There’s been one constant in robot combat since the beginning. No matter how tough your machine, how destructive the weapon, or how sound your strategy you won’t be able to get the best out of it if you’re not able to drive it well. With that being said, here are a few things you can do to become a better driver:
Just driving your bot around isn’t typically enough to get good at driving it in a combat environment. Sure, you’ll learn how to drive in a straight line and how to make turns, but what you won’t do is learn how to chase a moving, often erratic target.
If you’ve got someone who’s willing to drive a moving target (for example, a cheap RC car) then you’re all set. The target tries to keep away from your bot, you try to catch the target with your bot. If possible, find a way to set up a specific area to do this in to replicate the perimeter of most combat arenas.
If you don’t have a willing target operator one thing I’ve found that is fantastic for small bots is a Weazel Ball.
It is advisable to remove the tail to avoid it becoming stuck in the rotating parts of your robot.
If you intend to do any of this drive testing with an active spinning weapon you should do it in a safe manner. For most bots, this means the creation of a test box. With a spinning weapon there’s no way to be certain of what will go where when you hit something. A test box is the best way to go about this, and if you’re willing to scrounge a bit it can be made fairly inexpensively. As robots get larger, it is more difficult to properly contain them in an enclosure that will also allow them to be driven in a manner similar to combat so for those systems I recommend doing weapon-off driving practice.
The more practice you can get in before an event the better off you’ll be. With enough time, you won’t be thinking about what your thumbs need to do during a match, but what the bot needs to do.
Unless you’re using relays for drive, you’ve got a lot of throttle range to play with. Most people seem to only drive with the edges of the travel range. They’re either up against the edge of the sticks throw or they’re not on the throttle at all. This makes for a bot that moves quickly, but often not in the intended direction. The benefits of proportionally (or exponentially) controlled drive systems is that you can opt to move as fast as possible or move more slowly but in a much more controlled manner.
I like fast bots. Most of the bots I run at events are easily in the top 10-15% of the class when it comes to speed. If you watch my fights, though, you’ll often see my bots driving slower than the opponent for noticeable stretches of the match. Unless I’m lined up on the other bot or in contact with them, I’ll often be at 50% throttle or less while driving.
Why slow down? It’s simple, you don’t need to go fast to score points on aggression, you don’t need to go fast to get lined up for an attack, and you don’t need to go fast to take control of the fight. Speed is a useful tool, but it’s only part of the kit you’ll need to do well. If you charge full on at the other bot and miss, then you’re about to run weapon first into the wall or off the ledge or down the pit. Best case there is you’re now facing the wrong way and stopped. Worst case, you’ve already lost the fight. Speed is great, accuracy is better.
Take some time and acquaint yourself with the other 80% of what your drive system is capable of. It’ll pay off in the long run.