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.

 

Operation RESTORING BROWN Part 7: The Epilogue; or, Dragon Con 2019

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.

In the mean time, here is the full Book of Van:

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes
  3. Episode 3 – Wrapping up electrical loose ends, some times literally
  4. Episode 4 – Actually painting the cab… using a Harbor Freight paint cannon
  5. Episode 5 – Putting the van and truck halves back together
  6. Episode 6 – The finishing touches on the exterior, and working on the interior

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 early when 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!

Dragon Con 2018: Postmodern Robotics Comes Home With a Vengeance

Coming hot off my end-of-July trip to the mountain range I keep seeing next to I-81, and aiming to complete my original intended run down to Atlanta via the Blue Ridge Parkway, I decided to do Dragon Con a little differently this year.

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.

 

Hi. (灬♥ω♥灬)

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.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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…

poststructuralism.

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.

r/PostmodernRoboticsInAction

 

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.

The Overhaul Design and Build Series, Part 5: “Don’t you have to ship this on Wednesday, dude?”

Yes, yes I do. STOP REMINDING ME OR YOU’RE HELPING MACHINE THINGS.

Well here we are, after the airing of the Overhaul vs. Sawblaze fight which will be on Science Channel’s website and other streaming service soon! I have a full writeup I need to do on the lead-in and post-match analysis for that one! That will come after the conclusion of the build series in this post.

We rejoin our heroe…. dumbasses in the 2nd-into-3rd week of March. March 21st was the latest ship date available for east coast teams in order for everything to make it there on time (or so we were told!?). Luckily, Overhaul was actually not in a bad position, at least compared to Season 2 when the extra long days really started kicking in. All I really had to do at this point was a final assembly, then work on remaining spare assemblies.

After the Week of #WeldingGoneWild, it was actually very easy to do a fitting of the whole front of the bot.

That’s about it. The only thing which wasn’t added in this photo was the clamp actuator itself.

I’m much more a fan of this design already. Once the whole thing is loosely assembled, there is a degree of “elastic averaging” *ahem* that goes on as all the bolts get tightened down, but after that, the arms are rock solid.

The drivetrain is being assembled more now. Check out the Markforged nylon engine timing chain style guides! The front chain was still a bit loose after this so (at the event) I ended up making a different set, to be shown.

The one on the right between the two motors is a little ridiculous. We were running so tight on time that I wasn’t going to get the #35 half-links of chain in on time, or at least too close to risk not being able to drive test. So I invented the stupidest possible chain -pincher for the intermediate drive chain – it was gonna wear out very fast with its profile, but would at least let me get some test driving in.

Closing up the other drive side. The design for serviceability that I did 2 years ago is really coming back to help me here. Remember, my team this year is scattered – Paige is working a real job across the country, Cynthia is occupied full-time and could only help on a limited basis with set-up operations, and I only had Allen’s help briefly with welding too. Most of the photos taken in this build series was work done by myself solely.

Here’s the first test-fitment of the entire bot with all hardware installed. I’m really liking all the design changes to the steel parts. In person, the new clamp and forks look better proportioned to the bot. At least to me, way better than OH2 for 2016.

(Fun game: See how many dumb project artifacts you can spot in the background of this and other photos. Chibi-Mikuvan currently resides under my desk.)

 

I spent an evening just pounding out spare parts for the incipient shipment. For one, I was short on drive motors now, but with a shipment of new HobbyKing Sk3 6374-192s waiting, I needed to key the shafts and secure the hardware. It was easier to pop the shafts out en masse and set up the mill properly.

This and more! I went through….. zero 2mm endmills, somehow. Still a harrowing operation.

It was now the weekend before, and I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get my last round of waterjet-cut parts in time. These days, I get to be in the back of the line for MIT shop waterjetting – which I think is a very reasonable voluntary position to be in, as I have no official involvement any more with the institute. But dangit Sawblaze, you guys still do!

The electrical deck could conceivably just be drilled from a plate of aluminum, so that is what I ended up having to do. Out comes the TERRORISM. I just cut a chunk of 1/4″ aluminum plate out and started marking holes like high school Charles would have done, and he is always right.

Please do not ever, ever, ever do this. This is how you die. This photo is for illustrative purposes only and should never be attempted, building a robot is dangerous, etc. If you do, use the finest tooth blade you can get and have someone else pump WD-40 or cutting fluid constantly. Or you will die.

 

In the middle of the process. All the small holes are #4-40 tapped for Brushless Rages. Notice how I put six holes in some positions? This will be important later.

 

I’m loading up the bot with electrical deck hardware and wiring now. The shock mounts are in (and secured from the bottom) and some of the battery harness is visible.

The wiring for Overhaul this time was…… ad hoc, to say the least. I said I would dispense with the carefully cultivated greenhouse of busbars. The fanout occurs at the master switch terminals this time, with 8 gauge main leads splitting into multiple 12-gauge intermediate cables to the Brushless Rages. Single 6-AWG conductors handle the “fan-in” from the 4 batteries to the master switches.

The octopus taking shape, with ESCs installed.

Remember those 6-hole patterns? I had to temporarily use the 6-FET models for drive, keeping the 12-FETs for lifting and clamping.

What, are they magic or something? In actuality far underrated from their published specs?!

No, but I accidentally sold my entire product line – which is great – leaving ME with no remaining 12-FET units – which isn’t great. I had to dig into all my pre-production units here to even complete Overhaul at all. What is stock tracking even??

I wasn’t running off a cliff without a drone backpack, by the way. A month earlier, I had placed the assembly order for a new batch of Brushless Rages, but they wouldn’t get in until the Monday of the ship week and I was not taking any chances.

With the octopus wired in, the drive base is live for the first time. Check out the motor-on-a-stick I used to simulate having a clamp motor.

 

Overhaul prior to its first indoor test drive! At this point, I’d fight in 20 minutes if I had to. I think I was actually ahead of the curve here by a distressing amount.

 

I cleaned up and routed more wires into loom in order to un-nest the wiring some. This is inconceivably ugly to me, like a steaming fresh pile of partly-regurgitated dog squeeze smeared across a sidewalk by multiple unassuming passerby. I would never ship this in a consulting project. Yet some of y’all at the event said this was the cleanest wiring in a bot ever? What the actual hell is wrong with you?

(After seeing inside everyone’s bots, I’m not inclined to disagree. Sorry not sorry.)

 

Monday came, and hey! Look what’s here! More Brushless RageBridge units for all! I’d end up assembling 25 12-FET units and packing them with me to the event (not including my own spares, which were 4x for drive plus another 4x for spare overhead)

One of the put-off things was welding the wedges together beyond just tacking, so I spent much of Tuesday doing this. The plan was to take the tacked units to MIT to use one of the MIG welders I have access to and really smash them out quickly.  Using the bot itself as a welding jig made for expedient alignment of all my wooden dinosaur puzzle pieces.

DETHPLOW ™ was tacked together in the same fashion, by actually mounting all the pieces to the bot and locally squeezing with clamps.

For completion purposes, I fully TIG welded one set of pointy-wedges and mounted them on the bot in their final positions. TIG welding is truly the wrong technique to use for bitey pointy robot parts, in my opinion, since it takes so much time compared to MIG in an application where the sensitivity is not really reflected in the end product.

As I mentioned previously, it ended up pissing us off so much we immediately bought a MIG welder after we all got back from the event.

This, for instance, is DETHPLOW all MIG-welded together, a process which took only 15 minutes or so once it was jigged up. I designed all these pieces to be MIG-filled anyway. Here I am doing some TIG touchup on areas which I fell a little short with the wirefeed or missed, or had a gap that I couldn’t bridge as the fitup wasn’t 100% perfect. This is a fine state of affairs for me – blitzing and then fine tuning if needed.

One thing which occurred over the weekend was crate setup. I decided to just spent money this time to get an elegant and reusable SINGLE. PALLET. solution. As someone who’s had two double-pallet crates wrecked over two BattleBots seasons for reasons unknown, I decided I was much better off with a tall single pallet. U-Line came to the rescue with this 4′ x 4′ x 6′ tall snap-together crate,which I modified by adding some removable side-in shelving levels. The bot with its lift table and large tool chests/boxes was to fill the bottom floor, and more containerized accessory suitcases in the middle, along with the pictured Markforged gear – Markforged went ahead and lent me a 2nd printer for the event.

The top level would contain the loose large parts such as the frame rails and spare welded assemblies.

You know all those spare-everythings I was cutting and machining? They ended up in a tote which contained all the important mechanical bits of the bot. I’d prepped a full set of drive and lift motor spares, along with a few mor prepared motors. There was also enough cut tube sections to weld up a new clamp at the event if it came to be.

 

And here it is, Overhaul and all of its support equipment and tools plus spare parts, all ready to load up into….

 

Vantruck??????????????

 

THE PLOT THICKENS! During the week prior to shipment, a few of us NE builders came together to ally ourselves against the forces of time.

You see, Team Forge & Farm was planning to road trip across the country with their bot in tow. For a nominal fee of a few spare RageBridges, they were willing to also bring Overhaul along.

This effectively bought me an extra 4 days to work on the bot – in fact, the electrical work and spare welding photos you see were done after the 21st. On the Monday following shipdate, I picked up HUGE along the way and ended up in southern New Jersey.

 

…where, under the cover of darkness, we packed Earl’s truck up with our bots and his alike.

So… what’s in the crate? Well, there was still the lift cart and all of the already-completed spares, the printer, the mechanical tote, and other support equipment like the battery chargers and power supplies, and a few doen Ragebridges of various flavors. I handed off the radio suitcase and both of my event toolboxes off with the robot.

 

There were still a few kibbles I had to take care of after the bot went out but before I did. So, how do you jig up pieces for welding with you don’t have a robot???

You 3D print an imitation of the robot! This is an Onyx print with the same hole spacings and offsets as an Overhaul front frame rail. I used it to tack the pieces together quickly (as to not melt anything) before removing them.

And with that, the build of Overhaul 2 for the new BattleBots concludes. To be entirely honest, I found this build season pretty stress-free, largely because I didn’t have to build a new bot from scratch and was making only well-scoped changes I had anticipated in advance. In the position I am in now working on a new company with my friends, I don’t think I could have pulled off the record build of OH2 for Season 2 in 2016. My (and my friends’) experiences in this build and competition season of BB – without going into NDA details of the show – has really shown me that I have to move back to a “When it’s ready” format like I had to do during my busiest times at MIT trying to vaguely graduate on time. I have a lot of thoughts on the show as a whole and the direction I’d like to move in (and the show should/shouldn’t move in) that are much better reserved until after the entire show airs.

But for now, hang out here a bit for the event report and a SawBlaze vs. Overhaul post-match!

And now a word from our sponsors!

HobbyKing – Somehow still loves me and enthusiastically supportive of my efforts to abuse R/C model parts for unintended applications! I’m running a HobbyKing radio (9XR Pro) and batteries (Graphene 6000 65C 6S packs, times 4), motors (SK3 63-series), BECs, and a whole lot of wiring and connectors. Not to mention the Reaktor battery chargers and who knows what other HK kibbles have made it into my tools and accessories. I like to think that I had a large role to play in the commoditization of silly electric vehicles using R/C parts also.

MarkForged – from the days when I knew 50% of the company to today when half the new marketing and sales staff go “Who is…. Professor Charles?”, they’ve provided me with high-strength printed parts for a lot of different projects, both on this site and off. Introducing them to the robot fighting community via Jamison’s and my efforts pretty much made MarkForged printed-unibodies the competitive standard in the 1 and 3lb classes, and trying to find new niches in the bigger weight classes is one of my goals. This time, Overhaul’s drive wheel hubs and casting molds are printed from Onyx, and there are also plenty of smaller chain glides and tensioners and accessory parts.

SSAB – I find it interesting that the company’s full name is SSAB AB – Svenskt Stål AB AB, or Swedish Steel Company Company, but these days the lettering is the whole company name so that’s actually not true. This year, I’m working with one of their North America regional distributors and all of the armor steel on Overhaul – including the entire clamp arm, top plates, and new wedgelets and DETHPLOW™ are Hardox 450. Hardox is the easily-obtained ARx00 of Europe and other regions worldwide, and bots overseas have used it for years, but it’s not really had a foothold here in our scene compared to the number of AR-spec steel products in the US. So hopefully I can help with advancing that brand too!

BaneBots – I was called an edgelord for even thinking about using P80 gearboxes in a modern Battlebot. I always thought they were under-loved after the FIRST Robotics Competition quality issues of the late noughties, and had used them otherwise in several projects including consulting projects before shoving shorty Ampflow motors into them for Overhaul 1 in 2015. And you know what!? They’re great! Overhaul 2 ran them exclusively for Season 2, and now for Season 3, OH is sporting the new BB220 series with much stronger planetary output stages for the lifter.

Equals Zero Designs – Yeah, umm, I don’t know much about those assclowns.