My son, Andrew, and I make up “Team Rolling Thunder” ( www.teamrollingthunder.com).
We started building robots back in the UK at the height of the BBC “Robot Wars” show, and
continued once we came to live in North Carolina in 2000.
We had competed and won at a local college event but found the competition much stronger
in the US. Our Heavyweight Xtreme Impax went 0-5 in the three events we entered, and was so
badly damaged at the end of the third that it was retired. We decided to move to the smaller
12 lb Hobbyweight and 30 lb Featherweight classes. We eventually did much better with our
new bots and have gone on to have considerable success at several competitions. Based on our
experience(s), I’d like to offer some tips on how to enter and compete at a major event, as well
as give a summary of the highlights of our competition.
The Northeast Robotics Club (or NERC; www.nerc.us)
hold their premier event every February as part of the larger
Motorama motor sports event ( www.motorama
events.com) in Harrisburg, PA. The event is ideal for
getting a broad overview of robot combat in the 30 lb and
The lighter classes are an ideal place to start in the
sport and the Beetles or Hobbyweights in particular offer a
nice blend of size and cost that make it within many
people’s budgets to build an effective robot that has a
chance of doing well. For your first event, it’s probably best
to just convert a cheap RC car or truck and compete in the
Ants or Beetles. You are not likely to win many fights, but
you’ll have fun and you will learn a lot about what it takes
to build (and operate) a competitive design.
The Fairy and Ant weight competition is actually held
on Friday, but as you can see in Figures 1 and 2 the pits
and the arena were completely deserted by the time we
got there. We chose an empty pit table and stacked all our
stuff on and under it. We have never had any problems
with theft at these kinds of events but we do keep the
obviously valuable things like our transmitter and battery
chargers out of sight. We tested our 12 lb bar spinner and
our two Beetles in the Ant arena which doubles as a test
arena for the main event. Everything worked, so we headed
to the hotel.
Event Organizers (EO) usually negotiate discounted
rates with several local hotels, so always check before
booking since this can save you money.
Lesson 1. Get your bot finished
well in advance of the event.
Lesson 2. Get to the venue in
plenty of time.
To be honest, we still have a problem with this. The
bots always take about twice as long to repair or upgrade
as you think they will. I finished getting our three entrants
for Motorama ready on the very day we had to travel up to
Pennsylvania. I should have gotten started a lot earlier.
Completing it well before the event gives you time to make
sure you are under the weight limit; thoroughly test out all
the bot’s functions; and finally — and
probably most importantly — it gives
you time to learn to drive properly! A
mediocre bot driven well will usually
beat a great bot driven badly.
We set out on Friday, just before
3:00 pm. It’s about a 7-1/2 hour trip,
so we arrived at after 10:00 in a very
snowy (but surprisingly mild)
Harrisburg and went straight to the
venue at the PA State Farm Show
Complex. The main Motorama events
don’t start until Saturday, so you can
get your car right up to a door near
the pits. (This saves a long haul with
all your bots, tools, and spares the
next morning when this whole area is
We returned on Saturday morning around 8.00. The
first advantage in doing this is that you can park reasonably
close to the entrance doors. (The weather can be pretty
hard this far north and the walk back to the car can seem
very long!) The other advantage to getting in early is having
plenty of time to get your bot(s) through Safety. You have
to pass a safety check or you don’t get to compete.
The checks vary by event so it’s best to read the rules
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