Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on September 9, 2015 No Comments yet

Playlists are up for all of the Dragon Con Robot Battles events on the new Official Robot Battles YouTube Page. The 30lb playlist includes the special BattleBots exhibition match.





Be sure to watch the post match interview during the BattleBots exhibition match.

Remote Operated Machines Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on September 4, 2015 No Comments yet

Here are the slides for the Remote Operated Machines panel from Dragon Con 2015.

Video from Clash of the Bots 2015

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on June 8, 2015 No Comments yet

The video upload has begun and footage will be popping up for the next few hours on my channel (




Bot Hockey:


1st – Mini Stumpy
2nd – Krabby
3rd – Unicorn

1st – Algos
2nd – Klazo
3rd – EXP

1st – Grande Tambor
2nd – Trilobite
3rd – BOB

Bot Hockey:
1st Team Ice
2nd Team Scotch Pies
3rd Team Pneusance

Presentation from Intro to Combat Robotics: 1-3lb Bots at Woodhams Electronics

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on May 31, 2015 No Comments yet

The presentation can be downloaded at:

If you’ve got any questions feel free to send an email to

Wheel Guards: Maximum Exposure

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on May 26, 2015 No Comments yet

Wheel protection is an often debated subject in the robot combat world. Exposed wheels are much more likely to be damaged during a fight, but protecting them adds weight and sometimes can actually make the situation worse. Over the years I’ve had bots with most of the common wheel guard arrangements from nothing to fully surrounded by thick structural members. They’ve each got their pros and cons, so there’s no universal right answer to the question of “Which wheelguard is right for my bot?”

First up is the fully exposed option:

My 1lb robot Algos leaves its wheels completely open to the opposition. The big benefit of this arrangement is that with highly exposed wheels it’s difficult for your opponent to put you into a position where you don’t at least have a wheel on the ground. The downside is that you’ve got absolutely zero protection for your wheels. If you opt for fully exposed wheels be prepared to replace damaged wheels between fights and watch out for robots trying to take out your wheels.

Up next is minimalist guarding:

This arrangement is the lightweight option when it comes to wheel protection. This style of guard is typically designed to cover the expected angles of attack only to minimize the weight spent on protecting the wheels. This setup is often enough to avoid severe wheel damage during a fight, but with the minimalist nature of these guards there is the risk that a hard enough hit could warp the guards and either allow the weapon clear access to your wheels or cause the guards to interfere with your wheels potentially immobilizing the wheel.

The next step up in protection are wheel pods:

Wheel pods typically serve two purposes. Not only are they protecting the wheels from damage, but they’re also an integral element of the support structure for the drive system. Being a part of the support structure necessitates them being much more durable than the minimalist guards. Wheel pods don’t offer much more protection than the minimalist guards, but the increased strength requirements and tie-in with the rest of the chassis mean they’ll typically be able to handle moderate impacts well. Integrating wheel protection with overall chassis structure is a more efficient use of weight, but there is a risk that a bent section of frame could result in jammed wheels.

The top external wheel setup is the fully wrapped guard:

With this setup there is no unprotected path to the wheel. With adequate space between your wheels and a fully wrapped guard it will take significant effort for the opposing robot to reach your wheels. If the guard can take the blows your wheels will be safe in most circumstances with this sort of guard. The major downside to this style when compared to something like the minimalist guards is that for the same weight you won’t be able to get nearly the level of protection in the most critical areas. This type of guarding is a good all around option but is lacking compared to other options when it comes to defending any specific location.

Finally, the most protected setup is the internal wheel:

At the top of the pile you’ve got this setup. The wheels are completely contained within the chassis with only a small portion of them exposed where they contact the combat surface. With internal wheels you’ve got the most protected, but most limited setup. Special consideration also needs to be given to the components in the robot near the wheels to ensure they don’t come into contact with the wheels after a heavy impact. The level of protection is unmatched by the other options. By the time your opponent has a clear shot on your wheels you’ve already likely sustained substantial damage. The main downside of this setup is that your wheels will likely have a very limited number of positions where they are in contact with the ground, making it easier to get stuck or high centered.

As I said at the start, there’s really no right answer. Everyone’s got a style that works for them. I tend to lean toward minimal protection for several reasons:

  • Improved maneuverability. It might be subtle, but occasionally a bit of extra agility makes the difference.
  • Lighter weight. Less weight in wheel protection is more weight that can be put elsewhere.
  • Strategy. This is more hypothesis than fact, but I take the view that if you’ve got exposed wheels they become a primary target for your opponent. I take the view that if you know the target of your opponent you’re better able to defend it and in close fights this can be the strategic advantage that tips things in your favor.


Thanks for reading, if you’ve got questions or requests for future articles send me an email at or post it over here:

Freeside Robot Street Fight 2015

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on May 10, 2015 No Comments yet

My video from the Freeside Robot Street Fight is up.

1st- Algos
2nd- Death By Twinkies
3rd- Eleos

1st- Torgo
2nd- Naked Singularity

1st- Omega Force
2nd- Abrasive Personality
3rd- Hypnus

1st- Nyx
2nd- Spanky
3rd- Overthruster

Bringing an Arena Out of Retirement

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on April 27, 2015 No Comments yet

This weeks post is going to take a bit of a different direction from the last few. Instead of talking about broad topics and skill building it will be on a recent project. In this case, it’s on the repairs and upgrades I’ve been making to an insect class combat arena.

The arena itself was originally used for Robot Battles events and was retired after Dragon Con in 2011. After that, it sat in a garage for a few years until the owner offered it up free of charge to whoever was willing to give him a bit of space back. I took him up on the offer and we got the arena moved from his garage to mine.

After a dusting and de-cobwebing the arena was ready for work to being. First up was a lot of patching on the floor:

A few hours of wood filler and sanding and the floor was relatively flat and ready for paint. I decided to go with a basic white paint as that’ll help the robots show up well on video and it’s going to get battered eventually and white will make for easy touch-ups.

With the painting done it was time for a test fit of a few critical components, namely the legs and lexan. A bit of wrestling with it and the arena was set up and ready for a bit of testing. I tossed Algos into the box and took it for a test drive. Overall, it worked quite well. Traction seemed decent and the wedge on Algos wasn’t finding any places to dig in.

The final bit of painting was up next. I was able to get an acrylic template for the starting squares cut at Freeside Atlanta. (

Some masking tape, paper, and a bit of time with the spray paint and the new starting circles were added. I decided to keep with the red/blue scheme the arena started with.

The observant reader will notice a large hole to one side of the floor. That hole is for the arena hazard. Obviously I couldn’t leave the hole open for combat, so the next order of business was to figure out why the arena hazard wasn’t working properly. Some experimentation in the shop revealed that the main problem was that the solenoids used to power the flipping plate could overextend themselves and jam, preventing the hazard from firing properly. To solve this I 3D printed four stop-blocks that were then glued into place using Goop.

A bit of testing later and I was convinced that the flipper was working well enough. With the hazard reasonably fixed it got a quick orange and black paint job to match the arena walls.

If you’re wondering how it works, there’s a contact switch in the flipper plate itself that’ll trigger the solenoids when it’s depressed. The solenoids are installed backwards and slam their rams into an angle bracket that pushes the flipper plate up, hopefully sending the offending robot into the air. In testing it was capable of sending a 1lb bot from the wall to the middle of the arena.

This left one major detail that still needed to be addressed, the pushouts. The openings in the wall are meant to allow robots to be eliminated by their opponent shoving them off of the combat surface. I wanted to create a pit that would be reasonably light, durable, and securely attached to the arena frame. After a bit of messing around with ideas I settled on steel framed baskets with an expanded metal skin and a thick foam lining.

The whole thing is made from steel that has been cut, bent, and welded into shape. The main structure is 1/4″ steel rod which slots into a pair of holes at the edges of each pushout. This attachment method allows the pits to be quickly dropped into place for easy setup and minimal risk of a robot escapee.

As with many things, the final detail was the paint. Each pit was hand made to match hand drilled holes, and because of that, they’re not identical. The pits were color coded to match the side of the arena that they fit to make things easier during events.

The last bit of work wasn’t much in the way of actual work. One of the two halogen bulbs had been destroyed at an event and was never replaced. I spent a bit of time looking around and found an LED replacement bulb and swapped in a set of them in the hopes that they’ll be more durable and be less of a safety risk since they should run a fair bit cooler.

At this point the arena’s in good enough shape for its first event, which is a good thing as it’ll be getting used May 9th at Freeside Atlanta for the first Freeside Robot Street Fight. (

There is more work planned for the arena. The next major addition will be the creation of another hazard that can be used at events.

Thanks for reading, if you’ve got questions or requests for future articles send me an email at or post it over here:

Battle Hardening the Inside of Your Bot

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on April 12, 2015 No Comments yet

When most people are designing and building their bot they focus on the armor, weapon, and drive system. Making sure these are all in good order is important, but there is something that is often overlooked: The internal systems. A good number of knockouts at robot events aren’t due to catastrophic damage, but due to a single small failure at an inconvenient location. Many of these failures can be avoided by doing what is often referred to as “Battle Hardening”.

Cover Your Exposed Receiver Plugs

Small receiver wrapped with electrical tape.

Most 2.4ghz receivers use a bind plug to put the rx in bind mode. This is done by connecting the signal and negative leads of the Batt/Bind port on the rx. If your rx has exposed prongs for these ports it is possible for conductive material to contact these plugs during a match, putting your rx into bind mode. Your bot will stop moving and in all probability, and there are only two was to get the bot out of bind mode- power cycle the receiver, or bind to it. The first isn’t doable during a match and the second may well take longer than the 10 seconds you’ve got before you’re counted out. This can be avoided by wrapping the exposed prongs with electrical tape. It’s a quick, nearly weightless way to minimize the chances of this ending your match.

Wrap Your Connectors

Wrapping your plugs with tape absorbs shock.

Most common connector types (Deans, JST, Powerpole, etc…) feel like they plug in pretty securely, and really, they do. However, robot combat is a rough sport and there’s a good chance your bot will see some serious forces in the arena. These forces, when experienced at the proper angle and in the right order can be enough to unplug your connectors. A quick wrap of electrical tape is typically enough to absorb the initial shock of the impact and keep your connections together.

Restrain Your Wires

Restraining your wires will help ensure your robot doesn't eat its wires.

Another potential danger caused by the shock of combat (or just putting the top armor on your bot) is that the wires might find their way to a moving component. When this happens, there are a few potential results: You could have the thing its touching grind/rub away at the insulation until the bare wire is now in direct contact with your chassis, you could have it cut the wire, or you could end up with it grabbing hold of the wire and trying to pull it free of its connections, along with anything that’s tangled up with it. None of these are good, and taking a bit of time to tie down your wires now can save hours of rewiring at an event.

Tape or Shrink Wrap Your Exposed Connectors

A bit of well placed shrink wrap can prevent shorts.

This part is pretty simple, the less exposed metal that’s part of the electrical system of your robot, the better off you’ll be. Exposed connections mean you’re at risk of a short, and a short likely means you’ve burnt up something expensive.

Pad Your Batteries

A little foam can save a lot of problems.

Batteries are relatively fragile things, LiPo batteries to an even greater extent. You should take care to minimize the shock that gets transmitted to your batteries. Rigid mounting is a recipe for damaged cells or a battery fire. When dealing with LiPo batteries, one thing I’ve found that helps greatly with their longevity is to put them in a padded foam enclosure. This allows the packs to swell while under heavy draw without reaching any solid barriers and gives them the best chances of survival.

Use Loctite – Seriously, Use It!

If you’ve got bolts going somewhere that you never want to get out, use red Loctite. If you might want to get them out some time in the future, use blue Loctite. If you’re removing them after every fight to get to parts, you can probably skip the loctite, but make sure they’re nice and secure before each match.

Use Connectors On Parts You’ll Potentially Need to Replace

Just about every connection uses a polarized plug.

When doing the wiring for your bot, it may add a bit of cost and a tiny amount of weight to the system but it’s typically worth it to have each element of your system able to be removed and replaced without soldering. Use polarized (ie Deans) connectors wherever possible to minimize the risk of reversing the polarity on a critical system. Use bullet connectors on parts where you’d potentially need to reverse the polarity quickly. (Typically spare drive motors)

Have A Common Power Distribution Point

For both the positive and negative leads coming from the battery, have a single point where the power is transferred to the rest of the robot. Typically, the positive portion of this will be on the far side of the power switch from the battery. For the negative side I tend to prefer high current connectors bolted together and wrapped in tape. These distribution points should be placed as close to the battery connection as is practical in your robot as that will keep the peak current in most of the wires in your robot as low as possible. Lower current means less heat, and less heat means less risk of meltdown. It also means you can use smaller gauge wire throughout the rest of your system as it doesn’t need to handle as much power which can reduce weight.

Practice Soldering

There aren’t many ways to build a bot without soldering somewhere, which means you’ll want to ensure you’ve got strong solder connections. There are a few keys to strong solder connections: The correct solder, the correct iron, good solder flow, and keeping the iron/heat in place long enough that you’ve got the connection reasonably covered. There are plenty of opinions on what is “right” so I’ll leave it at what I use, which has proven to be good enough for bots ranging from 150g to 30lbs for quite a long time.

Solder: Solder with Rosin Flux Core
I bought a spool of this in 2010 and still have plenty left.

Soldering Iron: Weller W60P 60Watts/120V Controlled Output Soldering Iron
This iron with the widest tip I could find has worked very well for me. Weller CT5D8 tip

Getting good flow with flux: Lucky Bob’s Acid Flux
This stuff’s a bit nasty and you’ll want to make sure you burn it all off when you’re using it or else it may corrode your wire over time, but it’s part of the recipe for a strong connection. The process I use is: Brush acid flux on bare wire, coat tip of iron in rosin cored 60/40 solder, touch coated iron tip to wire on all sides.

Helping hands to avoid charring your fingers: Something like this
I tend to not use them, but these are a huge help while you build up a tolerance for hot wires.

Battle Hardening Small Motors

Pete Smith wrote up a guide to battle hardening the Kitbots 1000rpm motors. These techniques can be applied to all similarly designed gearboxes with minimal modification.

Thanks for reading, if you’ve got questions or requests for future articles send me an email at or post it over here:

Combat Robot Building – Micro Bots

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on March 28, 2015 No Comments yet

This post is meant primarily to supplement the Combat Robot Building – Micro Bots class at Freeside Atlanta on March 28th, 2015.

The presentation can be downloaded at or

If you’ve got any additional questions, feel free to send them to or head over to the SPARC Forums.

During the class it was asked if there was a good book on robot combat. At the moment, the best “book” to go with is from Riobotz- Downloadable PDF, Physical Book

Unrequested Advice: Drive Better

Posted in Uncategorized by Near Chaos Robotics on March 15, 2015 No Comments yet

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:

    Target Practice

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.

A small test area built onto a pallet.

If you don’t have a willing target operator one thing I’ve found that is fantastic for small bots is a Weazel Ball.

Tailless 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.

Small test box with a full lid to prevent flying debris from exiting the test area.

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.

    Throttle Control

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.

Transmitter stick.

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.

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