Accelerated learning via competition

Do-it-yourself mayhem! Competition! High technology! Battlebots has it all. This rapidly growing hobby entails creating a home-made radio-controlled machine capable of destroying another machine of the same weight before it destroys you. The goal is beautiful: to survive. Creativity and workmanship count. The diversity of designs is thrilling; the diversity of bot builders even more so high school kids to teams of mad artists. Our friend Alexander Rose (who reviews some tools in this issue) is a Battlebot champion. His four bots are mechanical wonders produced in his spare time. Professional engineers are amazed.

There is not much material on how to start building successful bots yet. The best is found on the Battlebot website where you can get advice on building, sources of motors, and design tips. This pretty-picture book here will give you some idea of what kind of designs have worked so far. The brilliant thing is that the battles are co-evolutionary. As the winning bots evolve and advance, new strategies must be constantly devised. Newbies can win.

Anytime people are creating stuff themselves, the vibe is good. The twice-yearly competitions are broadcast on the Comedy Central TV station, but it s the 400 or so contestants behind the scenes who seem to be having the most fun.


The Office Guide
Mark Clarkson
2002, 228 pages


And don t let your limited budget stop you. I ve seen $500 robots beat up $12,000 robots. Maybe during a battle a wire will pop loose in that $12,000 machine; then it s just a really expensive chew-toy for the opponent. You re at the mercy of luck and the arena weapons.

After high school, Setrakian attended UCLA, but he grew frustrated with the university s film program. So in 1985 he joined George Lucas s Industrial Light + Magic to start working in films for real. His first job? I designed and built beaks for Howard the Duck, he says. You ve got to start somewhere.

Mechadon s unique design reflects Setrakian s own conception of a fighting robot. I didn t want to build something that looked like a lawnmower, he says. And it certainly doesn t. Mechadon does not usually win, Setrakian says, but it leaves a big impression. People remember Mechadon.

Mark Setrakian and Mechadon

12/11/03 --