EVENT REPORT: CIRC (Central Illinois Robotics Club)
BotBrawl March 7th, 2009
After the 2005 fall CIRC BotBrawl, Team tOBOR Combat Robotics was forced to put everything on hold due to college consuming all of my free time and money. While my interest and passion for robotics never went away, I simply could not balance combat robotics with my studies and the numerous engineering groups I was involved in. Luckily I was able to quench my thirst for robotics by participating in Valparaiso University's independent robotics team which built a robot for the annual Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition. This gave me an excellent opportunity to play with bigger robots but I was anxious to get back to my combat roots. In May of 2008 I graduated with my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, moved to Peoria, Illinois, began a full-time job at Caterpillar, and immediately began focusing on robotics once again. Having previously competed in the Central Illinois Robotics Club's events, I knew of their existence and could now become a member. In less than one year I became Vice President then President of the club and found myself performing the role of "event coordinator" for the 2009 spring Bot Brawl event. While I had many responsibilities for organizing and coordinating the event, I also used this competition as an opportunity to come out of my temporary 4-year break for the hobby.
After some much needed upgrades, Phalanx was back to prove himself this time with a new higher discharge lithium-polymer battery as well as a brushless weapon motor and 18 amp ESC. Other upgrades included a new Sabertooth drive ESC, a new pair of wheels, and aluminum standoffs to replace the nylon ones originally installed in the front weapon shaft mount. I was also sure to test Phalanx more intensively before the event. Phalanx had a pretty good showing at this event but a critical design flaw and an inadequate supply of spare parts prevented Phalanx from going all the way.
Phalanx's first match was against Wykydtron, a nasty vertical spinner with dual sawblades from Team Delta Strike Force 2001. I don't remember too much from this match. Both robots went at each other right away. Wykydtron seemed to be having some drive issues which only got worse after Phalanx managed to shave some foam off his wheels. Neither robot was able to land a good solid hit and the match ended with Wykydtron tapping out when his mobility became severely limited. While not the most exciting match, I was very excited about my first win of the event and especially happy not to see a repeat of the battery incident that crippled Phalanx at his last event several years ago.
Phalanx's next match was against DM-D, a powerful drum bot from Team Discover Magnetics. Both bots went at each other and exchanged several hits without much damage to either robot. This tango went on for some time before DM-D managed to slip around the side of Phalanx and take a bite of one wheel. The hit was strong enough to pull the hub and wheel off the motor shaft. With the wheel gone, Phalanx was not able to power up the weapon any more and could only manage to move in circles. Aside from the wheel, Phalanx was showing no signs of damage so I decided not to tap out right away but instead see if I could by some miracle either trick DM-D into falling in the pit or perhaps cause self-inflicted damage to DM-D after a hit on Phalanx. After about 15 seconds of spinning in a circle, it didn't appear that I had any real chance of pulling out a surprise victory and decided to tap out in order to ensure Phalanx would be able to fight his next match and perhaps work his way back through the loser's bracket for a second chance at DM-D.
And suddenly we find ourselves in the loser's bracket. I needed to kick some serious butt if I wanted to climb back to the top of the brackets. Phalanx's next match was against Unity from Team Bladed Fury. Built on an Inertia Labs chassis kit and featuring a powerful vertical spinning weapon, this was not going to be an easy match. This match was mostly a blur. I only remember the loud noise of metal hitting metal and bot flying around. The Inertia Lab's chassis was holding up to my weapon quite well I was lucky enough to knock Unity on his back after one of the hits. I powered up the blade to full RPM and moved in for a hit. The next thing I remember was shards of polycarbonate flying through the air and a crippled Unity. My hit managed to break the weapon mount causing the motor and belt to break free. Without a weapon and still stuck on his back, Unity tapped out.
Alright, we're back in the main bracket. There's no room for error now. One more loss and Team tOBOR is out of the competition for good. Phalanx's next match was against Death Grip II from Team Bladed Fury. This robot did not feature a damaging weapon but rather a servo powered grabber arm. While the robot would not be able to damage Phalanx, the grabber coupled with a pair of powerful drive motors meant I needed to act fast or else I might find myself in the pit. I had hoped to break off the grabber arm with my weapon then see if I could get around behind Death Grip II to his soft innards. I installed a fresh battery in Phalanx then adjusted the weapon's friction drive. That's when I noticed that the weapon shaft bearing was completely destroyed. While I did manage to inflict some serious damage in my last match, the force exerted on my own weapon was apparently too much for the bearing. Damn you Newton and your third law! Unfortunately I did not have a spare and there was no time to find a temporary solution. Instead I was forced to fight the next round without a working weapon.
Not surprisingly Phalanx found himself overpowered as Death Grip II proceeded to clamp and push me wherever he desired. Without my spinning weapon, I was unable to inflict any damage and Phalanx was simply not built for a pushy match. It only took a short while before Phalanx was in the pit and out of the competition.
Team tOBOR was also represented at the event with my first line-following entry named Xenops. This robot was based off of a Parallax BOE-Bot which was used for testing and prototyping. Once the program and QTI sensors were properly configured, the sensors and robot "brains" were transplanted to the chassis of my first antweight tOBOR. The antweight chassis provided more speed with the COPAL gearmotors versus the BOE-Bot servo drive system. Xenops was up against some tough competition including Rick Brooks and Mike Dvorsky who both had very fast robots. In the end, Xenops was able to complete the course in about 23 seconds which was fast enough to earn second place! For my prize, I selected the collection of Tiny ESCs and Lite Flight hubs from Fingertech Robotics.
While Phalanx may not have performed as well as could be hoped for, I enjoyed this event tremendously. I spent the majority of the day running around making sure everything ran smoothly while also tending to my own robots. This was the first CIRC event I've helped to actually run rather than just participating. While it was very stressful, I was also a lot of fun and I look forward to the next Bot Brawl. I'm very aware of all the work event organizers do to make these competitions happen and I can only imagine the amount of work needed to pull off bigger events like RoboGames. We've already begun making plans for next year. Team tOBOR will also be ready with upgraded versions of Phalanx and Xenops or with completely new robots. I'll see you in the Battle Box next spring