These are on the larger end of the robot combat spectrum, and while fun to watch the number of competitions are limited and the cost of entry is high. However there are lighter weight classes that makes combat robotics accessible. The most popular lightweight classes are antweight (1lb), beetleweight (3lb) and hobbyweight (12lb) and feature competitions across the United States all year long. There is also a special plastic antweight (1lb) class which is accessible to anyone with a 3D printer or basic hand tools.
Find a Local Competition
The first place to look for competitions is RobotCombatEvents.com. Events are listed in order by date. RobotCombatEvents is becoming the go-to place to list and find events. An older website still used by some is BuildersDB.com. Some of the larger events like RoboGames and Sparkfun's AVC will feature some of the competitors and personalities you've seen on BattleBots and YouTube.
Our events will be listed at RobotCombatEvents.com and on this website. Sign up if you want to be notified when events are published.
Study The Rules
Most events are built around the sparc.tools ruleset, however some local competitions have minor modifications to those rules. Our ruleset can be found here. You should always check with the event organization for their ruleset. For instance, RoboGames requires a visible light whenever power is being supplied to the robot whereas many other competitions do not - if you started competing with say Western Allied Robotics and took your bot to RoboGames, you might be in for a surprise!
One thing to keep in mind is the rules are very safety-centric. Most rules are to ensure the safety of the participants and spectators. Unlike Formula racing there are no rules on power limits, or motor/controller constraints (except in certain cases like pneumatics operating pressure, and there again it is driven by safety concerns, not establishing a level playing field). The sky is the limit on creativity and design.
Talk With Other Builders
There are a couple good places to chat up other builders of all experience levels
- Combat Robotics (facebook group) talks about combat robots of all weights from amateur to pro
- Antweight Combat Robots (facebook group) specialized in 1 pound robots
- Beetleweight Combat Robots (facebook group) specializes in 3 pound robots
There are two really good resources I think are worth your time. First, the Robot Battle's How To Build a Combat Robot article is a relatively quick read providing a high level overview of the parts and processed needed to build a combat robot. Second, Robotic Legend's "Resources" article series provides a deeper dive into the subsystems of a combat robots. The articles are under the menu "Resources" and cover a wide range of topics in depth.
Build a Bot
There is no 'right' way to build a combat robot. The proof is in how it performs in the battle box. There are many ways to leverage your existing experience to build a bot that can hold its own. For example, if you have a background in RC airplanes/helicopters you are already familiar with radio transmitters, receivers, speed controllers and structures. Likewise if you've played around with 3D printers and Arduinos you have both the fabrication and electrical skills to build a plastic antweight robot. There are no rules enumerating what controller you must use, or what motor types and sizes you must use. There is a lot of room for improvisation and using what you have on-hand.
I will provide two proven hardware stacks that you can use for a point of departure
The eBay/Amazon Special
This is my go-to stack for plastic and metal antweights. The core of the system is a Flysky receiver, a dual motor speed controller, two motors and a battery. I've been using this setup for years on all of my families' antweight bots and have been happy with it.
The core components are
- FlySky radio and receiver (FS-GT2B or FS-GT3B)
- The FS-GT2B is a noncomputerized radio that used to sell for $30. It is currently marked up to $40 at most places and may be discontinued.
- The FS-GT3B is computerized and can store 10 robot models. At $45 it is the better value.
- 2S-3S Dual ESC
- These should run $10-$12 for the 5A version. eBay link (added 02/2021)
- Generic 16mm 12V 1000RPM motors
- These should run $7-$8. eBay link (added 07/2020)
- LiPo battery
- MotionRC's Admiral batteries have been my go-to recently.
- 250 mAh capacity is what you want. You can safely run 2S or 3S variants with this dual ESC and motor combination. For beginners I'd suggest 2S to give you some margin (running full speed means lots of heat and things fail quicker).
- If you don't have a battery charger, suggest getting one from MotionRC as well
Variant 1: Add a servo for flipper/lifter weapons.
Variant 2: Add a brushless ESC and brushless motor for a spinning weapon. In antweight classes a 2822 class brushless motor is typical. Pick an appropriately sized ESC (based on the amp and voltage rating of your motor)
Fingertech is a Canadian company that sells robot parts. They are great people and make some fantastic products that just work, and the price point reflects that. To replace the dual ESC you need to buy two tinyEsc's and one tinyMixer, and then you can purchase two SilverSpark motors in place of the generic 16mm motors. They have the same form factor. The advantage of the TinyMixers is they do go up to 36V and they are tiny compared to the dual ESC.
- 2x tinyESC's ($25.67 x 2)
- 1x tinyMixer ($14.26)
- 2x Silver Spark motors ($17.78 x 2)
I have a set of FingerTech electronics and it is great for a bot that is tight on space. However I can generally outfit all 4 of my families' robots with the generic parts for the same cost as a single set of Fingertech parts. And you cry less when things break.