OK, so you've decided to do Robot Wars. You want to get on TV with that shiny new machine that you built, and take on everyone else. (Charity events are a different matter, this page is aimed at those who want to get on the Robot Wars TV show).
Before we carry on, lets just check that decision - WHY are you doing it? Because you want to get on TV? Because you want to be the best and win? Because you're one of these engineer nutters who fancies building something special? These are all legitimate reasons for wanting to do Robot Wars, but given what it takes, you have really got to WANT to do it!
Have you got what it takes?
Ask yourself this question, and if the honest answer is no, then go sit on the sofa and watch the programme on the telly. Assuming your motives are right, and you intend to build a competitive robot, then you are in the right frame of mind. Robot standards are now very high, thus you might not even get onto TV, and everything you put into it could be wasted - would you have a problem with that?
Can you freely give up several months of your spare time to build the thing? Can you get a week off school/university/work at short notice to attend the filming?
Can you afford to build it? A competitive robot will cost over a grand, and you'll have to pay for that unless you find sponsorship (which for most first time builders is unlikely). Our budget doesn't include the hidden costs - phone calls, petrol, internet access, food, and electricity, or the piles of parts we already posessed or have managed to blag.
Have you got the skills required (or can you learn them)? If you're not technically minded then forget it. A heavyweight robot is complicated, and the other classes won't get on TV. Ability to weld, solder, cut straight, and fix things, plus knowledge of electronics, Radio Control, physics and general engineering are all pretty much essential to have within your team. If your design needs internal combustion/pneumatics/hydralics, you will need to know how to use them. And can you do all of this SAFELY? Yes, you can get other people to build a machine for you, but when you're at the filming, you need to be able to fix it yourself!
Have you got access to the tools and facilities required? For example, it's no good being able to weld if you haven't got a welder (or one you can borrow for more than just a weekend). If you're going to have to buy tools, add those to what the robot will cost...
Would you be happy that what you are building could get completely trashed in competition?
If you think you're up to it, then keep reading...
The first tip is something that hopefully you should know already - join the Robot Wars club! Visit the Official Site for details. Otherwise you might waste your time building a robot that is unsafe or does not comply with the rules, and you certainly won't get on the TV!
Spend lots of time designing; don't dive in and build straight away. If you think seriously about what you want your robot to do, what you can build, what parts and materials you will need, and how long it will take you, you'll be much better off! For instance, as part of our design process we made a motors spreadsheet to help us choose our motor.
Develop an entertaining "theme" for your robot, and exploit it as much as possible. Look at the house robots - Matilda is moody and often looses her temper, and her shape is instantly recogniseable. The TV show is all about entertainment, and distinctive robots (and teams) get on the show because people remember them.
Develop a weight budget once you have a design. Try not to leave anything out - you don't have to account for each screw, but allowing for half a kilogram of screws might be adviseable. Be strict with your limits for each component, and include some things that you can leave out when you find at the end that you are over the weight limit.
Blag like blagging is going out of fashion. Get whatever you can from whoever you can - remember they can't say yes unless you ask. The better a blagger you are, the less Robot Wars will cost you. Try to get sponsorship, but don't rely on it. Use what your mates can offer - call in those favors!
Build mock ups. It doesn't hurt to rig something up in cardboard or lego first, just to see if it will work. It could save you lots of time and hassle in the long run.
Find yourself a decent local scrapyard. It's well worth the effort going through the yellow pages (look under Car & Commercial Vehicle Dismantlers, and Scrap Metal merchants as well as Scrapyards), and spending a whole day going round the local ones seeing what they have. Ring to ask for directions if you're not sure. Car scrapyards only have limited usefulness - try to find a place that deals in general scrap. We've found a wonderful place where we've bought loads of junk from:
Once you've got all your parts and designs sorted, get on and build straight away. Don't waste too much time drawing up fancy CAD drawings (as many people seem to) or writing fantastic complicated websites - you need a machine to write a website about first!
Once it's built, try to break it. Hit it hard with a big hammer. If it looks like it might break, it will. If it breaks, rebuild it strong enough not to break when you hit it again. Once it's going under its own power, drive it full speed into something solid. If you're afraid to do this, then your machine won't last a minute in the arena!
If you don't get on the TV (eg for a minor technical infringement - so make doubly sure your robot complies with the rules) then don't be downhearted. There is always the next series, or the live events, or one of the many charity events (such as Robots@War or Robot Rumble) that you could attend. Robot Wars is a hobby, and does not end with the close of filming. We certainly enter as many of the charity events as possible. Bear in mind as a first-time builder that the "combat etiquette" at charity events is very different to the televised show, and safety should always be the highest priority (see the Event Safety Document). It's not necessarily safe to run your chosen weapon outside of the filmed show.
The maxim that it takes three times as long and costs three times as much as you expect it to is totally true!