The Robot Wars Series 7 event

Qualifiers event on Friday 22nd August 2003

This year's Robot Wars event was taking place over the August bank holiday, which was not particularly popular with us because it clashed with a holiday we had booked sailing on the River Blackwater. Looking back on the event now, it was an immensely fulfilling experience, but very much an emotional rollercoaster ride, particularly for my sons Robert and Jonathan.

Since the rest of the family were on holiday over the Series 7 period, the logistics of getting my two sons up to Nottingham with me were a little convoluted, and on the day of the qualifiers meant that I was running half an hour late. I toyed with the idea of phoning the organisers to let them know that we were going to be late, but in the end reckoned that if last year was anything to go by, we would be hanging about for hours, so arriving half an hour late was neither here nor there. I was supposed to arrive at midday on Friday, but rolled up at RAF Newton at 12.30, joining a very long stationary queue of roboteers waiting to unload and get into the pits.

The long queue to get into the pits at the qualifiers

The queue didn't move for over half an hour so we walked up the line and went to have a look inside the pit area to see if we could find out how long we might have to wait. There I chatted to a couple of teams who said that they had arrived at 9.00am and still hadn't been given a battle time. Bearing in mind it was now nearly 1.00pm, I reckoned we were in for a long wait. I wandered back to the car and found a couple of other late comers queuing behind me.

Our car park pass

One of them was Saber Tooth, who were a spinning weaponed robot, powered by a 100cc motor bike engine! If there were any robots that I would not want to meet in a battle it was strongly powered high energy spinners like this, but I had the horrible feeling that Mentorn were more or less pitching roboteers against each other as they arrived on site. Since I was at the back of the queue with Saber Tooth there was every chance I would be meeting them in my qualifying battle. Oh happy days!

The queue slowly moved on and I eventually arrived at the front to unload the Hog onto a trolley ready for the weigh in and a photo. The technician guys gave the Hog a quick look over while we waited in the "weighing queue" and made a few comments about the positioning of my safety link and dump valve. They felt they were a bit closer to the moving parts of the flipper than they would like, but accepted that it was just about okay. I was given a hand to lift the Hog onto the weighing station where it also had its photo taken. In all the excitement of getting past the initial technical overview I forgot to ask how much the robot weighed. I knew it was less than 100kg because they didn't ask me to remove any superfluous parts, but I didn't know by how much. We handed in our CO2 gas bottle and radio transmitter, and were then directed to our pit table clutching some paperwork to read.

It was now about 3.00pm and it wasn't long before our opponents were identified, which were Saber Tooth, Disco Inferno, and Hannibal. This was not a good draw with Saber Tooth and Disco Inferno both being high energy spinners, and Hannibal being a full pressure flipper. I was less worried about Hannibal, but was wondering what size of bin bag I might have to use to take the Hog back home in if the spinners really went to town on me.

Disco Inferno

There was some feeling within the roboteers that there should be different classes of robot in these events. Spinners are now becoming so well developed that they are able to inflict awesome and substantial damage, and it can seem a little unfair to pit them against the others. It's a bit like putting a wrestler in the same ring as a boxer. The wrestler's tactics are to use stealth, control, and agility to overcome his opponent, whereas a boxer used more brute force and ignorance to defeat his opponent. If put in the same ring, the boxer could simply punch the wrestler in the face, while the wrestler says "you can't do that!" But as one roboteer said, a spinner hasn't won Robot Wars yet, so what's wrong with pitching the different type of robots together? A fair comment I suppose, so enough of my whinging!

Next I had a "tech check" to get through. There had been a few changes to the rules since last year, one of them being the dimensions of the robot. My guy got his tape measure out and measured the width of the robot and said it was too wide, and that I would have to cut six inches off each ear. I couldn't believe I had got the dimensions wrong, and what's more, I could even remember checking the Hog was within the sizes limits when I first received the new rules. However, the technician said that it had to be less than 1.2 meters wide, and less than 2 meters long. I disagreed, and he eventually went off to get a second opinion. In the mean time I sifted through the paper work I had been given when I check in and found that the contract we had to sign contained a copy of the rules within it. I found the section on dimensions and noted that it didn't specify that the 1.2 meters was the width, only that the overall dimensions should be 1.2 x 2. When the guy returned with a second technician I showed him the paragraph in the rules, and they accepted that I was right. Phew, the ears stayed as they were, and I made it through the rest of the "tech check" okay.

Some series 7 souvenirs

They had also changed the procedure for checking the "fail safe" features of the robots. This is where you run the robot's motors up and then turn off the transmitter. The robot should then quickly bring the motors and any weapons to safe rest state so the robot could be approached safely but this check was now only carried out just before going into the arena. I was not happy with this because most robots would have been bounced about the car or trailer for several hundred miles while traveling to the event, and there was a chance that something might not be working quite right. If the failsafe check was only done just as you enter the arena, you would have very little time to rectify any problems. It seems a little unfair to keep you hanging about the pits for hours waiting for your battle, not knowing if your robot is working okay, and then to be given virtually no time to clear any faults that might be present.

We eventually came to the front of the queue for our battle at 7.15pm, and were given our "fail safe" test, and told to gas up the robot. I was greatly relieved to hear my contactor "click in" as I pushed the safety link in and turn on the transmitter. Everything seemed to be working okay, so we loaded the Hog into the arena. The producers gave us a quick chat before we went up into the booths, and told us that they were looking for about 130 roboteers out of the 200 entrants, so there would be several robots going through from each battle. It was then up into the booths to await the fog horn that signalled the start of the battle. As the fog horn sounded, I went for the safe option of attacking Hannibal, the flipper based robot. Disco Inferno went for Saber Tooth and immobilised it quite quickly by ripping off a side panel, and with it, its safety link. I felt it was now safe to go in and flip Saber Tooth in the air a few times, as did Hannibal. However, Hannibal's flipper jammed, and was unable to do any more flipping.

I felt I had shown my flipper was able to do something, so gingerly wandered around the rest of the arena, trying desperately to keep out of the way of Disco Inferno's disk. I managed it for a while but then they went for me and all of a sudden the Hog was shot across the arena with a front panel flying into the air. The front was now exposed, and I could see the chassis was quite badly torn and bent. I also noticed that right hand drive was not working, and presumed the sudden jolt had caused the chain to jump off. I could only go in circles now, and it was obvious that Disco Inferno was the clear winner as the fog horn signaled the end of the battle. The Hog was unceremoniously shoved out of the arena by the house robots, so that I could then see the full extent of the damage.

qualifiers round damage by Disco Inferno

The producers came over and said that they would like me to take part in the main event provided I thought I could repair the robot. From the damage I could see, I felt it was possible and said "yes" I would be back on Tuesday. They told me I would be meeting Dantomkia, Rick, and King B 2 in the next round, which was an excellent draw because none of them had high energy spinners. All I had to do now was get the robot home and repair the damage within the next three days!

Qualifying round damage by Disco Inferno Qualifying round damage done by Disco Inferno

It was now a bit late in the day to drive all the way back to Hassocks, so we stayed the night with my brother Philip who lived only a few miles away in Leicester.

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Repairing the damage 23rd to 25th August 2003

During the night my mind went over the days events, and I started to wonder why I had lost a drive during the battle because after the battle I could see that both chains were still firmly in place. There had, however, been a nasty metal-to-metal sound as I had wheeled the Hog back to the trailer, which made be very suspicious. I had heard that the Bosch motors sometimes lost their magnets, which were only stuck onto the outer case with glue and located in position with thin spring clips. There was no way of telling until I got the Hog home, but thought I'd give Technobots a call on the journey home just in case they had some spare motors in stock. It was a bank holiday weekend, and I had seen Paul taking part in the qualifiers so I was not surprised when all I heard was his answering machine. However, I left a message asking him to phone me back if he got the message just in case I needed to make quick journey to Southampton to get some spares.

Early on Saturday morning I drove to Essex to drop Jonathan and Robert off to continue their holiday on the river Blackwaters, and then continued on back to Hassocks.

By late afternoon I started work on the Hog and had the offending motor apart on the bench. I was right; the magnets had come loose and were spinning around the case while clinging onto the armature. Luckily the magnets had not cracked, but I now had the problem of somehow fixing them back in situ.

Loose Bosch motor magnets

Two of the spring clips had broken, but the other two were still okay. I downloaded the information sheet from Technobots website that described how to fit one of their magnet retention kits to see if I could figure out how to lock the magnets back in place. The information sheet was very good, and had a number of photos in it too. I had not heard back from Paul by this time, so armed with some ideas from this sheet, decided to use what materials I could find to make some magnet brackets.

Polypropylene magnet retaining clip

I decided to use a strip of polypropylene sheet because it was non-magnetic, light, could withstand reasonably high temperatures, was pliable, and easy to shape. I heated the strip with my paint stripping hot air gun, and bent it into a circle that slid nicely down into the bottom of the motor case.

I could now coat the magnets with Araldite and push them down to bear onto this strip, and partly hold them in place with the two unbroken magnet clips. To replace the broken clips I cut another couple of strips of polypropylene that I gently taped in the two vacant slots. They were soft enough to yield sufficiently to hold the magnets firmly in place, so I kept my fingers crossed that the motor would work once reassembled.

Polypropylene magnet retaining strips in place

With trepidations I bolted the drives back together and tried them out. Success! The motor worked both forward and backward, although I did notice that the repaired motor "rolled on" a bit more than the other side when the power was switched off. I wasn't sure quite why this was, and wondered if it was because I hadn't quite positioned the magnets back in their original positions. There where three positions you could fit the magnet clips in, and maybe I had it in the wrong slot. Despite this, the motor seemed to be working okay and had power, so I decided not to pursue it any further as time was fast running out.

Bent chassis members replaced
Replaced chassis members
The damaged Hog parts after the qualifying round
Removed damaged parts

The next tasks were to cut out and replace the bent bits of chassis, of which there were quite a few. Some struts at the rear of the chassis had been pulled out of position too, so I had to weald a club hammer on these for quite a while before it all looked straight again. By late Sunday I had worked two very long days putting things right, and was in a position to paint the newly cut out and formed body panels.

I finished off the night by giving the chassis and panels a coat of Dulux paint before retiring for the night exhausted. On Monday morning I finished off the paintwork despite the Dulux paint still being slightly tacky. I had been cutting and shaping metal for so many hours the previous two days than my fingers were starting to feel quite stiff, and I was finding it difficult to hold onto the paint pot tops to unscrew them. However, the trusty bench vice saw to any stubborn tops. The Hog now looked (almost) as good as new, so I loaded it back on the trailer and made my way over to Essex to pick up Jonathan and Robert from their holiday. It was then onto Leicester to stay overnight with my brother Philip, and try and get a good nights sleep.

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Round 1 on Tuesday 26th August 2003

We arrived at RAF Newton half an hour early, and found none of the queues we had experienced for the qualifying battles. We were able to unload the Hog straight away this time, and were very soon lifting it onto the table ready to be weighed.

Our pit table name plate

This time I asked how heavy it was, and was told it weighed 96kg without the CO2 gas bottle. I was therefore about 2kg under weight, which meant I could have improved the armour quite a bit had I known I was this far underweight. We had another photo taken of the Hog, together with another team photo before checking into the pits, and handing over our transmitter and CO2 bottle.

There was much less waiting around today, and George Frances was quickly round to give the Hog a "Tech check". This time George did a "fail safe" check at the same time, so it was reassuring to see the motors working okay before we made our way to the arena.The Hog passed the check okay, so it was then time to have our interview with the "pit presenter", who in this series, was done by Jayne Middlemiss.

Jayne Middlemiss interview Jayne Middlemiss with Jonathan and Robert

She was dressed in a "Lara Croft" type of outfit, but was equally as nice and professional as Phillipa Forrester had been. She interviewed Jonathan and Robert too, and it was nice to see how much they were enjoying the attention of the film crew.

I was quite happy about our opponents in this first round battle, who were



King B Powerworks

King B



Dantomkia, King B, and Rick. None of them were high energy spinners, so I felt we had a good a chance as anyone without the worry of being torn to pieces. There was always the chance of getting flipped out of the arena, but the potential for damage was not too daunting. I did the usual reconnoiter trip to the opponents pit tables to see if I could pick up any tactical tips, but found each of the teams really nice guys to talk to. They were all more experienced roboteers than me, but in particular Simon from the King B team put me at ease about our impending battle.

By 11.15 we had picked up our transmitter, and were in the process of fitting the newly filled CO2 gas bottle to the Hog. For safety reasons you are shut into a wire meshed cage while you fit your gas bottle, so that presumably, you will only damage yourself should something nasty have happened to your pneumatics. George Frances appeared as I was fitting the gas bottle and suggested that I might like to give the Hog a final check before coming out of the cage and going into the arena. He handed me the transmitter and I inserted the safety link. When I switch the transmitter on, the motors jittered back and forth, and would not settle in an idle state no matter how much I fiddle with the trimmers. I was a bit concerned at this point until it dawned on us that it might be the protective cage that was scattering the radio signals and confusing the receiver. We opened the cage door and the motors immediately settled down and I was able to trim them to a steady idle state. Phew, I didn't need the additional anguish of motor troubles at this late stage, but it was reassuring to see the robot behave okay before our final venture into the arena.

We loaded the Hog into the loading bays and then removed the safety clamps. The shutter was lifted and I drove the Hog out onto the arena. It was then that I realised that there was a crowd out there as they cheered me under a spotlight. I was joined by Jonathan and Robert, and we made our way up to the control booth. Jonathan had the buddy box and was in charge of operating the flipper. Robert was the enemy and hazard look-out man, while I was the driver. There were the usual intros about the teams although it was difficult to hear exactly what they said clearly from within the booths.

The Hog team and King B in the booths
Dantomkia flips us over

The arena flames and hazards were switched on and we heard the familiar voice say "Roboteers stand by. Three, two, one, activate!" We all converged into the centre of the arena and started to jostle for position. About ten seconds into the battle I was in a good position to flip Rick, but Jonathan hadn't operated the flipper. I thought nothing of it, as Damtomkia swiftly slid next to us and flipped us over onto our back.

I asked Jonathan to flip us back, but he said he was trying. It was then that I realised that something major had gone wrong. Jonathan too realised that we had lost complete control of the Hog and I could see his eyes starting to fill up.

I tried all the controls in a vain attempt to get some action from the Hog but it was no good. By chance we had landed on the flame pit which now obligingly flared up and set one of the furry ears alight.

Ears on fire over the flame pit

The other robots continued to battle, while Refbot made his way over to us and started to count us out. Once we were counted out, Psycho too made his way over to us and started to prod us with his big claw. After a couple of attempts, he managed to roll us onto our wheels again and then picked us up in his claw. He showed the underpants on the underside of the Hog off to the crowd, and then paraded us around two sides of the arena. He raised us over the edge of the far side of the arena, and then unceremoniously dropped us outside the ring.

Counted out by Refbot Mr Phycho holding us high and showing off our pants Dumped outside the arena
The Hassocks Hog pit passes

I was laughing at this point, and although a little disappointed that we had become immobilised so quickly, was pleased that at least we had entertained the audience with the pants and ejection from the ring. Jonathan and Robert however were not of the same opinion. They were distraught at our premature demise and had streams of tears down their faces. I tried to consol them, but the heat of the moment was just too much for them.

Dantomkia, Rick and King B continue a well fought battle, and all three were still mobile by the end of the round, so it was up to the judges to decide who would go through. In the mean time I could see the technical crew approaching the Hog and try to dump a full bottle of CO2 via the dump valve. A few minutes later one of the crew came round to me and asked me to accompany him to where the Hog was so that I could fit the flipper restraining clamps. I had to sit Jonathan and Robert down in a corner at the back of the arena loading bay while I was away, but they were still very upset about our situation.

Likewise Derrick Foxell was not too pleased about the Hog either because he was unable to fully dump the gas bottle. The Hog had been dumped on its back, which meant that liquid CO2 had made its way out of the bottle and into the regulator, which was now well and truly frozen up and partially blocked. The dump valve was on the low pressure side of the system, so the only way to empty the system was to either wait an awfully long time while the frozen bottle thawed, or to shut the gas bottle tap off. Getting to the gas bottle tap was only possible by the removal of one of the front panels, which was held on by screws, or by putting your hand under the flipper and reaching for the bottle (not a recommended option while there were no restraining clamps on the flipper).

Without a screw driver you couldn't remove the panel, and this was what was upsetting Derrick Foxell. He was surprised I had got through the tech check without someone noticing a screw driver would be needed to remove the panel over the gas bottle. I felt the rules didn't explicitly say access was required to the gas bottle tap without the use of a tool. This is a point that may need to be clarified in the rules in future, but I fully agreed that there is a requirement to be able to fully disarm a robot without the need for tools. However, with the flipper clamps now in place, I was happy to put my hand through the aperture under the flipper from where I could reach the gas bottle and finally disable the pneumatics.

The burnt Hog after round 1

The crew removed a section of the arena barrier and we lifted the Hog back into the ring from where it was pushed out into the loading bay ready to its return trip to the pits. As I walked back behind the arena I found the King B team sitting with Jonathan and Robert trying to cheer them up. They were still desperately upset about the outcome, and many of the crew had sat with them as well to cheer them up. It was quite a moving experience to see so many people concerned about the welfare of the boys, and willing to spend time with them.

Jayne Middlemiss with the dissapointed Hassocks Hog team

While I helped to load the Hog back onto its trolley Jayne Middlemiss passed by and was touched by the scene of the boys. She came up to us and tried to cheer the boys up while her film crew started to film her interviewing us. It is not normal for a first round loosing team to be interviewed, but the sight of the disappointment was just too much for them to resist. By the end of the interview Jayne too was looking a little sad, and I have to admit to myself feeling a little emotional as the full impact of what we had just been through started to sink in.

It took the boys a full half hour to stop crying and finally get over the shock, but I was able to eventually cheer them up by buying them a few items from the Robot Wars shop just outside the entrance hall.

With the charred Hog now residing on the pit table once more, we spent the rest of the day watching some of the other battles taking place. This year there were a number of robots flying out of the arena, which only goes to show that the quality of weapons is forever improving. There were also a lot of robots exiting from the arena severely damaged by the large number of high energy spinners.

I had mixed feelings about our own result. On the one hand it was sad to have bowed out with so quickly, but on the other hand I was happy we hadn't sustained anywhere near the same damage as we had in the qualifying match. The chassis had a few minor bends in it from when Psycho picked us up, but this would not take anything like the time to fix as the qualifying damage.

You can view the whole battle either from the video clips page, or by clicking here.

It was only when I investigated the cause of our early demise at home that I found out what had gone wrong. It was one of the battery terminals that had snapped off! The spade terminal had completely fractured and come disconnected from the battery. This was a very unusual thing to happen, but may have been brought on by the sudden impact of Disco Inferno shooting us across the arena in the qualifying battle. In either case it was a catastrophic failure and there would be little I could do to avoid a similar thing happening again in the future. I will give the type of terminal connectors I use a bit of thought to see if there are any better alternatives.

The offending broken battery terminal that caused us to stop in round 1

Overall Series 7 was a satisfying experience despite such a premature end to our battle. At least we entertained the audience, and experienced the "joys" of working long hours to get the Hog back in a fighting condition following such substantial damage in the qualifying round. And at the end of the day, no one was hurt; only our pride, but we will be back for more next series.

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Last updated 3rd September 2003