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FAQ


Questions and Answers about Combat Robotics
from Team Run Amok


The Ask Aaron Archives: Toy Hacks and Kits
This page is one of several archives of older 'Ask Aaron' questions and answers categorized by topic. To see the most recent questions or to ask a new question, go to the Ask Aaron Home Page
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FAQ Robot Weapons Ants, Beetles, & Fairys Toy Hacks & Kits Design & Construction Materials & Components Motors & Controllers Radio & Electronics Robot Events Team Run Amok

Caution
Even small combat robots can be dangerous! Learn proper construction and safety techniques before attempting to build and operate a combat robot. Do not operate combat robots without proper safeguards.


Toy Hacks and Kits

It greatly saddens me to announce that my son, Aaron Joerger, died very suddenly on the afternoon of October 18th, 2013 of an apparent pulmonary embolism. He was 22 years old. Aaron's obituary.

The 'Ask Aaron' project was important to Aaron, and I have decided to continue the site in his memory. Thank you for the many kind messages of sympathy and support that have found their way to me.

- Mark Joerger, Team Run Amok




Q: Hi Mark,

I dug out a couple of the old Battlebots RC toys from the garage. They ran awhile and then stopped. I turn them off, then on and the LED on top lights briefly and then goes out. New batteries don't change this behavior, so I followed the instructions on your site to take one apart and remove the impact spring with a pair of pliers, thinking it was stuck to the side. It wasn't but I took it out anyway.

At this point, there's no change - the LED lights briefly and then goes out, and the toy is unresponsive. They both do this after having run awhile. Any idea what I should look at next? [Old friend, California]

A: [Mark J.] The first thing I'd look at is the interlock that keeps the robot from operating when the weapon module is removed. That may have oxidized/corroded over time and may be causing trouble. Try cleaning those contacts, or just short around the switch (see the Robot Dojo BattleBot Toy Hacking Guide, just below the section on the impact spring).

A drop of oil on the motor bushings couldn't hurt -- they may be binding a bit and overheating the motor controller, causing a shut-down. Make sure everything turns freely.

I'll keep thinking -- write back if no joy.

Reply: That was it - the interlock was oxidized, scraping it fixed the problem. The odd part is that they both worked for awhile and then stopped. I hadn't taken them apart, but then again they're several years old and hadn't been run in a long time, so maybe dust built up and eventually blocked the contact. I'll take the other one apart later and it's probably the same thing.



Q: Hi Aaron. I'm considering to buy the lightweight BattleKit with the motor option of Ampflow E30-150 & normal gear ratio of 5.6:1. However, i would like to know your view whether this battlekit would strong enough to compete in a 66lbs weight category? [Malaysia]

A: The lightweight BattleKit is as close to a fully bulletproof chassis as you can find. It is entirely suitable for the 30 kilo weight class.

Q: I also would like to hear your advice on whether the way this battlekit's drivetrain is designed & assembled, does it offer the optimum gearing which will protect the motor when it stalls? [Malaysia]

A: Yes, the BattleKit at 66 pounds and 5.6:1 gearing with 4" wheels (as supplied) will break traction well in advance of stall, at less than 30 amps per motor. BatttleKit designer Carlo Bertocchini knows very well how to design an optimum drive train, and has done a fine job with the BattleKits. You should become familliar with the Tentacle Drivetrain Calculator to run these calculations for your own satisfaction.

Q: I have read on your archives about the "Optimum Gearing" but I need clarification on your statement "allow them to 'break free' and spin well before motor stall torque is reached". Does that mean with the optimum gearing, before the stall torque is reached the tire will spin so the robot does not move? How is this going to be an advantage to the robot when it goes pushing head to head with the opponent?

I'm afraid I have misunderstood your statement, so i guess its better to get an explanation. Thanks.

A: Your interpretation is correct. A wheel with a given amount of weight pressing down on it can only transmit a given amount of torque to the arena surface before it starts to slip and 'break traction'. When the robot is pushing hard against a resisting force, a properly geared robot drivetrain will exceed that given amount of torque and the wheel will start to slip. You're still getting the maximum pushing power as the wheel spins, but by allowing the motor to spin you aren't cooking the motor and speed controller by pulling too many amps near stall.

Robot haiku:
Gear for enough torque
To avoid destructive stall.
You still get max push!



Q: Do you know where I can find a cheap, full function R/C car about the size of an antweight? I won't be mounting an active weapon, nor be entering it in any tournaments, I plan to just take a few of them for a backyard fight.

A: Take a look at the Tonka Trickster R/C toys: 'Buzzsaw', 'Zig-Zag', and 'Rampage'. They're skid steer, about antweight size, and they plug into the transmitter to recharge. Price is around $20.

Browse thru this archive for more toy conversion options.

Robot haiku:
The BattleBots toys
Made really great antweight hacks.
Now quite hard to find.



Q: What do you think of the new FingerTech lifter/clamp kit? Do you think the building method is solid? [Woodburn, Oregon]

A: The FingerTech kit is largely a collection of components and raw materials that requires a good amount of fabrication and finishing to turn into a combat robot. It is suitable for a builder with good basic shop skills and a collection of suitable shop tools.

The quality of the finished robot is likely to vary greatly with the skill level of the builder. I would not recommend the kit for a novice builder. Review the kit instructions and make a realistic decision as to whether your building skills are up to the task.

Mark J. here: one comment on the construction techniques used by the kit. The design calls for mounting holes to be drilled very close to the edge of Lexan armor, placing high localized stress on the Lexan and possibly causing cracking and break-thru in those areas. I would suggest cutting the Lexan wider and/or changing the mounting points to move those high-stress areas further away from the armor edge.

Robot haiku:
If you've got the skills,
Maybe you don't need their kit.
Make one for yourself.



Q: Do you have a tutorial on how to hack the Biohazard toy?

A: I don't have a step-by-step tutorial, but there are some photos and a description of the modifications we made to our own hacked Pro-Series Biohazard on the Zpatula page. Much of the process involves replacement rather than 'hacking'. The radio system and motor controllers must be completely replaced to comply with active-weapon failsafe requirements. The only real 'hack' involves locking out the torque limiter in the lifter gearbox -- something we cover in this archive. Search for 'slipper clutch'.

I'll be happy to help you work thru the conversion.

Robot haiku:
Lock out the slip clutch.
Replace the electronics.
Chassis stays intact.



Q: Hi Aaron. I plan to buy the lightweight battlekit from Robotmarketplace.com to develop my (66lbs category) combat robot. Based on the specs of the battlekit, i fill up the Team Tentacle Torque / Amp-Hour Calculator to determine whether i should add on the Ampflow 160A esc that is suggested. I pick the normal gear ratio 5.6:1 with estimated speed of 12 mph which i assumed is fast enough (the game i will entering feature a 8m x 8m gamefield)

Data filled in:

  • Motor type: Amplow E30-150
  • Weight class: 66lbs
  • Actual robot weight: 66lbs
  • 1 motor per side
  • Gear ratio 5.6:1
  • 4" colson wheels
After using the calculator (if i got it right), the amps per motor to spin wheels is 29.7amps and the peak amps is 59.5. Based on this data, i am thinking that i can use the ESC that i already have which have the operating capacity of 40amps and peak amps of 80amps. But i'm afraid that i got the calculation wrong and i do wonder why they suggested an 160A esc?

One more concern, is the 4" rubber colson wheels good enough? Because they also list down in the add on option, the plastic wheels which cost a little bit more. I have not used colson wheels before but i have use banebots wheel. How does the colson wheels perform in comparison with the banebots?

Hope u can advise. Thanks!

A: Your calculations are correct -- each motor will pull about 30 amps before the available torque spins the wheels and stops greater current consumption. Combined amperage consumption of the two motors together pushing against an immoveable object at full throttle will be about 60 amps.

Why recommend a 160 amp ESC? It is possible for a drive wheel to be physically prevented from rotating by mechanical interference, perhaps from crushed armor or a bent shaft. If that happens, your motor can pull far more amperage than it might under normal operations. Some builders like to cover all contingencies. It's your choice, but you'll probably be fine with your current 40 amp ESCs. I could be more positive in that recommendation if you'd mentioned which ESC it actually is -- some ESCs have amperage limiting circuits to prevent damage to the ESC, and some do not.

Colson wheels are very tough and quite grippy in most conditions. They are much stronger than the BaneBots wheels and are entirely suitable for use in your robot.



Q: hey aaron, My brother and I hacked some Battlebots toys into antweights. Our local tournaments are not allowing AM radios at all, rather than make a new robot we're going to add 2.4Ghz receivers. I see you added a ACTUAL receiver in your Biohazard converted Beetle weight. How would I go about doing that to our custom series robots?

- Henry in Texas

A: Your event organizers are being way too tough on you, Henry. There is very little excuse to demand that passive-weaponed insect 'bots run complex radio systems.

The BattleBots custom series toy has a combined receiver/motor controller that will not interface with a hobby receiver. If you have to swap out the radio, you'll also need to replace the motor controller -- take out everything between the batteries and the motors and start over. The schematic in FAQ #19 may help. The good news it that true proportional speed control will make the 'bots much more driveable.



Q: can i purchase a pre-assembled chassis with tracks, with radio or not?

A: Inertia Labs offers a Treaded Drive Base. Add your choice of radio, battery and speed controller.



Q: What are your thoughts on the kitbots weta kit? is it a fairly good place for a beginner to start?

A: Quote from the Kitbots Weta-1 page: "This is not a kit for absolute beginners and will require extra parts and tools to complete."

For $150 you get a bare beetleweight chassis. For another $120 you get a small beater bar impactor, shaft, bearings, and pulley. You need to add: drivemotors, weapon motor, drive and weapon ESCs, battery, weapon belt, weapon motor pulley, wheels, hubs, radio system, and battery charger. Putting it all together is entirely up to you -- no diagrams or step-by-step instructions.

It would be an expensive beetleweight, but if you have the skills to complete the kit it could be a good competitor.



Q: for a beetleweight, do you think an R/C [toy] hack would be decent? If so do you have a model in mind? Thanks.

A: See 'Zpatula' -- it's decent.



Q: I am soon going to hack/modify a battlebots custom series toy for robotic combat as an antweight and I was wondering about the wheels. Are the ones that come with it good, or should I buy some different ones? If the later, which ones do you recommend?

A: The BattleBots toy wheels are pretty good. They're hard plastic with a large rubber O-ring set into a groove. Replacing them would be difficult because the hubs are non-standard. Most of the hacks I can recall used the wheels that came with the toy. The wheels are a 'snap fit' onto the hubs, so consider adding some additional fastening security!

Be sure to read the Robot Dojo BattleBot Toy Hacking Guide for some great tips.



Q: Hello Aaron, I'm in the designing process of my first combat robot. I was originally planning on going in the lightweight division but I just can't get enough cash right now. Robogames has a 30 pound featherweight class that looks perfect for me. I would like to be able to get a base chassis kit so i can just add my armor and weapon. Any ideas on a kit? On robot marketplace I see antweight kits and lightweight kits but nothing in between. Thanks

A: Two bits of bad news:

  1. Robogames eliminated the 30-pound featherweight combat class for 2012 and they have no plans to reinstate it. They eliminated the 12-pound hobbyweight class in 2008, so there are currently no 'sub-light' classes at Robogames.

  2. The only current combat-worthy sub-light complete chassis kit is the GEARS-HMC. It weighs in at 10 pounds, is very slow, and last time I checked was right around $500. Not recommended.
I think you're gonna have to build your own chassis, and not a feather or a hobbyweight if you're going to Robogames.

Q: Dear Aaron, I saw the question about the Gears HMC bot, and I was wondering if you could elaborate about that robot. Also, what do you think about it as a robot education system? Do you know any bot that uses it/any video of a bot that does? Thanks.

A: The extent of my knowledge comes from their website. I've never had 'hands on' one of the GEARS HMC chassis and I'm not qualified to comment on 'robot education systems'. The GEARS website shows pictures of two apparent combat robots that use the HMC chassis but I don't recognize either of them -- they may be BotsIQ competitors.

The kit is a bare chassis: no batteries, no motor controllers, no radio gear. With the supplied motors, wheels, and sprockets it would be slow: about 2.5 MPH with a 3-cell LiPoly battery. A complete combat robot built around this chassis would be expensive.



Q: In an earlier post you said the BOE Bot would not make a good hack for an antweight combat robot. Would it work for an anonomous combat antweight?

A: We claim no expertise in autonomous combat, but the Boe-Bot has pretty much no components that are suitable for combat. It's slow, unprotected, top-heavy, and made of soft materials. It has enough computing power to respond to sensor input, but you'd be far better off to start with a BASIC Stamp board and build a robot around it with suitable combat components.



Q: Would you recomend a toy with car steering for an insect weight hack?

A: Generally, no. Ant arenas are small and the advantage of zero-radius skid steering is too great to give up.



Q: Are there is "Fly Wheels" on sale? [Japan]

A: A quick search on Amazon.com found one of the Fly Wheels R/C toys. They are out there.

Q: Can i use it (round one) as Thwacker?

A: Yes - (video) - assuming it meets the requirements for the rules your event is using.

Q: Are there is good way to learn how to use thwackers?

A: You could watch some videos of thwackbots in action, but there really isn't a lot to it. All you can really do is drive to a clear spot in the arena, start spinning, and hope somebody wants to drive into your weapon. Build one and practice.

Q: Should I use HDPE armor for it and add some kind of side hammer/pickaxe/whatever to it?

A: I don't know anything about your event, your competitors, or the details of the design you have in mind. The hamburger might be bad. HDPE is in general a good armor material for light robots, and if you're making a thwackbot you'll need some sort of thwacker.

Q: Sorry,i haven't given full information.

  • I enter roaming robots.
  • i plan to use it as Ant.
  • i have design of spinning round thing with some sort of weapon end on it.
  • also,im using fly wheel chassis. that is information.
If you need to know more,please tell me.

A: Wait a second... You're in Japan, and you plan to enter the UK Roaming Robots antweight competition with a converted American toy? I'm not entirely familiar with the Roaming Robots ruleset, but I see some potential problems:

  • The weight limit for UK antweights is 150 grams. I don't have one here to weigh, but I'm pretty sure that the Fly Wheels toy is quite a bit too heavy to meet that limit even with modification.

  • It's not entirely clear that Roaming Robots allows 'toy' radio systems. All of their radio examples are 'hobby grade' systems. Best to check with event officials.

  • If toy radios are allowed, note that the Fly Wheels toys come in both 27 MHz and 49 MHz radio frequencies. The 49 MHz band is not approved for Roaming Robots competitors, so don't buy the wrong frequency.
I have doubts that the Fly Wheels is going to work as a starting point for your robot.

Q: I plan to go out of japan and go to robot combat. Can i just go to US and fight there? it seem a good idea. Also,Thanks for information!

A: If I was going to take a special trip of thousands of miles to participate in a robot combat event I think I'd invest more than $35 in my robot. But sure -- come on over. I'll clean off the dining room table and we can fight antweights all afternoon.



Q: Are there any toy R/C toys out for sale that you would recomend for an antweight hack? I can't seem to find any BattleBots toys anymore on EBay.

A: The Tonka Trickster miniature R/C toys (Buzzsaw, Zig-Zag, Rampage) look like they could be a good hack. They are two-wheel drive skid steer, about antweight size, recharge from the transmitter, and are very quick. I think you could make something out of one.



Q: If I were to use a design like 'Overkill' or 'Toe Crusher' for a beetle, could i use a toy R/C car and make it legal?

A: A 'torque-reaction hammer' weapon (discussed in the Robot Weapons archive) is not considered to be an 'active weapon'. Robots up thru 12 pounds can legally use an AM or 'toy' R/C radio with a design like the robots you mention.



Q: I'm building a combat robot by hacking a toy rc car. I plan to add a cutting board to the sides and top for armor and a wedge to attack. What would be the best way to mount these to my hack?

A: Without having the toy in front of me I can only talk in general. I'd suggest forming a box out of the armor and wedge with well reinforced corners. Additional strips of armor material can be cut to 'fill the gaps' to the toy chassis where it can be mechanically fastend with screws/bolts/nuts. Fasten over a large area across the strongest points of the chassis.



Q: Hey Aaron, to make the Viper kit combat worthy (I was reading those earlier posts) what armor would you use? I am currently assembling my viper kit, and yesterday I soldered my first wire! []

Thanks, New York

A: Welcome to the soldering brotherhood, New York.

I don't know what design or weaponry you're planning, but I'm fond of polycarbonate (Lexan) and UHMW polyethylene plastics for insect class armor. They're inexpensive and easy to work with hand tools. About 1/8" (0.125") thick for a starting point. There are many posts about the use and mounting of plastic armor in the Ask Aaron archives.



Q: Is this 'Overkill' toy (eBay auction link) remote controlled or just electric powered?

A: The toy is one of the 'Metal Mechanics' series kits. The weapon and only the weapon is powered by a small electric motor -- the robot itself is not mobile and not R/C. Seven robots are available: Backlash, Deadblow, Mauler, Minion, Overkill, Ronin, and Tazbot. None are suitable for conversion to combat.



Q: I just ordered a Finger Tech Viper and I want to put a wedge on it. Could I use a pair of dollar store putty knifes and bolt them to the bottom plate, like a dust pan with out the sides?

A: That's not a bad start, but you'll need some additional armor to go with it. The Viper will not hold up against impacts from robots running up your wedge and into the vacuum-formed body of the robot.

Note that some arenas have gapped floor seams that can make life miserable for thin, sharp nosed drag wedges. Best to investigate the arena before settling on a wedge design.

We have some comments about the Viper kit farther down in this archive.

Q: I'm the viper kit guy again, will a dollar store tuppa ware container work as some armor, provided I let it flex?

A: If I understand your design, you're going to need something much more substantial than a sandwich box to stop a spinner running up your wedge. The Lexan body that comes with the Viper is stronger than a dollar store plastic food container. For front armor you're going to need something hard enough that a spinner blade can't 'dig in', and it has to be very well mounted to the baseplate.

I know the Viper is sold as a combat robot, but it needs a lot of help before it can stand up to serious competition.



Q: I noticed that Inertia Lab is now only selling tracked kits. Is it possible to just ditch the tracks and have the kit run on regular surveyer wheels?

A: Inertia Labs (thru Open Source Robotics) does sell a wheeled version of the Surveyor robot -- no need to ditch the tracks. The wheels and tracks are interchangeable on the Surveyor base.



Q: Dear Aaron, (in response to the post below) 6 volts seems kinda low for a toy the size of the [BattleBots] pro series [toy]. Am I wrong? I mean, I got it and It isn't massive, but I have other toys that are around the same size that use a 7.2 volt six cell NIMH battery which appears to be much larger than what is recommended on line. Did you find the 6 volts good for this toy? If I want a little more (but not too much) more voltage, what would be realistc? And if I were to increase the power, is there a battery that would fit the same way as the normal 6 volt? I have not used the toy yet, but I want to make sure I order the optimal batteries since they are pricy. Thank you.

A: Power isn't measured in volts, but in watts -- you cannot estimate motor output from voltage alone.

I've answered your battery question twice previously: the 6 volt battery is fine. Tyco-style clip-in style battery packs only come in 6 volts. For more voltage you would need to splice in a new connector to match the new battery. You already know that I run my combat hacked Pro Series toy at 7.2 volts, which I would consider to be overkill outside of combat.

You can buy a Tyco-compatable battery and charger for $10. Buy it, try it, and don't ask the same question again.



Q: Dear Aaron, i got the two [BattleBots] pro series toys and they seem to only run on 6v but you run them on 7.2v. Is this good? How do I do this?

A: For your purposes, I'd suggest running them with the standard 6 volt battery pack. More voltage will give more torque and more speed, but will also reduce the life span of the motors and make the robot trickier to control. I've seen hacked BattleBots Custom Series toys run as high as 11.1 volts in competition, but the toys are plenty quick without modification.

If you want to run a higher voltage, all that's needed is a higher voltage battery pack. Our own hacked Pro Series beetleweight Zpatula has a custom 7.2 volt NiMHd battery pack. To make 'Zpatula' legal for competition we also replaced the toy electronics with: an FM radio, a SOZBots ESC for the drive motors, and a Team Delta dual-relay board for the lifter. These modifications provided more precise control and were necessary to meet the safety requirements for a combat robot with an active weapon, but are certainly not required for personal use.

Q: Dear Aaron, I am confused. Do you recommend the 7.2V? And also, which types of batteries for which motors? Just asking for some clarification... No problem at all! Thanks.

A: It depends on what you plan to do with the toys. ==> If you're going to use them as toys, keep the 6 volt packs. <== If you plan on competition, you may want to replace the batteries with a lighter and/or higher voltage pack as part of the conversion process. Try the 6 volt pack and make a realistic judgement on just how much more speed/power you could use in a small arena.

I don't understand 'which types of batteries for which motors?' Your Pro Series toys use a single battery pack to power three identical 130-size motors: two for propulsion and one for the weapon. NiCad, NiMHd, or LiPoly cells will do nicely.

Q: Dear Aaron, thank so much for the help with the batteries on the Pro series toys! I love this website, and I recommended it to some people at NERC.

I have (hopefully) my last question, which is do you have a specific 6v battery that I should purchase for the Pro series? online, I am seeing batteries with wires for the attachments to the bot, which I know I do not want. You have to plug it right in. Any specific recommendations? Thank you!

A: The BattleBots Pro Series toys are designed for the standard Tyco 6.0 volt battery pack. It clips right into the battery compartment. A web search for 'Tyco 6 volt' will come up with plenty of sources for genuine Tyco and Tyco compatible battery and charger combos.



Q: Dear Aaron, are you able to identify this kit? It was at robot village, when it was still around. Thanks, New York

A: Sure, that's the Inertia Labs antweight kit. There are several posts about it in this archive.

Inertia Labs antweight kit



Q: How dangerous in terms of touching and safety are the [BattleBots] metal mechanics [toys]?

A: About as dangerous as an unopened can of soup. They have no sharp edges, motion speed is slow, and power is tiny. They do have small detachable parts, so not suitable for very young children.



Q: Dear Aaron, What is the most high end, pre built fighting robot toy and or bot I could get? I would be willing to 'shell out' on it because I love combat robots. I would include an easy to use kit as also an option. the closest I can get to the real thing!

A: If you want to go 'high end' you'll want to take a look at BattleKits. These are the real thing, and they are not cheap. They come without armor and weaponry but, assuming that you can bolt on a wedge and a top armor plate, one of these will float your boat.

A recent post in this archive covers some other toy and kit options. Give it a read.

Q: Dear Aaron, did Roaming robots stop making the high end version of their kit?

A: The Roaming Robots 5 KG kit is now offered as a complete chassis without bodywork. The rodent-like 'BattleRat' bodywork is no longer offered. Just as well.



Q: Of all of the Custom series toys, which one is your favorite? Least favorite?

A: My only interest in the custom series BattleBots toys is in hacking them for insect class combat. They are all alike under the skin, with minor differences in the wheels. The 'Dr. Inferno' toy probably has the best wheels, but any of the wheeled robots will do well. Avoid the tracked 'bots ('Do-All' and 'El Diablo') for combat.

Have a look at the Robot Dojo BattleBot Toy Hacking Guide.



Q: I've tried to find any Battlebots RC toys but i cant find any. Do you know a place or website that sells them and is not sold out?

A: Previously answered: a few weeks checking auctions on EBay should get you positive results.



Q: Dear Aaron, I was doing extensive research yesterday of kit robots and I came across kitbots.com. What do you think about them, as in, do you recommend them? Which ones would you recommend? To finish, have you ever heard of these?

I got no results on Ask Aaron, which is unusual for anything bot. This is my favorite website hands down for robot fighting!!! I recommend it to my friends. No joke. Thank you so much for the gift of this website.

A: Thank you for the props. You're very welcome!

Team Rolling Thunder has been marketing robot pieces and 'kits' for quite a while. The team website still has their old product info up -- the kitbots.com site is relatively new.

The only complete kit they offer is a Lexan hobbyweight wedge that is suitable for bot hockey or educational purposes. The website itself notes that the kit is not 'combat ready' as provided and would require additional armor and reinforcement before combat competition. At $799, I cannot recommend the kit for someone wanting to build a combat robot.

Kitbots also offer three bare chassis for combat robots:

  • Beetle drum spinner chassis [$150];
  • Beetle blade spinner chassis [$150]; and
  • Hobby bar spinner chassis [$200].
These are not kits, just starting points. You will need to provide motors, mounts, drivetrains, controllers, batteries, wheels, hubs, hardware, radio gear, and considerable mechanical construction skills. There are no detailed instructions. Beetle weapon blades/drums are available at extra cost. Completing one of these chassis would not be inexpensive, and it is not a task for a beginner.



Q: Hello Aaron,

Do you have a recommendation for a robot toy or if 'necessary' a kit that simulates robot fighting from tv. I was interested in in the battle bots pro series but I cannot find one for sale any more. -Please Help. Thank you very much!!!

A: The BattleBots Pro series toys would be by far the best choice to offer a reasonable simulation of robot combat. Anything else is just R/C toys pushing each other around. Of course they are toys and you aren't going to get metal-rending destruction.

Our successful beetleweight lifter 'Zpatula' is a modified BattleBots Pro 'BioHazard' toy. You can still find them from time to time on EBay -- be persistent.

Q: Hello Aaron, I cannot find any of the BattleBots pro series online at all. Do you sell any of these or do you have any recommendation? Ebay so far has failed me, I looked extensively. Also, do you do sumo bots? Just wondering... Thank you

A: As noted, the BattleBots Pro series toys appear 'from time to time' on EBay -- in my experience perhaps every few months. Persistence requires patience.

Team Run Amok does not compete in sumo.

Q: Do you sell any robot kits/parts?Thanks!

A: We do not sell any robot components, nor do we accept promotional consideration from those who do. We prefer to keep our advice unbiased.

Q: Breaking news!!!!! I found an unopened bio hazard for sale on Ebay! [link removed] It is 169$. is that over priced? Thanks!!!

A: Well, that didn't take long. The Pro Series toys originally sold for about $60, if I recall correctly. You found one still in the original box, which at this point probably makes it collectable. I can't say if that is overpriced, but I can say I have seen them sell for less.

Please do note that the Pro Series toys do not come with the required NiCad battery pack and charger. These are common items designed to fit a variety of R/C toys, but you will need them to make the toy operational -- at some additional cost.

Q: Are there any videos of the Pro Series Disector and Bio Hazard in action? I am interested in how they drive and how good their weapons are (More specifically the biohazard flipper).

A: I know of no videos. There is an extensive and accurate review of the Pro Series toys, with photos, at this site.

Q: Hello Aaron, I read the article on the [BattleBots] Pro Series. I saw that the weapons for both of them were bad. More specifically, is there a way for them to lift better? Every year I enter a sumo competition and this platform may be good for a toy and sumo. So is there a way I could really make it lift the opponent well? The article says the weapon isn't strong enough. Any other ideas/ recommendations? Thank you!!!!

A: The BattleBots Pro Series toys were designed to survive abuse by children. The lifter mechanism includes a clutch that slips well before the lifter motor generates full power to prevent melt-down when little Bobby tries to lift the couch. The clutch mechanism can be locked out by replacing the clutch spring with a rigid spacer cut from brass tubing.

For our beetleweight hack, we locked out the clutch and eventually replaced the 130 size lifter motor with a 180 size motor for additional torque. Other modifications we made are listed on the 'Zpatula' web page.

Q: Hello Master-of-Mayhem Aaron. Do you have a thing on how to hack a pro series biohazard? I saw you had some talk about it. Do you have something that shows how to make all around better at lifting and pushing? Thanks

A: All of our notes on Pro Series modification are on the 'Zpatula' web page.

Q: with the slip clutch disengaged, how much better would the bot lift and push? Would it be able to flip another of its own weight? the site said that it could not even lift its own weight class... Thank you so much!!!!!

A: Lifting is greatly improved. Power is adequate to edge-lift a beetleweight opponent. Lift height may or may not be adequate to turn over your opponent, but combined with forward motion of the robot it becomes an effective weapon.

The slip clutch governs the lifter only -- it is not involved with the robot drivetrain. Pushing capacity of the drivetrain is entirely adequate as-is.

Q: Speaking of flippers, do you have a recomendation for a flipper robot kit that would be small and have a strong drive power to it? I may use it for fun/sumo bots (Maybe). Anything you can think of? Thank you!!!!!

A: I know of no lifter/flipper robot kits currently available in any weight class that I could recommend.

Q: Hello Aaron. What is better in your mind... The Battle Rats or the pro series? Also what about the Battle ants? (the 150g ant weight flipper bot)

A: Better for what?

    Battle Ratz 5 kg. kitbot.
  • The BattleBots Pro Series are nice toys. With patience, they can be purchased for well less than $100 including radio. Team Run Amok has demonstrated that they can be modified to be competitive in open beetleweight (3 pound) competition.

  • The base 5 KG. 'Battle Ratz' kit runs about $700 without a radio. It is not a toy, but a robot originally designed as an arcade 'you-drive-a-robot' attraction. They compete against other Battle Ratz in a special UK-only combat class. It would, IMO, take considerable modification to be legal and competitive in open hobbyweight (12 pound) competition.

  • The smaller 250 gram(?!) 'Battle Antz' kit is priced at about $100 without radio. In the UK, these kits are allowed to compete in the 150 gram class, but in the US they would compete in the 456 gram (1 pound) antweight class. They are servo powered (very slow compared to US antweights) and use a standard servo for lifter power as well (very weak). They lack the armor, speed, and power needed to be competitive in the US antweight class.

Mark J. here: several readers have written in with suggestions and testimonials for various kitbots in response to this series of questions seeking a lifter toy/kit. While we appreciate the enthusiasm and generous spirit of these readers, we do not believe that it is appropriate or responsive to recommend any of the suggested kits given the specifics of the reader's inquiry.

The advice given here is exclusively that of Team Run Amok. Readers interested in opinions from other sources are invited to post their questions to the combat robot forums.

Q: Hey Aaron, I can purchase a battlebots pro series biohazard for 169. Is that over paying?thanks

A: Answered a couple of days ago, New York. Scan up a few Q's. You're asking so many questions you don't have time to read my answers.

Q: Aaron, I am sorry I didn't see your response. I didn't mean to waste your time. Thank you very much for the responses. Also, where were the suggestions from other readers? Just wondering.

Again, I am really sorry about the double question. Your advice has been very helpful. Thank you, 'New York'

A: Not a problem. We will often attach a 'follow-on' question to the original post that is farther down the page in order to make the thread make sense. This can make it difficult to find new questions, but I think it's best in the long run.

We did not print the suggestions from the other readers. As a rule, the only recommendations (or critiques) of commercial products that we publish come from Team Run Amok. We know our motives are reasonably unbiased, but we cannot assume the same for those that come from unverified external sources. If you are interested in sorting thru a grab bag full of answers, you are free to post your questions to one or more of the combat robot forums.

FYI, none of the recommendations were for flipper/lifter kits.



Q: Aaron,On the Pro Series Biohazard, I'm hoping to use a brushless system and that the gears already transfering power, would give it torque. Is this possible?

A: I think the hamburger is bad. Do you want to use the brushless motor for the lifter or for the drive? Which motor(s) do you plan to use? Why do you want to use a 'brushless system'?

In general, we recommend brushless motors only for spinner weapon power. We have explained the reasons for that recommendation multiple times -- see FAQ #23.

Q: I was hoping to use some Velineon VXL 380 motor, a hobby grade motor, because it is use to stoppin because of it doesn't need to be in constant movement.(I've had experience with this in my r/c cars) I was prefering to have it as a drivetrain and have the gearsalreadyin the gearbox to gear it down for torque.

A: Mark J. here: the problem with brushless motors in combat robots is not stopping or running at reduced speed at small torque loading -- all brushless motors throttle down perfectly well. The problem comes when the motor must produce a lot of torque at low RPM, like when the robot is pushing hard against another robot. Under those circumstances the motor consumes a great amount of amperage and creates a large amount of internal heat. Hobby brushless motors do not tollerate that type of use -- they melt.

In your proposed useage there are additional problems. Like most hobby motors, only very limited specifications are available for the Velineon VXL. From what I can tell it is a high RPM motor (4000 RPM per volt) that delivers about 40 times(!) the torque available from the FF-050 motor that comes with the BattleBots toy. There just isn't any way to make use of that much power in a small insect class arena -- it would be uncontrollable. It also has a very good chance of destroying the gearbox, which is certainly not designed to handle that much torque.

Aaron's Pro Series BioHazard hack beetleweight 'Zpatula' finished third at the RFL national championships with the stock FF-050 motors, and additional power would not have improved its performance. Motor overkill is not the path to victory. Save your money.



Q: Can you gear down a hobby grade R/C car for pushing power?

A: Toy R/C vehicles have fixed gear ratios, but hobby-grade R/C vehicles will have some capacity to change their drivetrain gearing by replacing a pinion and/or spur with gears of different size. The range over which the gearing can be changed is limited and it's unlikely that the ratio can be changed enough to provide adequate torque for robot combat.



Q: I bought a toy R/C car I plan to make into a robot.It works fine but the two AAA's it uses dies fast and it can't even steer.My question is:is there any way to add extra batteries to it or modify it so it can use AA's?

A: A robot combat match typically lasts 3 minutes -- it's hard to believe that your toy hack won't run that long on a fresh set of AAA cells. If you are determined to get greater run time you can purchase a holder for two AA cells at Radio Shack and wire it in place.



Q: Do you recomend combat robot kits?

A: See post below and other comments in this archive.



Q: What robot kit would you reccomend for 1rst time builders?

A: There are no current combat robot kits that we recommend for first time builders. An antweight kit will cost $300 to $400+ and leave you with a pile of mediocre components that you will likely want to individually upgrade for your next combat project -- a poor value. I suggest you read thru this archive for our comments on various kits and other options for first timers.



Q: How much does an Interia Labs antweight kit weight?

A: I'm sure I answered this before, but I can't find the question. Depending on options like battery size, the complete chassis with all electronics and four motors can be under 6 ounces. That leaves plenty of weight allowance for armor and weaponry.



Q: I have an old Battle Wheels toy and I wanted to ask wether or not I should keep the little wheels on the front and back of the toy.

A: Whether they are used or not depends on your design. I would generally recommend replacing their function with a skid.



Q: Where can I find an Interia Labs antweight starter kit without buying it online?

A: Have you checked the combat robot department at your local WalMart? No luck? Unless you live close enough to Inertia Labs to go knock on their door I guess it's online or nowhere.



Q: In the post below there's a picture of a robot made of two 2-wheeled toys. What were they and how did they put them together?

A: Robot Dojo's 'CoMotion' was made from two BattleBots R/C toys -- commonly available in 2002, but quite rare today. The picture came from the Robot Dojo BattleBot Toy Hacking Guide. The two toys were simply bolted together.

Note that different models of BattleBots toys came with different wheels, so buy two of the same design if you plan to combine them.



Robot Dojo's 'CoMotion' antweight hack Q: What would be a better [toy] hack, a Fly Wheels or a Battle Wheels?

A: The two toys have comparable radio systems and motors. The Battle Wheels R/C toy is geared for pushing and could be used with the large diameter wheels it has. The gearing in the Fly Wheels R/C toy is for speed, so it would need smaller wheels to be useable as a combat robot. I guess it depends on how much 'hacking' you're willing to do and what type of design you have in mind.

Q: Where can I find a toy hack for a 4 wheel drive robot? I need something with a lot of pushing power.

A: Four wheel drive does not guarantee pushing power. Proper gearing and the right tire compound count at least as much as the number of driven wheels. You can try patching two stripped-down toys together to get four-wheel drive - like Robot Dojo's 'CoMotion' (pictured) - but with proper weight distribution a two-wheel drive 'bot can give very close to the same 'push'.

Q: By pushing power I was looking for a box shape toy for driving in a staight line and can work inverted.

A: I don't know of any hackable toy that meets your needs 'out of the box'. If you're going to hack a toy for a combat robot you need to either make design allowances to suit available toys or strip out the key components and install them in your own chassis. I'd suggest reading thru this archive for idea options.



Q: In terms of speed and power, what are your thoughts on the EZTEC 1:64 Super Flipper Stunt RC car for the Fairyweight class?

A: I don't have one of those lying around the workshop to evaluate for you. I can't tell you its weight, size, power, durability, or battery life. I can tell you that it has tank steering and an advertised top speed of 350 feet per minute (4 miles per hour).



KillerHurtz R/C toy Q: Hi, I am interested in the Battlebots Custom series [toys]. There are 8 different robots and only 6 differnet channels. How would someone hack extra controllers to have all 8 driving by separate people?

A: Getting an electrical engineering degree with specialization in communication circuits would be a good start. Adding on channels to radio gear isn't simple and might violate FCC regulations.

The good news is that you're incorrect about only six different channels. The Custom Series radios come in 27 and 49 MHz frequencies, each with channels A, B, and C marked on slide switches on the transmitter and the 'bot. Not mentioned in the manual is an unmarked position at the end of the slide switch travel that selects a fourth channel! Four channels times two frequencies equals eight toys running at the same time with no hack needed.

Q: I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks for replying. I took a dremmel tool to the plastic and opened up a fourth channel today. Thanks good sir.

A: You're welcome!

On some of the toys there is enough switch travel to access the 4th channel without having to shave any plastic away, but a little extra clearance sure wouldn't hurt.



Boe-Bot by Parallax Q: I have an old BOE-bot kit. Are there any parts that I could potentially salvage and use in a combat antweight (or similar weight class)?

A: The Boe-Bot is an autonomous robot kit by Parallax. It's powered by hacked servos, has no stand-alone ESC and no radio. It's slow and the components are not intended to survive combat. I don't think there's much there that could be used on a combat robot -- better to sell it and start fresh.



Q: I curentley have an RC car wege hack-bot-beetleweight, do you have any tips to make it wegier?

A: Three easy steps:

  1. Stand behind your hackbot.

  2. Grab the elastic band of its underwear.
  3. Pull upward vigorously.formatting spacer wedgie animation



Robot Dojo Hack Guide Restored: I'm pleased to announce the release of a fully restored archive of the Robot Dojo guide to conversion of the BattleBots Custom Series R/C toys to antweight combat robots. All photos are now available and are matched to the original text. Take a look.



Q: The Robot Dojo Hack page suggests upgrading to 7.2v NiCad. If I had NiMh instead, what Mah rating would you suggest?

A: I usually just build a pack out of 700 mAH 'AAA' NiMH cells for my ants and beetles. You could get by with less than half that capacity, but 'AAA' cells are easy to find and the extra capacity comes in handy if you have a quick turn-around for your next fight. With clever arrangement you can fit 6 'AAA' cells into the existing battery compartment.



Q: I have recently received a Vlad the Impaler custom series r/c toy. I have been looking for help on the hacking process, but can only find instructions for SOW. Do know of any websites that are specifically for Vlad the Impaler? Thanks in advance, and if you don't well i guess that's ok too.

A: The chassis for the custom series BattleBots toys were all the same. The only differences were the bodies and the wheels/treads. Instructions for Son of Whyachi will work just fine for Vlad. The Robot Dojo BattleBots Toy Hack page is good.

Q: Hey Vlad the impaler battlebot toy guy, thanks for the info. But I was wondering would a 7.2 volt AA700mAh Ni-Cd airsoft gun battery work for the batteries? Thanks again.

A: A six-cell AA NiCad pack will work, but it's bulky and fairly heavy. You'd need to find a matching connector for the robot or buy new connectors for the battery, the charger, and the robot. Consider using the AA alkalines the toy was designed to use -- performance is pretty good with them.

Q: I have completed the vlad the impaler toy hack but now the motors are acting up. They sometimes don't respond or they have delayed reaction time. When they do react they react for too long and that messes up me trying practice driving. Is there anything I can do or do I just have to compensate?

A: I have hacked half a dozen of the BattleBots pro series toys and have never had the problems you describe. Make sure your batteries are all fresh, check that you didn't break the antenna wire on the robot, and double check that the frequency channel settings match on the transmitter and the robot.

You may need to disassemble the transmitter and clean the joystick contacts to remove any corrosion or oxidation. Fine abrasive paper will do nicely.

Q: Vlad hack kid again about the motor trouble, I think it might be the gears they may be slipping. If that's the case is there anything I can do?

A: It's unlikely that the gears are 'slipping' -- the gearbox is well designed and there aren't any places where slippage could be a problem unless you re-assembled the gears incorrectly following the removal of the weapon gears. The Robot Dojo BattleBots Toy Hack page has good pictures of the correct gearbox assembly. Click on the small photos for larger versions.



Q: Would it be smart to put a battery pack into a Battlebot toy's original battery holder, instead of on the back like the Robot Dojo Hack shows?

A: The Robot Dojo hack page was written before LiPo battery packs were widely available. It was difficult to build a NiCad pack of sufficient voltage and capacity to fit in the original 4x AA battery compartment. If your LiPo battery will fit into the battery compartment it would be a good idea to put it there.



Q: Hi, Aaron. I own a [BattleBots pro-series] Biohazard hackbot and I was thinking of perhaps putting a rollbar on top to help it self-right. What material is light and strong enough for this?

A: No need to go high-tech here. I'd suggest a simple arch of 1/16" steel 'piano wire', available in 36" lengths at hobby shops. The trick will be getting the right shape and position to allow the lifter to operate as a righting mechanism.



Q: Can VDD gearbox fit in Inertia Lab's kit?

A: The VDD gearbox is too large to fit 'in' the Inertia Labs chassis, but it could be mounted on top. However, I wouldn't recommend a large vertical blade for that chassis -- it's too narrow to be stable with the forces the blade woud produce, and the blade would have to set too far forward in the chassis for good balance. A horizontal blade could work, but the VDD gearbox is too tall for that, I think.



Q: How did you lock out the slipper clutch for Zpatula?

A: I disassembled the lifter gearbox and located the slipper mechanism: one of the gears had a special sawtooth-ended hub held by spring pressure against matching teeth on the base of the driven gear. When torque reached a specific level the hub would be forced away from the gear and 'click click click' until the load dropped enough to re-engage. I drilled two holes thru the hub and into the gear, then fitted steel pins in the holes to lock the assembly together. An alternate solution would have been replacement of the spring with a rigid spacer.



Q: Aaron, can a VEX [robotics kit] be used a starter kit?

A: The radio is not suitable for active weapon robots, but you could make something out of it.



Q: could I use the Tyco Mutator as a bot? is'nt there a bot made out of one?

A: The Tyco Mutator R/C toy has tank steering, but it is geared more for speed than pushing. I suppose you could add a wedge and make a hackbot out of it for fun, but don't expect to win many matches.

I don't know of any combat robots claiming to be based on the Mutator.



Q: Is the remote control that comes with the Battlebots Biohazard toy ok for combat?

A: Check the FAQ #18. The lifter is an active weapon, so the AM radio that comes with the BioHazard toy is not acceptable. The Robot Fighting League rules require an FM radio with a failsafe provision for all robots with an active weapon. You could use the toy radio if you took the lifter out.

Q: Which kind of FM failsafe control would you use on a BattleBots Pro toy [hacked] to beetleweight?

A: If you want to use an active weapon you would need to replace the entire radio system and the motor controller. For reasons I've discussed many times previously (see the Radio & Electronics archive) I don't recommend going 'cheap' on electronics. A good system will serve you well thru generations of combat machines and will be valuable at resale when you move on. A cheap system may prove unreliable, require upgrading for larger projects, and will be worth little when resold.

For 'Zpatula' we use a Futaba T6XAs 75 MHz radio, MicroBotParts FM receiver, and a SOZBots ESC -- but those were used because we already had the radio for use with other projects. If I was starting from scratch, I would recommend a Spektrum DX6i radio with the Spektrum BR6000 receiver and a Sabertooth 5 ESC.

Q: Should a [BattleBots Pro series] DieSector follow the same priciples? thanks

A: Any robot with an active weapon would need similar radio specifications.



Q: If you somehow attached a blade to your wheels instead of a separate motor, would it be considered a non-active weapon? I have an old Battlebots toy and I was thinking about putting some disks onto the gears.

A: That's not going to work for you. For events requiring an active weapon, the weapon must be controlled by a separate radio channel -- but for radio failsafe requirements, a rotating blade is considered an active weapon regardless of what powers it.



Q: could the stunt phsyco (don't remember how made it)work as a good hackbot?

A: The Tyco R/C Stunt Psycho has the elements of a decent hackbot: tank steering, good torque, and durable drivetrain. I'm not sure how much the vehicle weighs with batteries, but I'm sure it's too heavy to be an antweight. The wheels should be replaced with something smaller and more durable. I think you could have some fun with it.



Q: Would an R/C car with a carbon fiber wedge attatched like Run Amok's wedge be a good beginer hackbot?

A: Read thru the posts in this archive.



Q: Can a hobby R/C racecar be used and hacked for a combat robot?

A: It would depend on the car, but likely not. Hobby-grade R/C racecar drivetrains are geared for speed - combat robots need torque. I have seen toy-grade R/C cars successfully hacked for weight classes as high as 12 pounds.



Q: Can I hack a "Battle Wheels" R/C toy for a ant or beetle?

A: I haven't had the opportunity to tear one apart, but the drivetrain from the Johnny Lightning 'Battle Wheels' toy is likely a good candidate for an antweight hack. The toys are designed to shove each other around in 'combat'. Weight is just over 10 ounces. Remove the upper structure of the toy, improve the traction, and add a wedge. The radios are AM without failsafes, so no active weapons.



Battle Ratz robot kit Q: What do you think of the 'Battle Ratz' robot kits that are sold from Roaming Robots in the UK? Worth it to import?

A: The Battle Ratz were developed as an arcade amusement. They were designed to operate for long periods with minimal maintenance, and the weapons were designed to be 'fun' rather than 'damaging'. These are very different design goals than those I would set for a combat robot.

I don't believe that Battle Ratz would be effective in a tournament against 'real' combat robots. You could use the basic chassis and build something on top of it, but I think you could do better with a piece of plywood and off-the-shelf components available in the US.



Q: Do you know where to find an R/C 'Dantomkia' toy on ebay?

A: I'll assume your real question is, " I've been searching on EBay for an R/C 'Dantomkia' toy without luck. Any tips?" If you're outside the UK, try your search on www.ebay.co.uk and hope you can find a seller who will ship internationally. Be patient - everything shows up on EBay eventually.



Q: Hi Aaron. I own a Biohazard hackbot toy and I wanted to ask, if I wanted to put newer, more powerful motors into the Biohazard toy, replacing the old toy ones, what motors would you recommend? Right now my robot weighs along with the motors, 2 pounds, 12 ounces.

A: The design of the gearboxes is going to make replacing the drive motors with a something larger difficult. If you're after greater speed you might be better off overvolting. The motors will put up with a good bit of extra voltage - up to an 11.1 volt LiPoly pack would be worth trying.

My hacked BB Pro toy 'Zpatula' runs the original motors at 7.2 volts, and I've found that to be plenty.



Q: Hi. I'll be purchasing a custom series BattleBots toy, and I would like to know the approximate size after you hack it. Also, what would you suggest for the frame and armor?

A: Where have you found a BB Toy to hack? They've become hard to find.

The hacked chassis measures about 5.5" long by 4.5" wide by 2" tall and weighs just over 7 ounces without battery. The toy chassis is entirely acceptable to use -- no need to replace it. Plenty of armor material suggestions in the Ants, Beetles, & Fairys archive.

Q: I bought the Battlebots toy on Ebay. It is 'Blendo' and the seller had another one, which I think is still avalible. I wanted to take the components out of the chassis and make my own so it would be more personalized. I am thinking about .25" thick lexan sidewalls and .023 or .041" thick carbon fiber plates for the bottom and top. Sort of modeling it off of 'Shazbot'.

A: You're going to have trouble removing the 'components'. The large drivetrain gears are integeral to the chassis -- not nice one-piece gearmotors. I suppose you could just use the radio / motor controller system and patch in new gearmotors, but that'd be kind of a waste. I would suggest leaving the chassis largely intact.



Q: Hey Aaron, whould it be a good idea to hack a Robot Wars RC toy for an ant or beetle?

A: I've never opened up one of the R/C Robot Wars toys. They are a bit too large to make an ant, but might be OK for a beetle -- but their radios operate on 40 MHz: not a legal frequency in the U.S.



Q: I have a motor in a 1 pound Kato Kit that needs replacing. What motor do you recommend?

A: As I recall, the Kato/Composite Labs kit used the 50:1 Copal gearmotor. Best to replace both of the motors while you are at it.



Q: Hey Aaron, is a 'Diesector' R/C Battlebots Pro series able to work as a combat robot when modified?

A: The chassis and drive train in the Pro Series BattleBots toy makea a good beetleweight platform. My beetleweight Zpatula is built around the Pro Series 'BioHazard' toy. Check elsewhere in this archive for details on conversion.

Q: Would the weapon from the bot work?

A: The 'weapon' on the Diesector toy is designed to be safe for kids, not effective in combat. Also, a robot with an active weapon will require you to replace the radio with a full failsafe FM or Spread Spectrum unit. If you scrap the active weapon many events will let you use the AM radio that comes with the toy. BattleBots Pro Series toy Diesector

Q: Can you think of a design for it?

A: Sorry, we don't offer a free 'design-your-whole-robot-for-you' service.

Q: Can you think of a use for the jaws?

A: They would make a very nice doorstop.



Q: Dear Aaron, I'm having difficulty building the VDD antweight robot kit. If you can find a copy of the instructions for the kit it would be very helpful. I can't find them anywhere. - Anthony

A: I think you're going to have trouble with this even with the instructions, Anthony. The 'kit' is mostly a pile of carbon fiber rods, some glue, thread, and a couple of gearmotors. Not a project for an inexperienced builder!

The instructions were more of a set of suggestions and tips than a complete guide. I found an archive copy on the old Team Think Tank website: VDD Instructions. Only a few of the photos are there, but the text may be some help.

Need more help? Try posting a message in the Delphi Antweight Forum, or drop an email to the kit's designer: Ted Shimoda

Q: Aaron, thank you so much for helping me get instructions!!!!

On the original version of the VDD kit weapon, how did Team Think Tank get the 2.84 once carbide-tipped saw blade attached to the 1.5 mm shaft on the 280 motor? I don't see were they got that special hub or how they made it. I have the gearbox drive version of the weapon, but if the gearbox fails I might want to try direct drive to save money.

A: You're welcome, Antony.

The VDD instructions do appear to show a weapon motor direct driving the blade, but this is a really awful idea. The original (pre-kit) VDD had an O-ring belt drive to the weapon, and all kit versions of VDD from at latest December 2003 onward had the gearbox drive. If your gearbox fails, buy a new one.



Q: Where can I buy a 30 LB BattleKit? It seems that they are no longer sold.

A: Looks like you've answered your own question. Try dropping an email to powermail@email.com -- they may have one left.



Q: What do you think about the Robot Marketplace Basic Antweight Starter Package?

A: I've commented on the Robot Marketplace packages before. Skim thru this archive and the Ants, Beetles, & Fairys archive to find those comments and comments on other kits.

Briefly, the Basic Package is not a complete kit, it's just a bunch of components in a box. It has no chassis, armor, weapon, or instructions. The dual-motor gearbox is effective but bulky. The radio equipment is outdated and too expensive for the features it offers -- the Spektrum DX5e would be a better choice.

If you're on a tight budget and want a complete kit, take a look at the Viper starter kit from FingerTech Robotics, next question down.



FingerTech's Viper Antweight Kit Q: What's your say on the Viper starter kit by FingerTech? Worth it? Good for an ant with a servo lifter?

A: I'm quite skeptical of the suitability of the FingerTech kit for combat:

  • The kit features a "6-Channel radio transmitter and receiver pair", but they don't say which radio it is.

  • I don't know anyone who has used the FingerTech "tinyESC" motor controllers or gearmotors.

  • The "sporty vacuum-formed lid" certainly does not qualify as 'armor'.

  • There are reasons you don't see robots using 9-volt alkaline batteries for power in combat. The 9-volt battery is not designed for high amperage draw. They can only deliver about an amp each, with a significant voltage drop at that power level.

  • FingerTech mentions that the chassis is aluminum, but they do not mention the alloy used or the thickness.
I'd ask FingerTech a lot of questions before I bought, and I'd be ready for some extensive upgrades to get the little bugger 'combat ready'.

Q: I'm not sure about some of the parts, but the motors in the kit are the discontinued 54:1 Banebots 16mm gearmotors, and the receiver appears to be the vertical pin variation of the GWS pico receiver. Also, I have used the TinyESCs in my ant wedge driving two 17:1 Maxons each and they work great.

A: Thanks for the info, but that still leaves a number of issues:

  • If the motors are the discontinued BaneBots 16mm spurgear units, you'd best buy some spares while you still can.

  • The receiver pictured does look like a GWS pico, but that doesn't mean that's what you'll get with the kit -- it's unspecified. The transmitter is not pictured or mentioned. [Update - see below.]

  • The price of a pair of the 'TinyESC's (one with BEC, one without) is $58.65. For another $1.34 you can buy a Sabertooth 5 RC Dual Motor Speed Controller with greater current capacity, a flip channel, mixing, exponential control, and a proven track record. Guess which one I'd buy?

UPDATE:

I've exchanged emails with Kurtis Wanner of FingerTech Robotics. He has provided some details on the Viper Starter Kit that he says will be added to the website soon:

  • The transmitter provided with the kit is the GWS 6-Channel 75MHz GWT-6A. This is a very basic transmitter -- no mixing, throttle volume, or exponential response. [Update - the transmitter is now (January, 2012) a more capable "HK-T6A" HobbyKing 2.4GHz.]

  • The receiver is a 6-Channel MKS that uses standard crystals. [Update - the receiver is now (January, 2012) a "HK-TR6A" HobbyKing 2.4GHz.]

  • The motors are the discontinued BaneBots 54:1 gearheads on FF-050 motors. FingerTech is looking for a continuting source of similar gearmotors to fit the Viper chassis. [Update - FingerTech now has their own gearmotor for the Viper.]

  • The 'Tiny ESC' units are very basic, but are also very small (tiny) and very light (8 grams for the pair). I'm not sure how much that helps you with this kit that has plenty of space and weight allowance.

  • The chassis is 5052 aluminum, 1/16" thick.
Offering an antweight combat robot kit for under $160 [now under $120 - January, 2012] does call for some compromises, and FingerTech has shaved every dollar to meet this low price point. Kurtis defends the use of the 9-volt alkaline batteries for power, citing that they have proven adequate in testing. I've run some calculations and found that a pair of fresh, high-quality 9-volt batteries can provide marginally enough amperage for the twin FF-050 motors and a lifter servo. Perhaps they are adequate for a low-budget starter package?

I'm not a fan of 'going cheap' and buying robot parts you'll need to upgrade to move upward in robot combat, so I would have made some different component choices. I'd much rather spend some extra dollars to upgrade the kit to a Scorpion ESC and a Spektrum DX5e radio that would be useful in the next robot you build and that would retain good value when you did sell them to upgrade further. Still, with this kit you'd be able to simply and quickly put together a robot platform that you can steer around under radio control. Add a simple wedge or servo lifter and you could get into competition for a rock-bottom price.



Q: Would the components from the 'Advanced Antweight Starter Package' from Robot Marketplace be good for a beetleweight?

A: I don't think the Advanced Antweight Starter Package is good for an antweight, let alone a beetle. The radio is not current specification, the charger is really marginal, and the power supply is overkill. The actual robot components are not a kit but just a collection of pieces without a plan or instructions. The motors, hubs, speed controller, battery, and wheels are fine for an antweight but there is no chassis -- just a pile of assorted carbon fiber pieces. An experienced builder could turn this pile of pieces into a functional antweight, but unless you plan a beetle with a huge weapon that you just want to push slowly around the arena it just wouldn't work.



Q: What is a good RC toy to hack for a Fairyweight combat robot?

A: With only 150 grams of weight allowance, you don't have many choices. I've seen a few fairyweights made from the standard Micro R/C cars, like Mouseasaurus, but they are pretty weak. Pivot steering and gearing for speed over torque makes for a poor fairyweight.

I haven't had a chance to play with one, but the Air Hogs Zero Gravity Micro looks like it could make an interesting combat robot. It has differential steering and a suction fan to stick it down to the arena surface. The problem is the infrared R/C controller: they don't work very well in sunlight or thru Lexan arena walls. Some event organizers may not allow their use. Check with the event you'll be entering: if they'll let it run I'd give it a try.



Q: Would the GEARS-EDS heavy metal chassis be good as a 12 pound combat robot base?

A: The Gearseds HMC has been used as combat chassis (photo), but there are a few things that need to be changed to make it competitive and reliable. The motors and gearing supplied will only give around 2.5 MPH, the adjustable motor slots will need to be better secured, the battery must be held in place more securely, and there is not much weight allowance left for armor or weaponry.

For the $500 price of the Gearseds HMC, you can buy a BattleKits featherweight kit that is fully armored, fast, durable, and battle tested. I'd upgrade to the BattleKits featherweight.



Q: Hello Aaron. I'm building an ant from old toy parts, but I have a problem. I can't afford an ESC or a decent radio, and the two R/C cars I have both use car steering. The gearboxs I'm using only has the wheels sticking out of the bottom so I need a servo to use for a weapon/SRiMech. Any suggestions?

A: You've got several problems. For a start the AM toy radio you plan on using is not legal for an ant with an active weapon, even if that active weapon is only a lifter/SRiMech. Also the radio signal used by your toy radio is also not compatible with hobby-grade servos, so even if you used both of your radios for four channels of control you still couldn't get a servo to work.

Converted toys can make effective ant or beetleweight combat robots, but I think you need to start with a different toy. Browse this archive for ideas.



Q: I am 12 years old and am almost finished with building a modified BattleBots toy and I want to enter it into a competition. Are there any robots competitions in the Central Oregon area, and if so how can I sign up?

A: Check the tips for finding robot combat events in the FAQ -- question #12. Your closest antweight competitions are in Seattle, sponsored by Western Allied Robotics. Registration info is on their website.

Q: Another question: I want to build an antweight robot but I can't find anything that will stay in my budget of $60 dollars. Can you help me or do I have to save up my money?

A: For your budget I'd suggest sticking with your BattleBots R/C toy and using the cash for armor and battery upgrades. A rechargeable LiPoly battery pack (7.4 volts) and an inexpensive lithium charger will improve performance, save weight, and can be used for future robot projects as well. A lot of successful antweight robots were built from the BattleBots toys. Browse this archive for ideas and links to info on modifications.



Q: Are there any pictures of the Composite Labs flipper? How does it work? I know that they are no longer available.

A: I can't find a photo of the Composite Labs flipper weapon add-on. Their website has been down for a year and the Wayback Machine doesn't have an archived copy of their flipper page.

I never saw one of their flipper weapons in person. I can't find any record of a Composite Labs flipper ever fighting at any event, and I'm not entirely sure they ever actually sold one of the weapon kits. I'm gonna call their flipper 'wishful thinking' until I can prove otherwise.



Q: I have remote control car. I took of its wheels so now it has a gear hanging out the side were the wheel should be. I want to make a better wheel. What is a good way to make a wheel that will fit on to the gear?

A: I'm not sure what you think would be 'better', but I'd start with the wheel you took off. It already has the correct fittings to match up to the axle/gear on the car. Building a new wheel from scratch that would fit and run true is not simple and requires tools you probably do not have. There are tips on improving tire traction in this archive and in the Materials & Components archive.



Q: Could you use a robot from The Machine Lab as a sublight combat robot, like the MMP-5?

A: The Machine Lab robots are not designed for combat. The chassis is thin aluminum, the wheels are unprotected, and they are slow (less than 3 MPH). Without radio the 4.5 pound MMP-5 lists at $545, the 8 pound MMP-8 is $795, and the 30 pound MMP-30 is $4045.

You'd do much, much better with the BattleKits Featherweight. It is designed for combat, fully armored, and plenty quick. For $499 you get an armored chassis and drivetrain with two E-150 AmpFlow motors. Add battery, ESC and radio and you have a competitive featherweight.



Q: How do I modify an R/C car so I can use it as a robot? What weight class would a 2 pound bot be in? [Nate Franklin]

A: Read this archive for lots of info on converting R/C toys to combat robots.

A two pound robot would fight in the beetleweight class which has a maximum weight of three pounds. Full information on weight classes, radio requirements, and other design issues can be found in the current Robot Fighting League rules.



Q: Would it be a good idea to join 2 Inertia Labs antweight chassis together and put a wedge on the front? The speed controller would control power to all 8 motors.

A: No. First, it would have very poor maneuverability. As a bot's overall wheelbase increases compared to width, the bot becomes more stable in a straight line and more difficult to turn. You'd have a very long robot that would be easy pickings for a more maneuverable opponent.

Second, pushing power is limited by the weight on the drive wheels. Power beyond what you need to spin the wheels will not significantly add to pushing power. Correctly geared, additional power can provide better acceleration and/or top speed -- but speed has very limited use in a tight insect-class arena and the 4-motor Inertia Labs chassis is plenty quick to start with.



Q: Have there been any beetleweights made out of the 'Diesector' pro series RC toy?

A: Not that I have seen. The pro series 'Biohazard' with 6-wheel drive and a lifter was more appealing for conversion.



Q: Do you think the Inertia Labs kit is good? It seems like you don't like it that much.

Inertia Labs antweight kit A: Mark J. here: the Inertia Labs antweight kit provides a quick and durable platform that is easy to assemble. It does have a few problems that prevent me from recommending it to beginners:

  • There is very little room in the enclosed radio/battery compartment. Any additional equipment has to be hung off the outside.
  • The one-piece machined aluminum chassis is difficult to repair if it is badly damaged.
  • The price for a complete kit is quite high and some of the components of the kit (charger, transmitter) would need to be upgraded to move to a higher weight class.
If you have a specific plan for the chassis and are able to deal with the limitations, it could certainly be the core of a successful antweight.

Q: Isn't the Inertia Labs chassis $45 cheaper at the Inertia Labs website than at the Robot Marketplace?

A: The price for the bare chassis at Robot Marketplace is $25 -- same as from Inertia Labs. I don't think that Robot Marketplace has updated the prices for the individual components in their complete kit.

Q: I have all the parts to build an Inertia Labs antweight flipper. Would it be a good first robot?

A: I recommend that first-time builders keep their robots very simple. You'll have enough new things to worry about with battery maintenance, R/C system set-up, traction issues, ESC mixing, driving, radio interference, wireing, tournament procedures, and repair problems. You really don't need to add to that with pneumatic valving systems, pressure tanks, weapons channels, digital switches, complex attack maneuvers, and additional pit checklist items.

I'd suggest that you build the basic Inertia Labs platform, bolt a sturdy wedge onto it, and go out and get some experience before tackling a pneumatic flipper.

Q: Would it be a good idea to make a full body spinner using the Inertia Labs chassis as the platform?

A: An effective FBS uses as much of the available weight allowance as possible for the weapon system. You would be wasting weight to use a four motor, bulletproof chassis as the basis for an FBS.

Q: This is more of a comment than a question, but the Inertia Labs antweight kit can be bought for less than half the Robot Marketplace price directly from Inertia Labs.

A: Mark J. here: the kits from Robot Marketplace and Inertia Labs are different. The Robot Marketplace 'complete kit' has all of the components of the Inertia Labs kit plus:

  • an upgrade to the Scorpion HX ESC with weapon channel (from Ant 100)
  • an upgrade to 730 mAh Lipoly battery (from 480 mAh)
  • a Laser 4 radio system with crystals
  • an EFlight LiPoly battery charger, and
  • an Astroflight DC power supply.
If you remind Jim that the chassis price has dropped, you can also take off an additional $44 from the RMP kit price. Jim provides a great service to the robot builder community and you can be sure that he won't hurt you on price.



Q: How do you hack a Pro Series BattleBot Toy? Is it the same as the Custom Series?

A: The Pro Series toys have a much different internal layout than the smaller Custom Series, but the hack is similar. You need to disable the 'battle damage' sensor and lock the slip clutch on the weapon gearbox. If you're going to use the active weapon in competition you'll need to replace the 3-channel AM radio and motor / weapon controllers -- an FM radio with drivetrain and weapon failsafe is the minimum required for an active weapon beetleweight. The rest of the chassis and drive train are useable as-is. The Pro Series use a 6 volt NiCad pack, but I run mine on 7.2 volts.



Q: Where can you buy a Biohazard BattleBot toy now that they don't have any on EBay?

A: You can be patient and hope one shows up on EBay.



Q: I plan on building an Inertia Labs antweight. I've racked my brain trying to figure out how I could utilize a spinning disk weapon with this bot, without having motors and mounts, ect. sticking out left and right. Any suggestions? Would the Robot Market Place antweight be more compatible with a spinning disk weapon? I don't care if it's vertical or horizontal.

A: Mark J. here: how about a kit that comes with a vertical spinning disk already? The Team Thinktank VDD kit is out of production, but you might be able to scrounge enough parts to put one together. Ask around on the Delphi robot forums.

Big spinning disk weapons typically do kinda stick out all over. Based on the theory that "the best defense is a strong offense", most big spinners concentrate all available weight into the weapon system itself rather than into armor or a 4-motor drive system like the Inertia Labs design. From that perspective, the Robot Marketplace Advanced Antweight Starter Package better fits the bill. As I have pointed out here before, the Robot Marketplace packages are not as much 'kits' as just a box full of parts. If this is your first combat robot, you're gonna be looking at that box of parts and doing a lot of head scratching.



Q: How could I make a small drum for an antweight? I'm using a toy monster truck and hacking it, so I have little money, maybe $40.

A: The RFL rules say that if you run an 'active weapon' (drum, spinner, flipper, etc.) on an antweight you must run a hobby-grade FM radio and provide an electronic failsafe on the weapon channel to shut the weapon down if the radio fails. That pretty much squashes low-budget toy hacks with active weapons. Stick with a passive wedge or brick design for your toy hack and you'll be legal with the AM radio that came with the toy.



Q: I'm building a "brick on wheels" to prove to my dad and uncle that I can build a robot. I need some inexpensive parts. Do you have any tips? I have no intentions for competing and I already have three 24 volt scooter motors. Thanks!

A: Mark J. here: welcome to 'Ask Aaron: questions and answers about bricks on wheels'.

Cheap parts don't get you very far when building a combat robot, and you haven't told me anything about your expectations for this 'brick'. I'll have to make some assumptions:

  • you have very little money;
  • you want to build a simple robotic platform a couple feet across;
  • you want the platform to move forward, backward, and turn; and
  • speed and pushing power are not important.
If you're just looking for inexpensive combat robot parts, you can find builders selling used and surplus parts on the Delphi RFL Forum, but you're going to spend hundreds of dollars there to build your brick on wheels. Let's see how little we can spend to get your brick moving. My usual suggestion for building a robot on a limited budget is to start with an R/C toy, but it sounds like you have something quite a bit larger in mind. No problem! We can still start with an R/C toy and patch in a relay driven power amplifier to control the larger motors. Here's a bargain-basement electronics package and drive:
  • Grab a 'Fly Wheels' R/C toy. My local toy store is closing them out for $10. We'll use the R/C electronics from the toy for your brick.

  • Get rid of those scooter motors. We'd need to build a drive train for them that would be both expensive and difficult. Google 'surplus gearmotor' and look for DC units that spin at some reasonable speed. Drive motors from a child's riding toy would be perfect. Get two for about $15 each.

  • While you're shopping surplus, find some double-pole power relays rated about 5 amps with a 5 or 6 volt coil. Get four at about $4 each. We'll use the low power R/C motor controller output to control the relays, and the relays will control the higher-power gearmotors forward / off / reverse.

  • Run down to your local Radio Shack and get four 1 amp diodes: about $2 total. The diodes will direct the forward or reverse output from the R/C motor controller to the correct relay.
Here's the wiring diagram for the relay power amplifier for one side: Relay amplifier

Open up the Fly Wheels toy. Remove the power wires from the motor on each side. Patch the power wires into the relay coil connections of the two amplifiers as shown. Note the position and orientation of the diodes.

When the amplifiers are installed on both sides load some batteries into the toy transmitter and receiver. Push the right control stick forward. One (and only one) relay on the right side of the robot should click closed. Pull the stick back and the first relay should pop back open and the other relay should click closed. Return the stick to center and all relays should be popped open. Repeat with the left control stick.

If everything is good, hook up the amplifiers to your gearmotors and the main battery. We don't run fuses in combat robots, but a suitably sized inline fuse between each amplifier and the battery would be an excellent idea in your brick.

Prop the drive wheels up off the ground and push the transmitter sticks forward.

  • If both wheels spin 'forward', great!
  • If both wheels spin 'backward', reverse the power terminals on both motors.
  • If one wheel spins 'forward' and one wheel spins 'backward', reverse the power terminals on the backward spinning motor.
I'll leave it to you to find suitable wheels, battery, charger, and hardware. You could do worse than to start with a whole kiddy riding toy and just concentrate on adding the radio and motor controllers. Best luck!

Q: I sent the brick on wheels question, you were a great help -- thanks. I live in San Diego and the nearest robot events are several hundred miles away in San Francisco, so I might want to start my own event. I'm 12 years old and might be able to get help from my dad, uncle and friends.

A: Yes, robot combat events are a little scarce right now. There should be greater interest following the return of BattleBots to TV toward the end of this year (2008). Search the archives for tips on hosting your own event.



Q: Could I take the electronics and motors from an 'Arrow Ace Airhog' airplane, mount them on a lightweight frame, and belt drive the wheels to make a competitive antweight wedge? Should I replace the motors? It seems that the battery/charger, speed controller, and radio would be OK if the bot didn't have an active weapon.

A: All sorts of problem with that:

  • Airplanes don't back up, so the speed controller doesn't have a reverse. How are you gonna back the 'bot out of a corner?

  • The speed controller will quickly fry if the motor is bogged down pushing. Spinning a propeller in the air uses a lot fewer amps than pushing an opponent across an arena.

  • The battery is too small. Flying uses much less power than robot combat.

  • The motors will need about 30:1 gear reduction with even small wheels. You can't get that much reduction from a single-stage belt drive.
Start with some other R/C toy.



Q: Dear Aaron, I am 12 years old and love robots. I have built a Vex lifting robot for a Science Olympiad contest and won 4th place. Now I have set my sights on combat bots. I'd like to start with an antweight with a vertical spinning drum. I have an extremely limited budget ($80-$100) but want to create a competitive robot. The competition is this May. Is there any way I could do this? Please help! [pyrobug]

A: You can build a competitive antweight for very little money, but adding a spinning drum weapon creates problems. If the competition uses the standard RFL rules, an antweight with an active weapon requires a minimum FM radio system with an electronic failsafe on the weapon channel. Such a radio system, even purchased used, will eat up your whole budget.

An antweight without an active weapon can run an inexpensive toy AM radio system. Many competitive antweights have been based on R/C toys. Read thru this archive for tips on this inexpensive approach.

Q: OK, I have a Vex transmitter that runs on legal ground frequencies, but the receiver uses a phone jack and not wires. It has replaceable crystals. Now would it be posible - minus the drum?

A: Your Vex transmitter is a good start, but the Vex receiver is not compatible with combat robot components like speed controllers -- there is more difference than the connectors. Search for 'Vex' in the Radio & Electronics archive for more details.

That leaves you needing a small FM receiver, twin drive trains, a two-channel speed controller, wheels / tires, a battery / charger, a chassis, and armor.

  • GWS 75 MHz pico receiver - 20.99
  • GWS receiver crystal - 6.99
  • Tamiya Dual-Motor Gearbox - 10.99
  • Ant 100 dual speed controller - 54.95
  • Tamiya off road tire set - 4.29
That all adds up to about $100 and you still need a battery, chassis, and armor. I'm still leaning toward a converted toy if you want to be competitive for under $100.

Q: Pyrobug again: would it be a good idea to build an antweight without a speed controller?

A: If it was a good idea, lots of builders would be doing it. You're not going to save any money by doing that -- you'd still need a pair of reversible switch interfaces to control the motors, and they will cost at least as much as an ESC.

If you convert a toy it will most likely have a combined receiver/controller with forward-off-backward control for each motor. That will take some practice to get used to, but many antweight tournaments have been won by converted toys without proportional motor control.



Q: At my school we built a robot from a kit that had two motors that we attached to kind of a power box with clips and wires. The box worked as a receiver, a speed controller and a battery. Do you know what kit this was? If so, where can I get one?

A: It was probably the 'Mega Bloks Battle Bloks' set. Team JuggerBot used them for a 'build your own robot' workshop at a technology festival a few years ago to let people build custom R/C combat robots in just a few minutes. They were way cool, but I haven't seen them for sale anywhere in several years.

There are other kits kinda like that. The Vex Robotics kit includes modules that plug together to quickly make an R/C or microprocessor controlled robot. There are also several versions of the Lego Mindstorms kits with similar snap-together modules. Both of these kits have been widely used in schools.

The VEX and current Lego Mindstorms NXT kits are available thru retail outlets like amazon.com. Older versions of the Mindstorms kits can be found on EBay.



Q: Can you tell me how to reduce the speed and increase the torque on my Fly Wheels?

A: A Fly Wheels R/C toy would make a good start on an antweight if you did cut speed and increase torque. Smaller wheels and/or more gear reduction will do the trick, but neither is easy to do. I'd suggest taking the toy apart and using the electronics and drivetrain on a new chassis that could accomodate small diameter wheels.



Q: Do you think that the Complete Micro Drive Kit from Robot Marketplace would be a good starter ant platform for a first time bot builder?

A: Mark J. here: It's not even close to being a 'complete kit'. You get a chassis, motors, wire, and wheels. You need to come up with radio gear, an ESC, a battery pack, charger, and some sort of weapon. The machined aluminum chassis is way cool, but not easy to repair if it gets pranged. You might want to order a spare for your pit box. I don't really consider this to be a 'first time' kit.

Hacked BattleBots R/C Toy Q: Were can I get the 'A:1 Complete Antweight Kit' now that Composite Labs shut down?

A: Weak! I hadn't heard that Composite Labs was gone. I had been recommending their kits. They were the manufacturer and only source, so they're gone for good.

It's difficult for me to recommend any of the currently produced antweight kits for a beginner. You're going to spend $300 or $400 and end up with a marginal radio, a low-end battery charger, and a pile of parts with no specific instructions. I'm gonna go back to suggesting that a beginner find an old BattleBots R/C toy on EBay, hack the radio and drive motors, add a wedge, and go beat up some $400 'bots for $50.



Q: I'm turning a toy car into a robot. I took it apart and put the gearbox back together so every thing runs smoothly. I need to know how to use a servo to steer the car because it only has one motor.

A: Standard hobby servos will not work with your inexpensive toy radio system. You'll need to salvage the steering mechanism from the original toy car.



Q: I'm thinking of using a 'Fly Wheels' toy to make an antweight spinner. If I made a T-shaped spike on the back of toy I think I could make it spin fast enough to do some damage. Good idea, or should it just have a wedge?

A: Why not? It sounds like it could be fun to drive. Technically, it would be a 'thwackbot' rather than a spinner -- but that's good since thwacks can get by in most tournaments with the toy AM radio that comes with the Fly Wheels. Thwackbots suffer a little from the commonly used 'damage/aggression' scoring system because sitting in one spot and spinning doesn't get you any aggression points, but I still think it would be fun.



Q: Any suggestions on cheap R/C cars that I could turn into an antweight? I've got about $40 to spend. If it's possible, I'd also like to have an active spinning weapon. I don't really need it to be legal because I just want it to play around with in my garage. I know that you've said "cheap and combat robots don't go together" and I agree, but I don't have much to spend and I'm not going to be competing.

A: PLEASE do not build anything with a spinning weapon to play around with in your garage! Even an antweight spinner can cut tendons or fling a chip into your eye like a shot. Here's my suggestion:

  • Go to Ebay.
  • Search for 'BattleBots'.
  • Find one of the BattleBots R/C toys (there is one as I write this for $25).
  • Buy it.
There were a whole lot of very competitive antweights built from these toys - radio and all. You can find instructions on how to hack one for competition use in this section of the archive.

Q: OK, I bought an R/C car and I'm now in the process of designing the armor and weapons. I was wondering how I could make the tires get more traction. Also, I need a light armor that won't break my budget -- I've got $20.

A: Spend some time browsing our Materials & Components archive. You'll find posts on improving tire traction, and our Armor Guide.

Armor selection depends not only on your budget, but on your experience in working with various materials and the availability of specialized tools. You might be interested in another post in the materials archive on Garolite. Just for playing around, plastic kitchen containers can be cut up to make pretty tough and resilient 'armor'.

Q: Do you think that rubber cement will give R/C car tires better traction? It's all I have.

A: I'm guessing that your R/C car has the common flexible vinyl tires. No, I don't think that rubber cement would help for long -- when it dries out it becomes hard and stiff. A tube of silicone sealant costs about $3 and would help traction a whole lot.



Q: I've found antweight robot kits on the internet from several sources. Will any of these kits produce a competitive robot? Would you recommend the Advanced antweight kit from Robot Marketplace for a first-time builder?

A: Mark J. here: most of the antweight 'kits' on the market are simply a collection of individual components stuffed into a box. Most require additional materials and lack specific instructions on the design and construction of the armor and chassis. This can be difficult and frustrating for a novice robot enthusiast as the competitive quality of the resulting robot is dependant on getting these design factors right.

I think the best choice for a first-time builder would be the A:1 Ultimate Complete Kit from Composite Labs. The kit is well designed, entirely complete, ready to assemble, and comes with an instructional DVD covering the building process. Add-on kits for lifter and drum weapons are available to upgrade the basic wedge kit if you want to try an active weapon later on. Composite Labs also supplies on-site support for their kits at major events. The price is comparable to the Robot Marketplace advanced kit.

Update: Composite Labs is no longer in business. The A:1 kit is no longer available.



Q: I've noticed a lot of questions about the 'Fly Wheels' R/C toys. I bought one on clearance for $11. They are fast, but lack torque. I cracked it open to see what was inside: dual 130 motors and a drivetrain with some metal gears. I'm going to use the electronics with a Tamiya gearbox for a tracked antweight. Any reason not to?

A: Thanks for the info!

Some combat events do not allow toy R/C systems -- even on an antweight. The 2007 RFL rules allow robots 12 pounds and less with passive weapons to use AM / toy radios at the discretion of the event organizer. However, the rules also require a 'bot to have at least two radio frequencies available on which to operate -- not really possible with most toy systems. Check with the events you plan to enter to make sure your 'bot will be allowed to compete.



Q: I have a toy robot with two drive motors and tank steering. The right motor won't run forward, only backward. Is it the circuit board or the motor causing the problem?

A: The first thing I'd check would be the transmitter. Toy transmitters often use cheap contact switches on the control sticks that can get dirty or misaligned and result in no signal. Check and clean the transmitter switch for forward motion on the right side before you start looking for problems with the main controller board.

I don't think the motor is the problem. When a motor fails it will almost always be inoperable in both directions. You can check this by removing the motor leads and connecting them directly to a battery to check for rotation in both directions.



Q: Would a 'Shell Shocker' toy make a good bot?

A: I don't think so -- too fragile, wrong gearing, poor traction, and no good weapon mounts.



Q: Where can I get a full antweight robot kit including anything I would need to fight?

A: Take a look at the A:1 Ultimate Complete Kit from Composite Labs.



Q: Can I attach a rat trap to a Fly Wheels R/C? Have you bought a Fly Wheels yet?

A: Rat traps really don't make good combat robot weapons. They are dangerous to handle, may not be legal for your local event, and are probably too heavy to add to a 'Fly Wheels' and stay under weight. A good wedge would be a better choice.

I don't have a 'Fly Wheels' yet. Has anybody weighed one?



Q: I have a micro R/C car. Is it a good idea to just put titanium armor on the r/c car for a fairyweight 'bot?

A: Putting armor on a micro R/C car is only a good idea if you're trying to be underpowered target practice for the other fairyweight 'bots. Have you considered building an antweight? It's cheaper and you'll find more tournaments to enter.



Q: What combat robot events allow R/C toys to compete?

A: The 'toy' radio system is the problem. The Robot Fighting League rules allow 'toy' radio systems to compete in all weight classes up to 12 pounds (hobbyweight) if the 'bot has no active weapon. Check the RFL rule set for other restrictions. The local event organizer can overrule this, so check with them, too.



Q: I've got about $50 to spend on a combat robot. What would you recommend? I got a 'Fly Wheels' toy for Christmas.

A: For $50, the Fly Wheels is a good start. The rest is up to your imagination and how good you are at making things. I think I'd start with a sturdy front wedge.



Q: Can I change the frequency (MHz) on a toy RC car?

A: The short answer is 'no'. R/C toys don't have interchangeable frequency crystals like hobby R/C components, and changing from 27 MHz to 49 MHz is completely out of the question -- it would require extensive modification and tuning reserved for electronic tech specialists.



Q: How can you tell what model motor is in your remote control car?

A: You can compare the motor with photos and dimensions at robotmarketplace.com.



Q: How can I get more power out of the 'Fly Wheels' motors with out smoking them? [Garret B.]

A: So many Fly Wheels questions -- I'm gonna have to get one just to keep up!

Robot builders love to overvolt motors to get more power! The trick is to stop before you smoke something. The Fly Wheels toys have some version of the 130 size motor. That motor in the BattleBots toys could take a lot of voltage -- for short periods. How much voltage the rest of the toy will take is another question. I'm guessing 9 volts would be do-able, but more power always comes with reduced lifespan.



Q: How do I keep the wheels on the 'Fly Wheels' toy attached, but still removable for replacement?

A: I don't have a 'Fly Wheels' here to look at. I suspect you can drill a small hole thru the center of the wheel into the hub and insert a small self-tapping screw and washer. Anybody have one handy to look at and tell me if this will work?



Q: How do I attach a wedge to the 'Fly Wheels' toy without damaging the components inside? The only thing I can think to use is tape or hot glue.

A: Neither tape nor glue will work.

  • Mark the position of the mounting holes you want to drill
  • Remove the body shell from the toy
  • Drill mounting holes thru wedge and body shell
  • Fasten wedge to body shell with small bolts, nuts, and washers
  • Remount shell on toy.



Q: Where can I find a [insert discontinued BattleBots toy name here]?

A: EBay.



Q: How can I extend the range of a toy radio controller? Can I just extend the antenna length or add stronger batteries?

A: Technical question - Mark J. here: Don't increase your radio voltage! Batteries aren't your problem, as long as they're fresh. Range problems are often a result of too short a receiver antenna, or not having the antenna wire stretched straight.

Different radio frequencies have different optimum antenna lengths for both the transmitter and receiver. Try a nice straight receiver antenna first, then try doubling it's length.



Q: Can you build a hobbyweight combat robot out of a BattleBots Pro-series toy?

A: The BattleBots pro-series toys weigh about two pounds stripped down and make a pretty good platform for a beetleweight. I'd stop there. The tiny 130-size motors are awfully small to be pushing 12 pounds of robot around a combat arena, and toy radio systems are not allowed in hobbyweight 'bots with an active weapon. By the time you replace all that, you might just as well have started from scratch.



Q: How do I learn to hack toy controllers for combat robot use?

A: There isn't much to learn, and there isn't much to hack. Trace the wires -- you'll have two power leads (+ and -), an antenna wire, and a pair of leads to each motor.

Toy receiver/controllers don't come with specifications, so you'll have to guess how much power they'll handle. It's probably not smart to use motors much more powerful than the ones that came with the toy.

Also, check with the organizer of the event you plan to enter. Some don't allow toy radio systems, and others place restrictions on their use.



Q: Dear Aaron How do you hack the gear boxes out of battle bot custom series toys?

A: There was a really good description of how to hack the BattleBot R/C toy at the Robot Dojo site, but the site was taken down. I've restored a complete version from archives available from the Wayback Machine: How to Hack a BattleBots Toy [restored].



Q: How can I modify a toy R/C car servo steering motor to drive a tank steer 'bot?

A: Mark J. here: Inexpensive toy R/C cars do not have standard servos. Most just slide a magnet back and forth with wire coils -- no rotary steering servo motor to modify.

There is a good article on modifying hobby grade servos for robotics use at the Seattle Robotics Society website.



Q: What are some good toy hacks for beetle weight robots?

A: The only toys I've seen hacked for beetleweight competition are the larger BattleBots Pro Series R/C toys -- Diesector and Biohazard. Like the smaller custom series toys, they are no longer available in stores. Your best bet on finding one is at EBay.



Q: Where do I go to get a fighting robot kit?

A: Technical question - Mark J. here: Most people build their combat robots from scratch. Combat kits come and go -- check the more recent posts in this archive for sources that may be currently available.



Q: Hi, Aaron -- I don't have much money, but I'd like to get started in combat robots. What can I do?

A: You can learn a lot and have some fun by converting an R/C toy into an antweight combat robot. Lots of small 'bots have been based on the BattleBots R/C toy. Those toys are now hard to find, but if you can find one [try EBay] there is a nice description of how to convert it into a combat robot here: How to Convert a BattleBots Toy (restored archive].

I've seen a new toy called Fly Wheels that sells for less than $20 and looks like it would make a good starting platform for a combat robot.

Look around your local toy shop for something that turns by changing the speed of one side versus the other [tank steering]. You might find something no one else has used!



Da Vinci Days Beetleweight Champion - Zpatula Q: Hi! How do you actually convert an old r/c toy in to a robot? (Anon)

A: It's a little like making a statue of an elephant: you start with a big chunk of rock and carve away everything that doesn't look like an elephant.

Seriously -- there are all types of R/C toys. Some have steerable front wheels and some steer by making the wheels on one side turn the opposite direction from the other side. That later type is more maneuverable and might make a better robot, but either type will work. Just start taking off things that don't look like they belong on a robot -- the body, bumpers, wings, roll bars, whatever. Get it stripped down.

The next step is to weigh the stripped-down toy to see how much armor and weapon weight you can add without going over the maximum weight for the class of robot you want. Toys make good 1-pound and 3-pound weight class robots, and larger ones can fight in the 12-pound class. Bolt on your armor to protect the wheels and other delicate stuff. Tough plastic is good, or fairly thin metal. Bolt on a wedge or a couple of spikes and you're a roboteer! You'll learn a lot from the things that go wrong with your first 'bot, and you'll have fun. Be careful with anything sharp, and don't attack your cat/dog/hamster!

The picture at the right is my beetleweight 'Zpatula', a converted BattleBots toy. It works great!



Q: Which BattleBot toy is the best for making a combat robot? I think it is Dr. Inferno. P.S. - Can I see a photo of 'The Gap'?

A: There are eight 'custom series' BattleBots toys:

  • Blendo
  • DoAll
  • Dr. Inferno Jr.
  • El Diablo
  • KillerHurtz
  • Minion
  • Son of Whyachi
  • Vlad the Impailer
All the BattleBots custom series toys have the same chassis -- but Dr. Inferno Jr. has the largest wheels. That gives it the most speed. You can always replace the wheels for any diameter you want, but DIJ is still a good choice. If you want a tank-tread 'bot, DoAll and El Diablo have treads instead of wheels.

'The Gap' has it's own webpage with several pics: The Gap



Q: Dear Aaron, can I use a toy car steering controller for a tank steering antweight?

A: Tank steering takes two motor control channels - one for the motor(s) on each side of the `bot. A toy R/C car has a one motor control channel and a second channel that operates only the steering servo. Find something that already has tank steering, like the `Fly Wheels' R/C toy.



Q: Dear Aaron -- What are some good hacks for flea weights?

A: Sorry, but I just can't get excited about a combat robot that you could put two stamps on and mail to a competition. Fifty grams is less than two ounces. It would take nine of them to make one US antweight! Check out the Antweight Forum at Delphi for good tips on antweights, fairyweights, and fleaweights.




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