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The time for building is upon us

T he nights are growing longer again and the weather is reasonably warm (if a little wet) for the time of year. People are restless after the millennium feastivities and Robot Wars is back on our screens with the most exciting episode of the series so far. This can all mean only one thing: people are going to have 'good ideas' for robots of their own.

I t all starts with the inevitable phrase 'What they want to do is....' followed by a robot specification which will perfectly beat every piece of opposition that it meets. But it won't! If it was that easy it would have already been done by people much more technincally skilled than most of us are. The fact is that no matter how good your design, driving and confidence is, there are still going to be problems. What follows here is a (very) short guide to getting started - not a comprehensive manual to build by.

Back to the drawing board

T he first thing to do is start sketching. Doesn't matter how poor your drawings are, they are a way of making you think through your ideas. Better still, get people around you while you draw. Trying to explain a concept to someone is a great way to find holes in it. No matter what design you first came up with, deliberately design other things which are very different to it. See what you come up with. Use modelling toys such as Lego or Meccano to make prototype weapons and bodies. Use card and straws to build chassis and body panel designs. Basically play around with the idea and don't even think of starting to weld anything. Yet!

Gather resources. Let's make no bones about this, Robot Wars is expensive - I'll just repeat that ROBOT WARS IS EXPENSIVE!! You will spend lots of money and lots of time on your robot. If you don't want to commit to spending most of your spare time in a cold garage or shed, stop now. Start pricing parts up from catalogues and websites. Places like Farnell, RS, 4QD and Maplin are as good a starting point as any, although they are not going to be the cheapest way around. These are also good places to start researching things you are not familiar with. Start identifying local companies you can call on to give you cheap or free goods. Prepare a pitch to sell them the idea to them. Remember that sponsorship is a two way thing. Think what you can offer them in return. Make it clear to them you cannot mention their name on television. Start looking into the cost of metal. Are there scrap yards nearby that you can use? Are there cheaper/better alternatives you can use? Spend time also thinking what you can realistically do with the materials you gather - if you don't have access to a lathe, don't think about turning your own bolts!

Start putting subsystems together. The motor control is a good place to start - motors, batteries, cable, speed controllers or relays. Now try adding in radio control to the device. Use wood to make a mock robot and get your motor systems driving that. Now comes the wheels and drivechain. Are you going to use chain or belts or gears? HPC Gears do a great little catalogue of parts for this. Also check out your local BSL for bargins. Once the drivechain is running, you can practise your driving with this mock up as well as playing with weapons!

Now start building that chassis AROUND your weapons (not the other way). Many robots are not as good as they could be simply because the weapon systems are left until last. Be careful with your tools - welders, drills, grinders, lathes and saws are all seriously dangerous bits of kit. Wear suitable clothing...and yes that does include goggles and gloves. Do you really want to lose that eye? It's amazing how easy it can be done. No one does it on purpose, but it does happen!!!

S o, you've got your robot assembled and there is still a few weeks until rehersals.....then DRIVE! DRIVE! DRIVE! and keep driving. Test the weapons against junk. Be careful because things may go wrong. Make sure your failsafes really do work. Keep children and animals away from the robot while testing and never stand in front of a weapon or too close to it. Always stand well back.

A nd there you are. One completed robot. Easy, isn't it...oh, if only it were so......

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