Event Report : Norwalk Havoc

I finally made it out to November’s Norwalk Havoc event, and it was definitely a different experience. I talked with some of the competitors there who had also competed on the BattleBots TV show who said that the production value for NHRL was about on par with the TV show, and I believe it.

Since I had both two beetles I had (re)built over the pandemic lull as well as a last minute 12lb, I made the slightly masochistic decision to bring all three bots to the competition. This kept me hopping the entire time, as I was constantly charging batteries and assessing damage on the last bot that fought, then running up to the green room as I was being called up to fight another bot. I feel like 2 bots per event is a more ideal load, so I may have to be more selective on what to bring next time.

Apex Predator

Apex Predator’s pre-event glamor shot

Apex Predator was my dark horse of this event. It may be sporting a standard Fingertech beater bar as its weapon, but it managed to make it to 9th place out of a field of 90 beetleweights, and it could have gone farther if not for my negligence in the pits.

My first match was against a first time builder with Buzzer Beater, their take on the bog standard 2wd Fingertech beater design, and it ended with me scattering their bot’s guts across the inside of the box. (Sorry guys!) Apex Predator then went on to rack up three more victories against Tothik, Diamondback, and Spartan.

The match with Diamondback was the first time this bot had needed to go the full 3 minutes, and it was here that I discovered that when running the weapon at 100% the whole time my current battery only has enough juice to go for about 2 minutes and 45 seconds before things start crapping out. There was a lipo out in the box from the destroyed mini bot that both the builder and the production crew wanted me to destroy for spectacle after the fight was over, but I simply didn’t have enough left in the battery to even drive over to it!

The next fight against Quarantine was a back and forth slug-fest where I had the upper hand for the latter half of the match, but a judge’s decision didn’t go my way in the end. Because I didn’t see any major external damage I just charged the batteries and assumed I was good for the next match. My last match with Dread Hades proved my folly, when I got to the box and discovered that one side of drive was completely locked up, leaving me all but immobile and an easy target for Tyler’s typical excellent driving, knocking me out of the tournament. I had expected that this would have meant a damaged or disconnected gear box, but a post-mortem after the event revealed that I had actually managed to pop the back of the motor off and locked up the motor. At least my double-geared gearboxes proved to be quite durable, but it looks like I will have to do some additional battle hardening for next time.

The culprit that lost me my last match

Lessons Learned

  • Inspect everything – I have always said that winning these competitive events requires paying attention to all of the small details, and while I had done fairly well on this in my design and preparations, I was slipping by the end of the day. After being up and running around for 16 hours straight I was more than a little tired, but if I had properly inspected/tested the bot between matches I could have caught the motor issue and had the match with Dread Hades go quite differently.
  • Bring more spares – After less than stellar results with my last attempt at a vertical spinner I hadn’t expected much out of this bot for a first outing, so I hadn’t expected to make it so far in the tournament and I had only brought a minimum of spare parts. Another kind builder give me spare weapon belt when I ran out, but now I know to bring more!
  • Battery life – I turned down my weapon speed to make it through the rest of the competition without blacking out, but I would like to find the weight/space for a larger battery so I can just go all out.
  • Horizontal wedgelets – My solid TPU anti-horizontal wedgelets finally got to see action against Spartan and performed well, but seeing the simple design of Lynx’s new titanium wedgelets has given me some ideas for possible improvements. The one issue with going in that direction is that I have historically had significant difficulty with countersinking screw holes for titanium wedges, and subsequently keeping them on the bot.
  • Battle hardening – I had already put loctite on all of the screws for my drive motors to keep the gearbox together, but now it looks like I need to work on keeping the motor itself together as well.
  • Custom weapon – Now that I have seen how well this design has performed, I think that I will start toying around with ideas for a custom made weapon to give it even more kick. I will probably stick to the Fingertech beater bar for version 1.1 of the design and just work on refining some of the other aspects, but it will be on the back burner for a version 2.0 down the road.

Portable Apocalypse

Portable Apocalypse’s pre-event glamor shot

While the design seems to be quite durable and destructive, Portable Apocalypse continues to suffer from a streak of bad luck that has prevented it from going deeper into the brackets. It seems that the changes I made for the kits and this current build finally managed to tame the electrical gremlins that had plagued the bot in its last two outings, but other things cropped up to go wrong instead. On the bright side, I can be happy that the Jolt! kits have performed well, with one of them at this competition making it farther than I did and finishing in the top 1/3 of the field, but I’m a little annoyed that I can’t seem to manage a bit more success for myself with this design.

For my personal bot I had elected to make a disk that sacrificed the reversible tooth for a more aggressive tooth styled to hopefully better counter vertical spinners. I got to test this out in its first match against Mantella. While it was another great back and forth match, the judges ultimately decided against me. A quick inspection in the pits revealed that one of the weapon-on-weapon hits with Mantella had managed to break off the front half of the disk’s tooth. Without a reversible tooth on the other side it was now virtually useless to me, so I signed the disk and gave it to Mantella’s driver as a trophy and switched to my standard backup for the remainder of the event.

The bot was then technically recorded to have two wins in a row, but the first one had the opponent forfeit, and the second one against Silent Spring ended in seconds when the first couple small hits of the match caused whatever electrical issues Jamo was experiencing that day to flare up again, and the match ended after his bot blacked out. Going into this match I would have loved to be able to say that I knocked Silent Spring out of the tournament, but I don’t feel like this really counts in anything but the most technical sense.

The final match against Ti is where my luck fully gave out. The fight started out well enough with Portable Apocalypse’s typical chaotic bouncing around the box between trading blows, but then the glue on one of my custom made wheels gave out, followed a few seconds later by Ti landing a direct hit to my weapon belt. With the weapon disabled and one of the wheels missing while my opponent was still doing just fine, I had little choice but to tap out.

So technically on paper Portable Apocalypse maintains its ongoing even win/loss record with a 2-2 performance at the event, I don’t feel like it truly counts since the two wins were from a forfeit and the opponent randomly blacking out in the opening seconds.

Looking Forward

  • Belt guard – I had previously gotten lucky and never faced another horizontal spinner that was at the proper height to get past my disk and hit my belt. Perhaps it is time to work out a proper belt guard to prevent it happening again.
  • Custom wheels – I had decided to try my hand at custom EVA foam wheels and printed hubs this time around. The wheels worked out fine, but the glue to attach them to the hubs didn’t hold out. I may continue using the custom wheels, but it is probably back to the Fingertech hubs for me.
  • Redesign? – Portable Apocalypse was my first bot that I felt really proud of building and I loved hearing that opponents were nervous of facing its chaotic wrath, so I don’t want to just give up on it, but it is hard to ignore that I have not had the most success with it (even while others have used the design to win competitions). I think that some type of changes will be necessary to get better results. While Portable Apocalypse has always been all about the damage and aggression categories, it can be difficult to demonstrate control when you are repeatedly flinging yourself across the box, so perhaps it is time to reign things in to a more controllable level. Apex Predator aptly demonstrated the good performance of the new 4wd drive train that I cooked up, so I think I will look into the concept of converting the design to a 4wd over/under cutter as a first direction to iterate.

Antisocial Distancing

Antisocial Distancing’s pre-event glamor shot

Antisocial Distancing gave a pretty good performance and qualified for the December final event, but it was plagued by some issues at the end.

In the week leading up to the competition, I had finally gotten the bot assembled, only to discover that my chosen weapon ESCs just didn’t have the oomph to get the weapon started. (I also suspect that my using 4S batteries with the motor rated for 5S-6S batteries is involved, but that is a topic for another time.) I found that I had an old 60A Aerostar reversible ESC that was able to get it spinning, and I found online what looked like it should be a rebranded version of the same ESC without the reversing option that could be delivered in time for me to drive to Norwalk. To minimize the wire clutter from the extra lead for reversing, I elected to put the new ESC into the bot, and off we went.

Upon getting to Norwalk and running through safety I discovered that despite my assumption that the two ESCs would function the same, the new ESC was also not able to start my disk up from a dead stop. Thankfully, I found that I could get the disk spinning a little by doing a 360 with the drive, and that was enough for the ESC to take over and do its job.

I didn’t get a chance to immediately swap out the ESCs, and that may have actually been somewhat beneficial. My first opponent forfeited, then I managed to notch KOs against Carmen and Smeezus, just using my little spin move to get the disk going whenever needed. The match against Smeezus was my longest yet for this new bot, and the result was that the built up heat from the ESC was enough to melt through the shrink wrap that was protecting it and holding its heat sink on. As a result I decided to finally take the time to put the original 60A reversible ESC back into the bot before moving into the winner’s semifinal match.

The match against Hot Leaf Juice started out well. I was finally able to spin the weapon up without resorting to robotic ballet moves, we started exchanging a few blows in the opening seconds, and I managed to tear one of their wheels off without taking any damage myself. Then my bot just stopped moving. After tapping out and getting the bot back to my pit table, I found that the radio receiver was just dead. I swapped in an identical backup receiver and tested that the wheels were working, so it seemed like I was ready to go again.

My loser’s semifinal match was against Rip and Tear, a bot encased in large quantities of ablative foam armor. I got my bot into the box, the doors closed, I drove to my corner, I tried to twitch my weapon to check it before the match started, and the bot died again, unable to even drive back to the door. Mercifully, they let me take it back to get it running again. After finding the radio receiver dead again, I swapped in a different type of receiver this time, and it was back to the box to try things again. This time once the doors closed I found that my drive still worked, but my weapon was still non-functional. With no more spare ESCs, there was nothing to do but press on. Despite my aggressive driving, a judge’s decision for Rip and Tear served to knock me out of the tournament, but left me with 3rd place and an invitation to the December final.

Lessons Learned

  • New weapon power system – My weapon power system wound up being what I could scrape together in the final days before the competition, I did not have an adequate chance to test or improve it, and the evidence points to my ESC eventually trying to destroy my receivers and/or itself to knock me out of the tournament. I need to find better components that won’t let me down for next time, and give myself time to test them out.
  • Test between matches – Again i was faced with issues in the box that I potentially could have fixed in the pits between matches if I had taken the time to test and find them. I need to make having a full test between matches be my SOP going forward.
  • Frame improvements – While the frame overall held up well from the battering it took, by the end I was seeing cracks forming in the bottom plate where the weapon shaft went through it. I should find some way to beef things up there.
  • Disk improvements – The disk held up throughout the event, but by the end the tooth was starting to look a bit bent and blunt on one side, so a few tweaks to the design are in order if I expect it to make it through a larger bracket.

Conclusion

Overall I would say that my first trip to Norwalk went fairly well, and I had a blast the whole time! Apex Predator pleasantly surprised me, and I definitely want to iterate on it to see where it can take me. Many of the issues that lead to my defeats were a least partially self inflicted, but I can learn from them and improve my designs to come back even stronger in the future.

While I may have qualified for the December final in the 12lb category, I unfortunately don’t think that I will be going this year. With the event just 4 weeks away and all of the other plans that I have keeping me busy this holiday season, I would feel massively rushed just to try to get a bot ready, and with the bracket for the final holding twice as many bots as I just faced I would probably need another bot worth of spare parts if not a whole spare bot if I wanted a chance at the grand prize. For the moment I will choose to save my sanity, rebuild and upgrade in my own time, and come back for another attempt some other time.

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