TORNADO - The Team with the Comedy Flying Cow

The "Kent Robot Wars" was a inter-schools event, where schools in Kent had built robots to take part in a combat competition in a similar style to the first few series of Robot Wars - i.e. with an assault course and other games. We had been invited amongst a few others to take part as "guest" robots, to perform "house robot" roles and to show the school kids what the "real" robots are like. On top of this, a knockout combat competition was to be run in between the school robots fights, to allow time for battery charging and to help entertain the crowd. From the start however, things did not go well.


Guest robots present included M2, Bulldog Breed III, Wolverine, Tornado, Mulsanne Monster, Smidsy, Roobarb, Toecutter 2, Dantomkia and Storm. There were many schools robots, and unfortuately I only remember the names of some of them - Golem, the Phantom Menace, Cy-Clone, Oward II, Barberous, El Balderone, Bob the Bot, and Scary Gadget. The event was organised along similar lines to the Debenham Robot Rumble, with four audience sessions across two days.

Saturday Morning
The arena was a floor of pallets covered in two thin layers of hardboard, gaffa taped together and nailed down. The surface was very uneven, and it was clear from the first test that Storm did that it would be torn up very easily. We were supposed to be first on, but we did not know we were needed until the announcer called for us to be in the arena - we were in the middle of changing crystals and putting in batteries and were far from ready. We had to go and tell the announcer that we would be ready when we were ready...

Thus M2 and Wolverine went in first, and Wolverine won the fight.

Our first fight was against Smidsy. We pushed them all over the place, and up against the tyres surrounding the arena. We won the fight without too much difficulty, but there was a problem - the gaffa tape holding the boards down had become entangled in our drivetrain, and it took a lot of work to remove it!

We were next up against Wolverine, and we won the fight.

Our next fight was against Bulldog Breed 3, whom we beat only because I pushed them almost out of the arena, breaking apart the cable tied polycarbonate screens and crowd control barriers that formed the arena wall, meaning the fight had to be stopped. Otherwise it was quite close - towards the end we were nearly flipped by them several times.

Some of the attendees (above, anticlockwise from top left) - one half of the clusterbot Cy-Clone, Bob the Bot, and the new Dantomkia - now with a high pressure flipper!

Wolverine fought and beat M2... Mulsanne Monster, Bulldog Breed 3 and Tornado in the pits.
In the end we won the first sessions combat.... and we were surprised to receive a trophy for it!

Things started getting really bad at the end of the morning session. Four children won the "drive a BBC robot" raffle - I was left to organise this, and so managed to find four willing robots for the kids to drive - Tornado, Smidsy, Dantomkia and Wolverine. The kids did more damage to the arena in five minutes than we had done in the whole morning! Understandably the organisers where not pleased, but it was them who conceived the raffle and then left me to deal with the winners...

Saturday Afternoon
The combination of the repairs from the mornings fights and the damage done by the kids driving had used up all of the spare hardboard for arena repairs, and we were left with a dilema: should we continue fighting to keep the show going and risk destroying the arena, or do what we could to minmise the damage? Given the show was for the schools robots, we all agreed to give up proper combat and remove any arena hugging scoops etc where we could, so we could still run and put on a show but not destroy the arena. Mike Lambert from Dantomkia kindly donated some polycarbonate to us, for us to armour our now exposed front.

Ed from Storm talks to the press... And the Phantom Menace.
Golem without and with its shell.
Anne Robinson pictures made the robots more scary, and Barberous takes on the assault course.

All the guest robots proceeded to play football and tug of war type games in between house robot duties for the remainder of the afternoon. We retired to the bar with the Storm team in the evening, and slept at Andrew's parent's house overnight.

Sunday Morning
We arrived a little later than yesterday, and Ed and Storm were already in the arena - never one to miss a photoshoot! But overnight, the front section of the arena had been covered with plywood - the Royal Engineers who were helping out at the event had been out and found some, and covered the arena that morning!

Again we spent the morning acting as house robots, and performing football and tug-of-war games. Tornado was first in along with Roobarb, Dantomkia, Wolverine and Bulldog Breed 3.
Tornado scored - but Dantomkia's front dug into the arena again and the match was stopped.

Later on in the morning, Bryan took a turn at driving. Storm, Dantomkia, Wolverine and Tornado were put into the arena with a load of balls and balloons.

Wolverine put Tornado onto its front up against the tyres - but it was hardly surprising, given we were running with no scoop and a high ground clearance!

Sunday Afternoon
The schools competition was coming along well now, and it was time for the finals.

Above image courtesy of Mike Collins
We got chatting to the team from Chatham Girls Grammar School - their robot Scary Gadget used relays to control the motors, and they had a blown relay but did not have a spare to replace it with.

Above images courtesy of Mike Collins
The solution was simple - dump the relays, and fit a proper speed controller! Storm and ourselves helped out, using Storm's Vantec to replace their relay based system, and after repairing a damaged motor, between us all we managed to get Scary Gadget going.

The first event after the repair was the Shot Putt, but Scary Gadget was not running at full power - it turned out that the end stops on the transmitter were turned well down. After sorting out that minor hiccup, Scary Gadget was then entered into the Sprint - but the girls were used to relay control, and had trouble driving in a straight line. They still came second though, because Oward II didn't go round the cone at the end of the arena!

Eventually it was time for the schools robots combat. Scary Gadget was against Oward II (from the Howard school), but the girls lost the fight because a receiver battery lead came out - again we learn that robots are not meant to be held together with gaffa tape...

In the final of the schools combat, El Balderone took on Phantom Menace - all the "house" robots got stuck in, including Tornado, until Roobarb perched us on top of some tyres! The Phantom Menace won the event overall, and the girls from Scary Gadget came a well deserved third, not bad!
The final fight was an every robot who wanted to fight rumble - and Storm was the first robot to damage the arena! Amongst those in the arena were El Balderone, Roobarb, Dantomkia, Tornado, Wolverine, Storm and Bob the Bot. Bryan was driving Tornado, and continued to do so until he drove out of the side of the arena at the far end...

Andrew took over, but the battery power was running out. Wolverine then took out a large section of the floor, doing a good impression of a mole - have a look at the video above. We got stuck in too, and soon what was left of the floor was a real mess. By the end only Tornado and Wolverine were still going, but both were very low on battery power; Wolverine was given the fight on a crowd vote.

Epilogue - Safety and Organisation
Despite the sterling efforts of some of the crew (many, many thanks to Paul Williams from BT and Jon Reason from Toecutter 2) the organisation of the event was not very good, and by the end of the weekend there were some very stressed roboteers, both among the school robots and guests. The arena was not up to the job from the start, and would not have survived if it were not for the sterling efforts of the Royal Engineers, who at the end of Saturday obtained a large quantity of plywood with which to resurface the majority of it. The event was a Health and Safety nightmare - we gave up trying to stop or point out all the things that were badly wrong, as those who were in charge could not see the danger or accept our critism. Because it was their event, they of course knew better. For example, let alone being in the arena with them, one guy was standing on top of a live robot! A couple of the organisers even became rude and abusive - I think they were forgetting that we were attending through choice!

There was no transmitter control, and there were lots of clashes between school and guest robots, despite being told that there would definately be a proper transmitter control before we attended. The obvious and blatant infringement of the BBC/Mentorn "Robot Wars" trademark was another point, and apparently it had been pointed out to the organisers beforehand, but by that time they had already printed all their programmes. No running order was ever suggested or displayed - instead there was always a mad panic when it was "decided" that robots X and Y needed to be in the arena.

The rules for the school teams appeared to us contradictory. Everyone was told that the robots were built to and the event run to Mentorn rules, however the judges were working to their own rules which seemed to be made up as and when they became convenient. It left us feeling that there were some very unfair and dodgy decisions made, possibly when in our eyes there was a clear winner. There was also an unconfirmed rumour about a conflict of interest between a judge and one robot; it was suggested that the daughter of the judge was on the team. If true, it would go a long way to explain some of the judges decisions!

It appeared to us there were too many cooks - lots of people there who thought they were in charge, and who had their own ideas about how to run things. There were also a lot of well meaning people, but unfortunately not all working together or knowing what they were doing. We had concerns about the event before we went there - it didn't seem like the organisers were able to answer our questions beforehand, and obviously our concerns proved valid... It would take an awful lot of persuading for us to return next year, if indeed the event goes ahead again.

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