You know what – my adventures in Big Chuck’s Auto Body came home to roost. There were a lot of fun rednecky processes involved in straightening the welded unibody-ish frame and the pointy plow.

So, hopefully Overhaul 1’s “Rebuild Report” will just read like one of my many other hundreds of “I fixed this stupid thing that broke because I was stupid to begin with” titles.

all of the ven are piles

As of right now, my entire treasure fleet is in disarray. While everybody runs and drives, I wouldn’t characterize any as “particularly competent”. It’s winter, and they’re not in danger of being towed or fined for the first time, so in a way this little return to form with me building robots again has been at the expense of the ven.

Why are they so derelict? Well, I think in part it’s due to me continually throwing them up and down mountains.

Now that I’m only about 3 to 4 hours from the very vannable mountain roads of northern Georgia and the North Carolina/Tennessee border, it means I go…

I’m the width of the road, I’m the width of the road, I’m the wiGET BACK IN YOUR LANE NOW

…all…

Look at that inside-front liftoff. Rear sway bar time?

…the time

I do think at least once every month so far I’ve ended up somewhere in the area with vehicles nobody expects to ever witness in general, much less on a mountain. I’ve gone with groups (typically composed of SPROTS CARS) and when I damn felt like it.

The downside is obviously that the exercise is very strenuous for tired old ven. Here’s the lockout tag captions for everything as it stands:

Mikuvan

  • The entire exhaust path from the axle-clearing bend back fell off in late May when I was on the Tail of the Dragon. Yes, fell off. As in the person behind me had to dodge it. Straight-piping 3 hours home was hilarious, albeit dissatisfactory for hearing longevity. I replaced the exhaust in my first fully welded/fabricated custom exhaust job in June. In fact, look at it ratchet strapped to the roof rack above, as a victory trophy.
  • Complete front brake caliper and rotor replacement in November – it’s had one mildly dragging caliper for a while, and it was tolerable until some amount of smashing on the mountain caused it to seize even more.
  • Now it’s slowly leaking brake fluid from the master cylinder/booster assembly – while it stops fine, the fluid loss is gradual and both faster than I’m comfortable with and want to deal with the mess.
  • The power steering pump is now making absolutely terrific sounds and leaking at the shaft seal, so it’ll be on the chopping block for replacement.
  • There is a cable harness that the cruise control computer intercepts the transmission overdrive solenoid with which has failing pins. This has manifested in sporadic loss of 4th gear, meaning I’m either going 55mph tops or absolutely revving it flat out to hit 70. A kick or tug on the harness will often resolve it – I’ve tried various methods of biasing and restraining the connector pigtail over the past year or so, but outright repair/bypass is now a necessity because it’s getting too annoying.

Vantruck

  • Developed either a misfire or bad exhaust leak from the right cylinder bank, so while it will drive fine, it sure sounds like an old rattly diesel when it isn’t one (yet…). I’ll need to do a full heuristic debug before commenting on it more – it got worse lately as the weather cooled down.
  • It’s recently began emitting blue smoke out the exhaust intermittently. I’d attribute this solely to something like worn/crispy valve stem seals or sticky piston rings, but what was more worrisome is that the oil pressure gauge began to not register pressure. Now, in this era of Ferd, the oil pressure gauge appears to be a fake one – really an on-off scenario. I haven’t correlated the two symptoms by physically measuring the oil pressure yet, and really cannot say I’ve paid enough attention to said pressure gauge in months past for it to even have been symptomatic of anything. It could be a coincidence. Either way, out of an abundance of caution, I haven’t been driving Vantruck around the past few weeks.
  • Rear drum brakes have something going on, probably just excessive wear. If I set the parking brake, the rear brakes will drag for a while after releasing them. If I brake in reverse, then drive and brake forward, there’s a palpable clunk as something with just a bit too much slop pops back into position. Sounds straightforward, just willpower-limited for dissection.

Spool Bus

  • It came with a diesel leak around the left bank of injectors – old and crispy return line fittings, and the cold weather has made it worse to the point where I’d prefer not to drive it. Less due to the fire hazard and more because it stanks of diesel, costs me money by leaking it out, and is rude to others for leaving dribbles on the road. Willpower-limited repair, as I have the fittings and hoses sitting in it right this minute.
  • Thrashing about the mountains has caused a power steering system leak. I haven’t dug into it to find out where from, but it’s actually not from the gearbox itself this time (a known failure mode of many a Ford truck), so it’s probably a stiff hose or loose fitting. In fact, I had to abandon a day on US Route 129 a few months ago because the power steering leak became dramatically worse all of a sudden, a small puddle per power cycle. Luckily, the system was filled with transmission fluid and I had a quart to keep topping it off on the trip home.

You notice it’s all turning and stopping related problems, more or less? Well, in order to not fly off the side of a mountain, it’s imperative that you be able to turn and slow down. Vans, while imperfect at this, can be coerced into doing so somewhat gracefully, but they’ll only put up with it for so long.

Oh, yeah, where’s Murdervan? Spoiler alert – I sold it back in September after shoring everything up nicely and writing a Facebook ad that, in light of current events might get me Investigated. It was sold locally in-town to someone who seemed enthusiastic and knowledgeable of old Ferd diesel trucks, and will join a small business fleet that does urban gardening and landscaping work. A very fitting end to its brief story with me, as it was always just too normal for my misfits. I’m sure I’ll see it around the city more!

So there’s also a lot of Ven to write up, besides the Summer of Ven series itself. I better get used to loving this keyboard and its probable timely successor once the keys start falling off.

Cute little robots

A few weeks ago, I was skulking around knick knack stores in the farthest reaches of Georgia (my latest habit, finally checking out all those antique and flea markets I keep blasting by on the way back and forth from the Smokies and Blue Ridge). A lot of these stores have vintage tools and hardware, which I enjoy perusing. However, at one of them, I found this little guy:

That, if you’re not familiar, is a Dr. Inferno Jr. Well, not really. It’s a Tomy Omnibot, a little robot toy of the 1980s that was probably pretty badass for its time, being programmable via cassette tape and all.

Needless to say, I made off with it because hey, it has some relation to BattleBots history as well as the history of programmable smart toys. It was in good physical condition, though the proprietors said they couldn’t locate the remote control at the time but would keep mining their stocks for it.

Without the OEM remote, it seems rather static based on my research, and so I decided to perform a unique restomod. I’d do a mechanical repair and restoration to get it in driveable first, but I had an element I wanted to add.

That is an old Futaba T4NL Conquest I got for free at some Swapfest at MIT many moons ago, and have just had sitting in one of my Electronics Mystery Abyss totes since. What better to control your 80s robot with than an 80s radio!

What you can’t see from the outside is the MicroZone MC6 transmitter that I organ-swapped into the T4NL. Yup, I done did it – a restomod of the transmitter with a modern day, albeit potato, 2.4G computer radio. This was a fun adventure, and I think I approached it in a unique (but harder) way than just tapping the PPM summation point and feeding it into a 2.4G radio module. I fully embedded the MC6 using the original Futaba gimbals, added the MC6 servo reverser switches to the back side, and wired in new switches to turn the 4 channel T4NL into a full fledged 7-channel radio.

And of course, this photo of my 80s robot that I drove around with my 80s R/C radio was taken at a car show I took my 80s van to. This, as I called it on the Facesphere, is #Radwoodbait for whenever those shows come back up.

I’d definitely love to write up the whole restomod of both the Omnibot and the Conquest T4NL radio, because it was just a fun distraction project over the holidays when everything was closed and I didn’t feel like going outside.

Remember, even while I’ve refrained from fixing this web-van (HEHEHE WEBVAN) up to post content, I’ve been taking my usual excessive amount of photos of every step or interesting happening. The content exists, I just have to find the willpower to write it up – and I hope finally having the damn site operational again will motivate it.

Also, I have so much to remember what I named “Potato”…starting with the title of this site. I’ll take care of it soon, I promise.

robots

Robot Ruckus at Orlando Maker Faire: How to Somewhat Scale-Model Test Your BattleBots

Hello everyone. Here’s a photo of Überclocker 5 experiencing Waffle House for the first time, alongside Earl of Bale Spear team, who makes a better “BIG CHUCK” figure than I ever will.

Let that image never fade from the collective knowledge of mankind.

Anyways, as Robot Ruckus approached, I had to figure out how to get my bots all the way to Florida. Taking a week or so to drive there and back was kind of out of my realm of possibility at the time, so I decided to run a little bit of a relay race with the HUGE team.  They’re in Connecticut , which is either a suburb of New York or Boston depending on who you talk to.

I delivered Sadbot, Clocker, a tote of spare parts, and a toolbox to them one fine Sunday afternoon. They were then going to drive everything – Huge included to Earl in New Jersey (if you recall, Earl also brought Overhaul to Battlebots in 2018!) upon which he will travel to Florida. So after the delivery, I had plenty of time to do Other Stuff before flying down to Orlando.

Upon my arrival, I obviously had to grab a rental car. I figured that I’d get the shittiest econobox possible since I wasn’t going many places, just to the event and a hotel room. Well, when I got the reservation and headed over to the rental car garage, it turns out the company was out of shitty econoboxes.

So what now, do I get a free bicycle instead? Nope. Free upgrade time! The garage handlers throw me a key fob which I assume was to the small dorky crossover nearby.

Nope, behind that:

Thanks, I hate it.

Let me be very clear: I’ve forgotten how to drive. No, not in general, but remember what I’m mentally calibrated and trained to for years: Being high up and on top of the front axle, and having a very short or nonexistent hood.  THIS WAS NEITHER. You cannot see out of these. Not out the sides, not out the back, and barely out the front.  I guess that’s the trade for prioritizing looking cool and edgy. For yours truly, stepping into any modern car requires some zen and meditation, and a constant reminder that I now have a front.

I am always terrified of automatically failing over into “van mode” while driving anything rental, and going full Unintended Acceleration into a store or dumpster or fire hydrant as I try to park 1 foot away from something.

How fast does it go? Greater than Van. I dunno man, I don’t have a good sense for How To Fast. My friends who work at GM (who had to listen to me complain about it in real-time) said it likely has the rental-car spec turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecotec engine, which may explain why I was experience what I swore was turbo lag, but more likely might be several inter-related drive feel variables like any economy modes it was stuck in.

2019 Chevrolet Camaro: Faster than a 1986 Ford Econoline.

 

Also, this interior panel fell off while I was heading back from the event at one point. It snapped back in, of course, but seriously?

The trip from the airport to my hotel was made in complete darkness, in the rain. Great. So I’m sitting 2 inches off the floor behind 8 feet of snout, unable to see anything, trying to figure out why every new car is a forsaken spaceship simulator inside, and mingling with other equally lost tourists trying to figure out their own rental cars on the fly. Through several construction zones, to boot. I guess I’m glad I went ahead and got the full-plausible-deniability add-on.

When I arrived at the event the next morning, I found Uberclocker like this.

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwww. Earl took it in a South of the Border restaurant apparently, and they had these convenient accessories available.

 

I unloaded totes and began setting the bots and infrastructure up for safety inspections.

Sadbot

Sadbot was up first against the multibot Crash and Burn, built by Fingertech Robotics (incidentally, a Ragebridge dealer!) and which has done very well at Robogames events. They were running in kind of a reduced functionality state for this event, so it was more or less a pushing match. Sadbot is obviously a great shape to get pushed around, so it went about as expected with the exception of me getting a few good shoves in. At one point, I took a huge gouge out of the railroad tie side bumpers with the log splitter tip. It definitely did its job.

In the first 30 seconds of the match, the lifter controller popped. Uh oh!

 

It was a pre-production 12-FET brushless Rage board that I pulled out of a bucket labeled “SAD RAGEBRIDGES” and wired up. I probably deserved this.

It would appear I neglected to solder some of the pins on the MOSFET packge. Quality control! That probably popped as soon as it saw any heavy load. I replaced it with a “production model” I brought along in the pile of Equals Zero wares.

What’s more important, though, was the powertrain holding up great for that entire match of me running around and into things. The C80/100 drive motors were lukewarm, and so was the aluminum heat spreader plate in the electronics deck. And even better? I loved driving the damn thing. I mean, saying it handled like Overhaul 1 would be cheeky. Obviously from the video, I took a while to get re-engaged with bot dynamics. But afterwards, it felt like driving a big 30lber, which is my desired effect. Big wheels and conservative gearing seems to be holding up so far.

Sadbot’s next match wasn’t going to be until Sunday at this point, so I decided to take the opportunity to go to Home Depot and grab some….

…masking tape, a big wire brush, and some spraypaint.

This thing has always needed a paint job, and I wanted to paint the frame pastel purple to match the Miku blue and pink attachment aesthetics. Well what better time than now? It was a bright and only somewhat windy day outside and around 70-something degrees. I brushed off the accumulated rust and grunge on the outside and had at it. Paint+Primer, you say? I dare you.

So there you have it. Sadbot will be purple from now on.

My next match was against the other multibot, Macaroni and Cheese. The matchups are “DETERMINED RANDOMLY”, or so I am told. Maybe the random quantum computer just really likes seeing multibots get thrown around.

I went a little more hard-headed in this match with the added confidence of the previous fight, more actively chasing as well as trying to back off from engagements. I stayed to a “I weigh more than thee” strategy instead of trying to capture with the pokey dingle, and managed to drive both halves in the wall a good few times, including propping them both up by the end.

One of these power charges had the unfortunate side effect of making Sadbot somewhat droopy.

Ah well. This match was a much more aggressive one from the stick perspective. I purposefully drove like the maniac I should be driving like, to see if I could get anything to upset itself. The motors got warmer, but not concerningly warm, and I unfortunately neglected to take a controller temperature.

I asked Earl to use Farmer Force™ to straighten out the pokey dingle a little – the upside of it being slightly bent was it at least touched the floor.

 

Sadbot’s final matchup was against Kraken, the actual BattleBots entry. This was finally a chance to drive a match against an opponent of equal weight, and what an intense driving match it was – I went full hard as if it the Giant Nut depended on it. This thing also perfectly fit in Kraken’s trap, as I found out. I kept the pokey dingle at a height to engage Kraken “in the jaws”, and did it once and drove it into the corner. However, once we recovered, Kraken got a better bite on the lid, which led to…

Oops. That’s the outrunner’s wires getting squashed into the rotor. One of the downsides of using external rotor’d motors is you have to pay a lot of attention to where your wires are going. It would have been better to make this a side-exit mounting instead of top-exit. Overhaul, if I keep this drive setup, will definitely have an external shield over the rotor to prevent this.

The wires took a little while to get chewed through, during which it was shooting sparks out the side of the bot which I thought was the controller exploding. I lost this side of drive around 75% of the way through the match, so had to play defense and pivot to keep facing Kraken. Anyhow, I couldn’t find any explosion signs on that Brushless Rage, but I also didn’t feel like repairing this at the event after the Heavyweight bracket ran out of time – originally, each bot was supposed to get 4 matchups, but only we had three in the end. This will be a forensic investigation for later!

Überclocker

Clocker got off to a …. great? Memeful? start by fighting “Marty”.

I’m going to let the video explain itself. Well, I found out it’s definitely front heavy, but it’s also compounded by the fact that Marty is enormous. I also found out this match that Clocker gets stuck on the floors very easily here – they’re plate steel laid on wood foundation, and definitely were shifting around as the event wore on. That’s one of the foils to having a super low wedge in BattleBots – the arena floor will only get shittier, and you’ll definitely regret missing your charges. It’s a tradeoff – possibly get stuck or bounce off a seam, but have weight on the ground.

After I parked the bot at the end of the match, I noticed when picking it up that the lifter was actually seized. What on earth?

It would seem that I #HardParked it maybe a little too much, and the P61 bent in half.

Uh oh. This is maybe an engineering oversight, but the failure mode is also a little infuriating. See, the P6x series shafts neck down to 10mm no matter what diameter you order them as, to pass through the bearings which are of limited size to support the mounting hole pattern. They’re also made of stainless steel.

 

This last part I don’t really get, but basically the shafts are rather soft. So once the preload on the screws is overcome, the whole thing will buckle. Maybe I should have secured them with a 2nd plane or backup plate of some sort. Or maybe I should have used a face-mount technique instead so there’s no “gear climbing” force. Or maybe…

Okay, whatever. I didn’t need the full torque that the 45:1 ratio was going to give – I more did it for a limited lifter speed, but I suppose that’s why I took the care of engineering clutches into Overhaul, and Clockers Past, so it didn’t consume itself.

That’s why you might have noticed the bot split in two for service during Sadbot’s segment. I managed to get a P60 from another team that was the 16:1, two stage ratio, so I had to fiddle it into the bot. This involved cutting the height spacer down in length because the mounting pattern changed. Luckily, I anticipated something dumb like this happening, and the bottom rail has both the 2:1 and 3:1 pattern.

The only downside of going 16:1 is the lifter will be almost hammer-speed. But this could be entertaining in its own right!

Clocker’s next fight was against Ascend, a very powerful 30lb pneumatic flipper. This was going to be a durability test!

It was hard to get under using conventional means, so I mostly had to drive around it and hope to catch it vulnerable post-flip. I also spent an infuriating amount of time trying to get out of a floor seam.  Clocker went flying several times in the fight, which was the shakedown test I wanted.

Near the end, it got stuck upside down because the retaining bolt for the lift axle on the left (gear) side actually backed out and fell out somewhere!  So the gear just skipped as I tried to put it back upright. I managed to get one good grab-and-lift and a couple of other pushes, but didn’t prevail in the decision.

What was cool was I actually got a wheel nibbled off from a direct flipper shot in the first 30 seconds, then drove the entire rest of the match on 3 wheels. Just fine.

This was very exciting. To me, this means if I can keep the chain and inner hubs on, I can treat the wheels very disposably. Not that I’d do it as an explicit tactic, but as get out of jail cards if the situation forced it.

In Overhaul, I’d likely keep the inner wheel tightly retained while the outers are left to float on plastic/shear-rated hardware. I have a few ideas of how to do this for Clocker itself come Motorama.

Another downside of just coupling your actuator to the bot lazily: When your actuator suddenly has 3 times the power, it’s gonna start consuming itself! Remember I put a 42mm brushless on the leadscrew drive instead of the usual 500-class drill motor.  Overhaul has a dedicated trunnion on the lift hub, this is just me not wanting to bother redesigning everything after the lift gear to use a 30lb-scaled one.

The lift motor didn’t blow itself up this time, and in a way I found the lessened torque to be more tolerable. I still clearly had grab and lift ability, but now with the weight of the bot having more leverage against the motor, I noticed I could “trim” the bot better in that match. I’d stick-down just a bit, and gradually the thing finds its self-levelling point. I could then periodically stick-down to refresh it, in a way.

All patched up after wheel service.

Clocker’s 3rd and last fight was against BEEESS???!! (You must only say its name with the upward questioning inflection). I found it hard to get a grab on with his defensive tines sticking out everywhere, so this match was just a lot of driving practice.

And that’s it. Sadbot came away 1/2, and Clocker ended up 2/1! After the event was packed up, I sent the bots back up north with Earl and picked them up from Connecticut again the week after.

Well, not before getting up to some shenanigans in the dark behind the building.

Sadbot, being “Extremely robot shaped” as we termed it, was used as a test dummy by a few teams with lifters/grabbers. Here is a future possible BattleBots entry, Claw Viper, tuning lift motor settings using Sadbot as a dead weight.

The Real Giant Nut was the Lessons We Learned Along The Way

So I’ll do a  more in-depth discussion of the implications for Overhaul separately as its own design series. But here were my two biggest takeaways from this event:

  • If I can make the equation “Overhaul 3 drives like Sadbot drives like Overhaul 1” work, then I feel far more confident bringing sexy back in the arena. I’m satisfied with this powertrain setup, consisting of the single 80mm brushless motor on a Brushless Rage, geared conservatively for about 13mph, and back riding on big blobby wheels.  What I’d probably do is use this as an initial design path, but have a failover ESC solution (VESC controllers have grown up a lot in the past 2 years) as well as a failover brush DC solution. I have some candidates in mind for the latter which I tested over these few months and think are a good idea. More on that later!
  • Clocker was a great architectural test beyond what I intended to accomplish. I definitely wasn’t counting on losing a wheel here! The bot was vastly easier to maintain, even replacing the lift gearbox with a different ratio. I now know that the frame should get longer to better grab and lift – part of the issues stemmed from having to move the front wheels so far back. The small poker wedge legs worked out reasonably, but I’d probably want to make several kinds because of the arena floor. There’s only minor changes and mods I want to make before Motorama. For one, it needs to test the DETHPLOW architecture for Overhaul, and maybe implement my 2-stage breakaway wheels.

One thing to note about Clocker is that I should have dropped the Angerbox clamp drive system to a single stage. I’ve basically done away with the requirement that either Clocker or Overhaul can crush stuff. The clamp should therefore be fast to close, something it wasn’t really at this event. Clocker and Overhaul will likely run single-stage gearing into their clamps for future events.

Between these two major differential tests, I think I have a good handle on what Overhaul 3 has to be.

Namely, it should be Sadbot, but with a grabber and lif….. wait a minute. #holup I swear I’ve built this bot before.