TORNADO - The Team with the Comedy Flying Cow


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31/7/00 - Demoed Tornado to our work colleagues. It was our first run with wet tyres and fully working weapon - however we think there must be a crushed pipe somewhere, as the weapon was less effective than it had been on the bench. We did quite a bit of driving about (clouting a kerb in the process, taking a big chunk out of it and bending a spike) and punting plastic speaker boxes about, and then we had a go at towing my car again (750kg of Fiat Uno). No problems starting, but unfortunately cars don't have regen braking, and robots do... Bryan couldn't stop my car in time and the robot got pulled round the side into the wing - the damage was minor, apart from a completely trashed mudflap, only a bit of bent plastic and metal on the wing which we straighted out there and then. The robot's worth more than my car anyway...

Had another go at towing at the end of the day, pulling Bryans SWB SIII Diesel Land Rover (at least 2 tonnes) without any problems. This time, we used a slightly longer tow rope...! Dave and Bryan also had a go at driving.

We spent the evening getting ready for the audition. Put our logo and stickers onto the trolley board, replaced the dinged spike, tested and sorted both transmitters, and got all our kit ready and packed to take. Dave completed assembly of the backup speed controller - although it has not been tested in the robot, it is fine on the bench and is what it is - a backup...

Left: Special web preview - the bit we hope you will never see! Right: The spike in action - those are three consectutive video frames, meaning the spike travels at 1 metre/second at the very least...

1/8/00 - The day of our audition! We arrived at Park Street Studios a bit early, but already there were lots of robots there and the registration process was in full swing. To be let in we needed to have our robot fully working and ready to go - some teams sat in the car park all day before they were allowed in - and they wanted to check the robot before we took all our tools in (so when you go, take your robot in first!). The technical check came first, Matt Irvine went through looking at Tornado and ticking his checklist - he couldn't find anything wrong! (We later overheard a comment along the lines of "go and look over there to see how it should be done", with 'over there' being us...) We handed our transmitter over to transmitter control, and signed in, getting only a stick on name badge for signing our lives away. Weighing in and a photo came next - we were 78kg - nicely underweight! (Weightwise, an 88kg robot called F-One was allowed to fight - personally we would like to have seen that turned away, but they were beaten anyway. More on tech later.) Next came charging - and our only big hiccup. The connectors Bryan used on the high pressure side are only really low pressure ones, and despite them holding for us at 1000psi, obviously they could not allow us to be fully charged! The only hose connectors that are acceptable for high pressure are the hydralic type sleeved ones, as the hose can't be forced off. CO2 and compressed air was available, so the charging guys agreed to charge us to 250psi with compressed air - better than nothing! We now joined the queue for fights - and started to wait. By this time we were a fair way down the queue, and were up to be first to fight after the interval in the second session, our opponent being "T2 R Special" - a robot entered as Tantrum in series 2 and T2 in series 3; the picture below shows their Series 3 incarnation.

My family had bought tickets to the first session expecting us to be in it, but thanks to Mentorn for squeezing them in to the second session so they could see us fight. Squeezing it was - the second session had a huge audience - at least 1000 people! The first and last audiences were a lot smaller - we sat in on part of the first session, watching the battles between Wheeliwhacko 2 and Aeolus (Wheeliwhacko 2 expired), and Alligator 2 and ? (Alligator 2 hit ? once and then ? kept running away!). And the waiting continued. We did one hell of a lot of waiting. Take something to read, because you'll have to sit ready to go for a long time, and after you've inspected your opponent and discussed his weak points ten times, you get fed up with it. Make sure you don't have any leaks in your pneumatic system, as you could have several hours between charging it and fighting. Also drinks are free (water/coffee/tea) but food is not. It's blooming hot in the pits and hotter in the control booths/backstage - if you're going to print shirts, we recommend you do T's for auditions/filming and sweats for outdoor/charity events - we were a bit hot under the collar for most of the day! There was a film crew from Newsround there - but we were called in by Matt Irvine for our briefing just as they pointed the camera towards Tornado... Waiting backstage we got a chance to look at Sir Killalot - his pincer is indeed bigger this year, with a bigger ram to actuate it, and we now know why his drill is so useless - it's about 60mm diameter! We also saw Refbot fairly close up - he looks very heavily built and very much the part. Mentorn have a system of holding bays so that robots coming on do not get in the way of those going off, and the next robots are always waiting. Also to power up the robots, there is a contained area connected to the arena such that if the robot were to run away, it could not hit anyone. We powered up and drove the robot out ourselves, although Matt insisted that the transmitter was powered up first - our failsafe was not designed for this situation and as such we had a little lurch... The control booths are positioned high above the arena, over where the robots enter, and there is a big staircase backstage to reach them. It is difficult to see the two corners of the arena directly below the control booths - so stay away from there! Our fight went very well, our first impact (the customary banzai run after the 3-2-1 activate) causing them major damage (bending down T2's front bar and cracking their welding). We pushed them around, and rammed them repeatedly, then Shunt turned them over, and we turned them back over again and continued to ram them... T2 got their axe into action once, although I didn't see it - and it promptly broke, putting a big dent in their top armour! The battle lasted barely a minute before it was stopped. Dave went to drive Tornado off the arena, while Bryan and I spoke to the presenter, who asked why we were so quick, and I babbled something about torque, 36 volts and gearing - I hope it made sense! We shook hands with the T2 team, and left the stage... Only then did I realise just how sweaty I was, how much I was shaking, and how much adrenaline I had been running on...! As we brought Tornado off, Matt Irvine commented "that's one damn quick robot" - praise indeed! Looking at T2 afterwards, we had put lots of nice square holes in their box section, main side plates, and wheels, the pneumatic spike had managed to hit them a couple of times (and cause little dents...), they had lost drive on one side, and their radio gear was floating around loose inside. Tornado had a slightly blunted spike on the pneumatic ram, and a bit of orange paint on the front armor... Some people complained about radio problems - but we had none: we have a bright red failsafe light above our batteries, which lights very visibly if the failsafe cuts in. Dave said he spotted it once during the fight, and we saw it flash a few times as he took the transmitter backstage (behind lots of scaffolding) to drive Tornado back. We haven't however been down the far end of the arena, so we can't comment on how good or bad it is there... After we came out, one of the tech guys (Nick?) asked how quickly we could be ready again - we were back in the queue after about 15 minutes, as we assumed we needed to fight again... but we were kept as third reserve and as such waited around for another two hours until being told at about 5.30 that we would no longer be needed... During this time we went for a burger, and (for the first time ever in my life) we were asked for our autographs - Hi to Michael and James - great picture of Matilda! We also got chatting to the Hypnodisc team, who commented on our motors (having welded them up), saying another idea is to tap the casing, and insert bolts so that the magnets cannot move along the length of the motor. Are we through? We shall have to wait and see, although we are quietly confident...
There were about 30 other robots in attendance - we can't remember them all but here goes: Bulldog Breed 2, Knightmare, Alligator 2, Millenium Bug, Little Fly, F-One, Wauxford Destroyer, Eco Warrior, Iron Daisy, Invertibrat, T2 R Special, Wheeliwhacko 2, Aeolus, Twister Metal, Angel of Death (bad luck with the failsafes guys, see you next year hopefully), Purple Avenger?, and lots of others I can't remember. Also in the audience display area were the new toys, plus Chaos 2, Hypnodisc and Hypnodisc 2, Razer, Behemoth, the Plunderstorm team, and Aggrobot. George Francis from Chaos 2 and Ian Lewis from Razer were in attendance building the sacrifical robot Sir Teddybot.
Now for some technical comments. Mentorn have got the organisation sorted, and the audience protection is damn good, but what they allowed to fight and some of the tech checks were at best suspect. For instance, some people were running pneumatic systems that we had been specifically told were not acceptable, yet because they must have brought them along ready charged, they did not get put in front of the charging guys and thus did not get safety checked. The failsafe check involved running the robot on its stand, full fowards/back/left/right and whilst doing so switching off the transmitter. If the wheels stopped, it passed. Yet the wheels of anyone not using servos might stop without a failsafe in place, unless interference was present that could cause the robot to move... what happened to the RF white noise generator that we had been told about? We were told that we shouldn't be using the red keyswitch for our removable link - yet about half of the robots were! Weightwise, the rules AGAIN were not applied strictly - robots that were seriously overweight were allowed to compete. It's part of the engineering challenge to make the robot within the rules, and given how many things that were allowed, it seems almost that the rules do not matter... We sincerely hope it is different at the filming!
When we finally got home that evening, we did a few team photos... and yes we were tired, but Tornado was still fully assembled and we were dressed in team colours...

Now having seen the general level of quality of the robots at the auditions, we feel it necessary to point out just how good Dantomkia is. After our battle at Wilsons Day, we feel we did not acknowledge this - Mike, we sincerely hope you make it through and we hope to see you at the filming!
Footnote to all the red blooded males: I don't know what it is about TV, but it seems to attract all the really gorgeous women. At the Tomorrows World filming, I was accompanied by a group of lovely young ladies whilst I fought with a crashing CD player, and at the auditions, there was a very, very fit blonde woman weighing the robots and taking photos...

2/8/00 - Bryan investigated the hosing required to uprate the high pressure side of our pneumatics to the full 1000psi pressure. It will cost well over 100, so given the time we have left, we're going to leave it as is.

3/8/00 - Ordered T-Shirts from Bourne Embroidery. Brought Tornado into work again to show those who didn't see it the first time. Despite the wet weather (and resultant lack of grip), we pulled Bryans Land Rover up the car park and back, and then proceeded to destroy a pallet and a speaker box. We now have some cleaning to do though... Got a call from Mentorn - we have been selected for the filming and are needed on the 8th from 8am....

4/8/00 - Refitted the pneumatics tanks, cleaned the armour, repaired the fixed spike I dented on the kerb at work, and rehardened the pneumatic ram spikes. Dave built a killswitch into the transmitter, so that we can turn the transmitter on first and Tornado will not lurch on power up.

6/8/00 - Found out today that Dantomkia did not make it through its audition, despite winning both its battles. We feel that this is not on; the audition places were supposed to be qualifying places, but it looks like most were discretionary and chosen by the producer. Given the number of technical infringements we saw at our audition, we feel that much stricter technical checks would allow Mentorn to reduce the number of entrants, and in a fairer way.

7/8/00 - T-Shirts arrived from Bourne Embroidery - they are excellent. Prepared all our junk ready for the filming in the evening, and built up the spare wheels with wet tyres.

8/8/00 - The day our heat was filmed!. (See Tornado on TV.) The arrangements were much the same as before, although we were required to turn up at 8am rather than 9 this time. We weighed in at 78.2kg (we forgot to weight the link at the auditions!). Our heat (programme) was with Gemini (seeded 8th), Katerkiller, Invertibrat, Beserk 2 (seeded 26th) and Beast. Gemini is the first UK Robot Wars cluster bot (of hopefully many in the future) - they were brilliant, with flippers on both almost as good as Chaos 2's! The format has changed from last year, with the heats starting with a 3 team Melee. Our first fight was against Gemini and Katerkiller - Katerkiller provided us with the least threat, so we went straight for them, pushing them into the CPZ's, into the arena side, and into Refbot (who wobbled precariously). Gemini spotted this and helped us flip them, and so we both left Katerkiller to Killalot (who bent both their rams) and Dead Metal (who put a big sawcut in their rear). Meanwhile, Gemini and us proceeded to have some fun - with the house robots! Shunt we managed to push sideways quite easily (but not when we tried in his normal direction of travel). He got rather cheesed at us and put a big hole in our top armour... Gemini proceeded to flip us, and then Shunt put another hole in our underside... I then drove into the pit, which was just decending - they raised it again and we got out (Gemini tried to flip us out), Gemini flipped us again, and we started to have radio problems due to a rather knackkered aerial! They dropped the pit fully, and just as cease was called, I drove down it again... But Katerkiller was very much immobilised beforehand, so both Gemini and us were through... Our second fight was against Beserk 2, who were much slower than us, and had GRP bodywork and thin aluminium rear armour... They managed to get their axe working once or twice, but didn't hit us, and they caught us once with their flipper, but we broke free. Otherwise we just got onto their sides and pushed... Lots of squealing tyres gave them a puncture, and we just pushed them to the arena wall and rammed them, er, repeatedly... Killalot came in and finshed them off, dropping them in the pit. We did a quick victory spin - and dropped a chain! Fortunately we could still keep moving enough to show the judges we were not immobilised. We put lots of holes in their GRP bodywork and aluminium rear armour - they'll be back next year with more power! Fixing the chain itself was not too much of a problem - but we found a big one - part of our drivetrain uses a bearing to keep the chain tensioned, and it was bent about 20 degrees, allowing the chain to go slack and hence jump off. This is a big problem and will need a permanent solution - fortunately we have the weight left to do it. Beast was spectacularly disposed of by Gemini - firstly their shell (and removable link) were flipped off, then they were completely somersaulted, and then they were thrown out of the ring! Our last battle was to be against Gemini - Invertibrat had a malfunction in the Melee and were knocked out. Given their performance against Beast we were rather worried... However, we knew the rules as well as they did, and as such we knew we had to knock only one of them out to win. We could push them around easily, but they could flip us without too much effort, and they had two robots... It was difficult, but we were incredibly lucky to force one of them onto an arena spike and knock the power leads off their batteries. We had won - but the other Gemini was not finished! We kept getting flipped, then we dropped a chain, and we got flipped even more, and finally we lost all power. No failsafe light, no power supply lights, but also no smoke or blown fuses. But we had won our heat/programme, and we were through to the semis!
We also found out that one of our major worries was already out - Razer had malfunctioned, and had been utterly wrecked by Pussycat (a spinning disc robot). Three other heats were filmed that day, and were won by Dominator II, Thermidor, and the Wheely Big Cheese (in a highly controversial judges decision where Suicidal Tendencies blatantly won the fight). Our support crew were there - Chris, Anna, James and Will, plus my parents, Bryans parents, Carl, and Adrian - thanks for cheering us on guys!
It was a great day, and the standard of robots seemed much better than we were expecting - hence the decision to exclude Dantomkia may have been at least partially justified, although we are still fairly sure that they could have made at least the second round... Also everything there had a weapon, and Dantomkia doesn't, which also could have counted against them. Tech wise it was much better: anything over 80kg was being turned away (as far as we could see), and dodgy pneumatic systems were being properly treated (they would only charge us to 150psi this time). A few things to note for those of you going: Food is provided, and good. All three meals are laid on (go find breakfast when you get there), but the evening meal can be very late (we left long before it was served). Although they are working to a schedule, you do get time to fix problems, but you will be stalled by filming going on nearby! Be prepared to do more than one take of the chatty bits... Dave's apparent enthusiasm was in inverse proportion to the number of times he was asked about storm chasing... The crew are very helpful (MJ, Alex et al), and if there is a problem they will try and sort it out, even though they are very busy! And there were even more gorgeous women about than at the auditions... so if you still need a reason to do Robot Wars...

9/8/00 - Bought some more paint for the repair work after our heat. As we stripped the robot, Dave tested the electronics - the reason we lost power at the end of our fight with Gemini, was that we broke a battery! When we were axed by Shunt in the first round, one of our Hawkers gained a slight dent, which we thought nothing of, but upon closer inspection now it was crucial... With all the flipping Gemini did, our batteries moved around a bit, and one of the solid connection bars levered the battery terminal that Shunts axe had previously hit and broke it! We are replacing the bars with cable now... You can see the tiny dent in our battery protection plate, the dent in the top of the hawker, and you can just make out a dark line in the black resin where it is cracked.

As for our chain problems, one of our bearing mounts is VERY bent - it has almost been torn from the chassis - and the other is OK but we are going to repair and replace both of them. The chassis and several of the kart sprockets are scarred from the jammed chain, but all parts are still useable. The chain even managed to undo a few nuts from the wheel!

Even though we lost a battery, Shunts hit in our top was lucky - 5cm further and he would have had our speed controller... The hit on our underside was very lucky too - it hit a chassis bar and not a motor! BTW, Shunt is cruel to animals - he broke our cows leg!

10/8/00 - Got a call from Mary Jane - they want us to appear in the Daily Mail Weekend magazine! Cut the damaged bearing mounts out of the chassis and replaced them with much thicker and stronger box section. Also reinforced and rehardened the rear spikes, and repaired the ding in the underside of the chassis caused by Shunts axe. Dave repaired the broken jack connector screw and checked the electronics - everything is OK.

11/8/00 - Ground down the welding done yesterday and repainted the chassis.

12/8/00 - Rebuilt the robot and packed our things for the semis tomorrow...

13/8/00 - Semi-Finals and Finals Day! We were starting to get used to the arrangements by now... Our first battle was to be against the 15th seed Wheely Big Cheese. Pretty much all of the crew were on our side, given how contentious the decision in their last fight against Suicidal Tendencies was - but we won the battle fair and square. We spotted very quickly that their weakness was in their wheels, so we kept going for them, damaging one enough that when they reversed into the arena side, it broke convincingly... we dropped a chain however (yet again), jamming one side of our drivetrain and stalling a motor... which we burnt out very thoroughly!

This fight was the only one in which we had interference problems (our failsafe light kept flashing on) - could it be the motors that Roger uses? Fortunately the Steg 2 and Mousetrap teams both very kindly offered to lend us a motor; we chose Mousetraps as the pinion was already off and it was standard (Steg 2 had rewound theirs). We must therefore say a very big "THANK YOU" to the Mousetrap team - you guys are absolute stars, if only all the other teams were so sportsmanlike! It was a rather big rebuild job to get the motor changed and a new chain built, fortunately the speed controller was fine. The photos below were taken by the Mousetrap team, while we hurried to get Tornado fixed.

Above two pictures courtesy of Jason Launchbury/Mousetrap

We were next to be up against... the number one seed, Chaos 2! This was to be one hell of a fight - but turned out to be three major fights! The first lasted barely 45 seconds before it was stopped, as the arena floor was damaged and it was not fair to either of us (the edge of a square panel was lifted up, and Chaos 2 rammed it and fired their flipper - and broke the panel!). And at about the time Mentorn stopped the fight - we dropped the same chain again. We were given time to rebuild... The second lasted about the same amount of time. We got flipped once, then we pushed Chaos 2 into Shunt, who hit them with his axe twice. Both of us then simultaneously dropped a chain... The judges decided that there was no way they could decide between us, so a rematch was in order. So we rebuilt our chain again. The third was more conclusive - we dropped a chain after about a minute and then got thrown out of the arena, disabling a camera (busting its track and cable)! We couldn't complain - we had got that far, we had been able to push Chaos 2, we managed to get one good spike hole into their armour, and we had been bugged with the chain problem since essentially the end of our second battle in the heats (against Beserk 2). What little damage we suffered (other than the chain) was mainly to our armour - lots of scratches and more than a few chunks cracked off.
As for the other battles, Hypnodisc got seriously trashed by Shunt whilst fighting Pussycat in the quarter final. Shunts axe hit their disc whilst it was running at full tilt - the axe went through the disc and into their bodywork underneath, hitting their gearbox and destroying their drive on one side (including their motor). Chaos 2 proceeded to beat Stinger, but Hypnodisc were too broken to fight for third place so Stinger got third... The final was Chaos 2 versus Pussycat; Pussycat did a lot of cosmetic damage to Chaos 2, but Chaos were judged to have been more aggressive and to have driven better, so they took the title for a second year running!
During the day I had a good chat with Derek Foxwell - mainly because the Kiel batteries are now approved for Robot Wars use! Team Killer Carrot brought one in (thanks guys!), and Derek gave it hell... they only leak if boiled, the same as any other sealed lead acid gel battery. It's also comforting to know that the tech guys do read the forum, and take our comments seriously.
We were also able to have a good look at Shunt just before we left. The house roboteers asked us if we were inspecting "the holes we had made" - too right! He has 3 nice square holes in his flat shovel, one in his side bars and one in his pointed shovel, all caused by us! There's only one other hole in his armour that wasn't us....! Look out for them on the TV, as they weren't repaired!
Thanks also to Team Mace (Gemini) for looking after the folder and inner tubes we left behind at our heat - we didn't see you to thank you, but cheers guys! We must also thank our support crew (here goes): Dave and Rick, Adrian, Nita, Matt and co, Bryans Mum, Dad and sister, Barry, my Mum and Dad (Gill and Doug), my Aunt/Uncle/Cousin + her boyfriend (Val, John, Lindsey and Rob), Iona from the Lunch Box and co, plus Barbara G and co. Sorry if I've forgotten anybody, but your support was much appreciated - thank you for being there! The banners were excellent!

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