"Moe" got to the event with just a few "minor"
adjustments left to do. He spent his whole day trying to
work on the robot while at the same time getting
through all the required safety check-ins. He was
somehow able to convince the inspectors that his robot
was safe and able to move under its own power.
Now it is the first day of competition. Moe is still
working on his robot after having slept just two hours last
night under the pit canopy. Moe found that the minor
adjustments took longer than he expected, and he found
a few more changes that just had to be made.
Now Moe is called to battle. He sets up his robot and
steps out of the arena. The box is locked. The blue driver
"Red driver are you ready?"
"Uh, I guess."
Three thousand people watch anxiously from the
stands as the starting lights count down to green ...
Moe's bot never moves. Three thousand people watch
with disappointment and ill-disguised hatred as Moe
walks into the box to collect his robot.
What I am suggesting here is not easy. It takes good
planning, discipline, and lots of free time to get the job
done. However, here is one simple way to guarantee that
your robot will be finished: If it looks like time is running
short, rather than drive or fly hundreds of miles just to
work on your robot at the venue, why don't you just leave
your robot home! Come and see the show, have the time
of your life, learn a few things, and set your sights on
doing well and enjoying the next competition.
In other words, if it isn't fully functional the week
before the event, it's probably not going to pass safety or
be able to fight. It's happened countless times. Save
yourself the shame. Come to the event no matter what —
but if your bot’s not ready, volunteer on another team.
2. Practice driving (LTFD).
Sounds obvious, I know. So do all the other
guidelines, but less that 20% of contestants obey this
rule. The ones who do are the ones who win. So many
competitors spend countless hours making tiny little
changes to their robot to make it "perfect" that they don't
spend any time driving it. A shocking number of rookies
have had no driving practice before they step into the
arena for their first match.
Listen guys, Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't just hop into the
driver's seat and start winning at NASCAR. Pay very close
attention to this next sentence because if you want to
win at RoboGames, ComBots Cup, or any other
competition, it's the most important thing I can say to
you: The single greatest common denominator to
winning is driving ability. Get that?
The first time I saw Gary Gin (three-time HW
champion) and Original Sin and Big Bee, I thought it was
a joke. His bots had no weapons. Exposed wheels. Soft
aluminum bodies. However, he drove circles around his
competitors. He deftly avoids spinning blades, flippers,
and whatever else is thrown at him. He strikes and
dodges — like the finest boxer. He wins time and time
again. All the greats are like that. Watching Matt
Maxham (four-time champion) drive Sewer Snake is like
poetry in motion. They win because they practice driving
their robots! It doesn't matter how great your weapon is
if you can't actually hit the other bot.
Spend 100 hours practicing driving before you ever
get to the event. Robot not done yet? Fine. Go spend $20
on a cheap R/C car and drive until your robot's ready.
Switch to your bot as soon as the drive train is finished —
even if the weapon isn't done and the armor isn't on.
Spend an hour each day driving. Go find some empty lot,
parking garage, or cul-de-sac. Now, chase that $20 R/C
car around with your bot (let the kid next door drive the
car; he's probably a better driver than you, anyway). Make
sure you can catch it. Corner it. Out-maneuver it.
Dominate it. When you compete, the guys you fight
against are moving. Practicing against an unmoving
target is worthless.
Got that down pat? Good. Now, disconnect a motor.
Learn to drive with any given motor disabled (I've seen
Gary control his bot with only one of four wheels left.
This came from practice, not magic.) All of these things
will happen in the arena, and you can either learn now, or
learn then. Your choice.
(Editor again. Sorry to butt in, but I just have to give
a shout out to the late Steve Judd. If I saw him post this
once on forums, I saw it 678 times. Every new guy who
asked, "What do I do before an event?" got the same
3. Be able to self-right.
It is not a question of if your robot will be flipped
over, it is only a question of when your robot will be
flipped over. I have seen competitors, their eyes filled with
tears as they take their magnificently engineered robot
out of the arena after a loss, saying "I was so sure we
wouldn't get flipped."
Wrestlers get body slammed. Quarterbacks get dog
piled. Skiers dump skis along a quarter mile path. What
makes you so sure you won't get flipped? I've seen
countless matches where Robot A was utterly dominating
Robot B and would have won by a landslide if it were a
judge's decision. But then, by bad luck, bad driving, or
just a big collision, BAM! Robot A is upside down and
loses the match.
Your robot must be able to either self-right (flipper,
actuating arm, whatever) or operate upside down
(wheels extend above and below the robot).
If you can't self-right, you'll never make it to the
finals. Count on that. If there is any position in which
your robot is a helpless kitten, count on it ending up that
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