5 More Things to Think About When Building a Combative Robot

5 More Things to Think About When Building a Combative Robot

Rob Karplinski - Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

By: Rob Karpinski
Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

18th October 2017

Home » Mechanical Design

We all knew this day would come. The success of the show’s revival back in July 2016 reminded everyone how much fun it is to watch homemade robots smash each other to bits. Now Robot Wars returns for Series 10 this weekend.

By way of celebrating the show’s return and the community of new robot inventors it has inspired, here are five more things to think about when building a combative robot; the follow up from my first blog back in June.



At this stage, you would have established a good team and divided up the responsibilities, chosen your robot’s chassis and materials, decided on an exciting weapon, picked your motors and steering system and drawn up an eye-catching design that will wow the audience – now it is time to prepare for war.

1. Build as much as possible before the deadline

If you haven’t dedicated a good amount of time to the assembly yet – do this over the next two steps. In this sense, the saying “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” comes to mind, give yourself plenty of time to build the best robot possible instead of rushing it in the last 24 hours. You will need to be realistic when planning and building your robot so make sure to factor in time to correct mistakes. You will thank yourself for doing so. The application forms for competitions and the hit BBC show also requires time to fill out so it’s best to get started as soon as possible.

2. Design for repair

You will take damage. Most competitions will give you time to fix your robot between arena battles but this will soon fly by as you start tinkering. Make the best use of this time by designing your robot to be easy and quick to repair. You can do this by having easy access to key components like motors and wheels for starters. Practising the dismantling and assembling of your robot with your team also makes a massive difference here as multiple people can work on multiple parts of your robot at once. The faster you can get back into the arena the better.



3. Have spare parts

Repairs often involve replacements. If you are going to replace damaged parts from matches, you ideally want to replace them with an identical model part so it’s easier to fit. Should an identical or similar part be hard to come by then you will need to become familiar to adapting fast. Bodging things together is definitely fun and is as pressured as you would expect, however, relying on these last minute “that’ll do” fixes isn’t a great idea.



I would advise having spare wheels, drive motors (these are both very likely to get damaged) and pieces of metal to support or replace damaged armour panels. Depending on the cost of your robot, it can be hard to balance what to buy spares for and whether they will be used against your total budget. A robot can be expensive enough without factoring in spares; however, if they are common parts, like a popular motor size, then you may be able to reclaim some costs back by selling them second hand if they go unused.

4. Look after your batteries

A popular choice for most robots now is Lithium Polymer batteries, most commonly found in today’s phones (except these ones are much larger). These batteries are much lighter and more powerful than the types of batteries used by builders back in the original Robot Wars series. So robots can be better protected and hit harder but can be rather dangerous as a popular phone company found out in 2016. These batteries will need to be charged with the correct charger and frequently monitored so that they are not completely run flat after you’ve finished a match.

While size and capacity of your battery packs is generally unique to your robot, brushed motors typically expect around 24 Volts and brushless motors, though rare to source, can accept higher voltages around 48 Volts. Calculate how much power you are drawing from your battery during an entire match and then ensure you have enough capacity to easily meet it.



5. Practice, Practice, Practice!

You’ve built the robot and applied but you can’t sit back and relax just yet. Practice makes perfect and you should be getting used to the controls and thinking about tactics. What methods you apply in a match will largely depend on your robot’s strengths and weaknesses but here are some general rules to follow.

Avoid the front of robots that have flippers, being catapulted into the air may look majestic but the landing on impact can be devastating
Stop spinner robots from spinning up to full speed
Don’t just focus on the opponent, use the arena fully and take advantage of any environmental opportunities to cause damage
Having a team member whose job it is to point out new tactics or situations can help give you a competitive edge during battles

The more experience you get with driving and testing tactics during practice, the better you will do in the competition. It’s also a good way of finding any problems with your robot before entering the arena.

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We all knew this day would come. The success of the show’s revival back in July 2016 reminded everyone how much fun it is to watch homemade robots smash each other to bits. Now Robot Wars returns for Series 10 this weekend.

By way of celebrating the show’s return and the community of new robot inventors it has inspired, here are five more things to think about when building a combative robot; the follow up from my first blog back in June.



At this stage, you would have established a good team and divided up the responsibilities, chosen your robot’s chassis and materials, decided on an exciting weapon, picked your motors and steering system and drawn up an eye-catching design that will wow the audience – now it is time to prepare for war.

1. Build as much as possible before the deadline

If you haven’t dedicated a good amount of time to the assembly yet – do this over the next two steps. In this sense, the saying “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” comes to mind, give yourself plenty of time to build the best robot possible instead of rushing it in the last 24 hours. You will need to be realistic when planning and building your robot so make sure to factor in time to correct mistakes. You will thank yourself for doing so. The application forms for competitions and the hit BBC show also requires time to fill out so it’s best to get started as soon as possible.

2. Design for repair

You will take damage. Most competitions will give you time to fix your robot between arena battles but this will soon fly by as you start tinkering. Make the best use of this time by designing your robot to be easy and quick to repair. You can do this by having easy access to key components like motors and wheels for starters. Practising the dismantling and assembling of your robot with your team also makes a massive difference here as multiple people can work on multiple parts of your robot at once. The faster you can get back into the arena the better.



3. Have spare parts

Repairs often involve replacements. If you are going to replace damaged parts from matches, you ideally want to replace them with an identical model part so it’s easier to fit. Should an identical or similar part be hard to come by then you will need to become familiar to adapting fast. Bodging things together is definitely fun and is as pressured as you would expect, however, relying on these last minute “that’ll do” fixes isn’t a great idea.

I would advise having spare wheels, drive motors (these are both very likely to get damaged) and pieces of metal to support or replace damaged armour panels. Depending on the cost of your robot, it can be hard to balance what to buy spares for and whether they will be used against your total budget. A robot can be expensive enough without factoring in spares; however, if they are common parts, like a popular motor size, then you may be able to reclaim some costs back by selling them second hand if they go unused.



4. Look after your batteries

A popular choice for most robots now is Lithium Polymer batteries, most commonly found in today’s phones (except these ones are much larger). These batteries are much lighter and more powerful than the types of batteries used by builders back in the original Robot Wars series. So robots can be better protected and hit harder but can be rather dangerous as a popular phone company found out in 2016. These batteries will need to be charged with the correct charger and frequently monitored so that they are not completely run flat after you’ve finished a match.

While size and capacity of your battery packs is generally unique to your robot, brushed motors typically expect around 24 Volts and brushless motors, though rare to source, can accept higher voltages around 48 Volts. Calculate how much power you are drawing from your battery during an entire match and then ensure you have enough capacity to easily meet it.



5. Practice, Practice, Practice!

You’ve built the robot and applied but you can’t sit back and relax just yet. Practice makes perfect and you should be getting used to the controls and thinking about tactics. What methods you apply in a match will largely depend on your robot’s strengths and weaknesses but here are some general rules to follow.

Avoid the front of robots that have flippers, being catapulted into the air may look majestic but the landing on impact can be devastating
Stop spinner robots from spinning up to full speed
Don’t just focus on the opponent, use the arena fully and take advantage of any environmental opportunities to cause damage
Having a team member whose job it is to point out new tactics or situations can help give you a competitive edge during battles

The more experience you get with driving and testing tactics during practice, the better you will do in the competition. It’s also a good way of finding any problems with your robot before entering the arena.

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Further Reading

Will Model-Based Definition Be the End of 2D Drawings?

Will Model-Based Definition Be the End of 2D Drawings?

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

26th July 2017

Home » Mechanical Design

Despite advancements in computer-aided design over recent decades, 2D technical drawings remain as the industry standard deliverable. This means that after designing a part for a customer or manufacturer in 3D, they will expect you to prepare drawings like these:

Click images to zoom

This way of representing a 3D object on a 2D page through using a number of different viewing angles is called “Multi-view orthographic projection; it has been the standard for engineering design across most of the world for many decades now. The 3D model is just a tool to help create the drawing views and dimensions, which are what truly define the part.

But now there is another way…

A rotatable 3D model with dimensions, tolerances, and annotations all included. It’s called “Model-based definition (MBD)” and there are some who think it is the future of engineering design. A simpler version can be seen below, just click the play button to enable the 3D ability.

As computers become more powerful, more people than ever before can open a 3D model file, like this one pictured, on their PC, tablet, or even smartphone. People can also intuitively figure out how to navigate around the model to find and extract the information they want from it.

Is it better?

To overcome the 2D drawing’s legacy of over 200 years, any new system trying to take its place would have to be far superior to encourage engineers to make such a major change to how they work. So what are the advantages?

Seeing is understanding

Trying to imagine a solid object using information from “flat” 2D views sometimes results in errors, and unnecessary mental gymnastics that are done away with when using MBD. However, standard 2D drawings already have a solution to this, which is to include a 3D orientation view.

A view like this one on the right, or even a few of them, can go a long way to helping the reader understand your drawing. 3D orientation views can be easily generated from Computer Aided Design (CAD) models.

Dimensions

MBD does make it easier to find information about a particular feature all in one place. Just zoom-in and see every dimension you need to fully understand the feature. This replaces the need of having to inspect multiple 2D views to find the various dimensions for the width, height, and depth, which might be far apart on the page. These dimensions can even include geometric tolerances (the subject of my last blog).

File types

There is no universal or standard file type for MDB yet. Different CAD packages have different file type outputs that require a specific program to be installed on your device to open. Some PDF readers can display 3D PDFs, which allow you to examine 3D models and their annotations in a slightly cruder, less controlled way.

With 2D drawings, all you need to view them is paper, which can then be copied and carried into workshops and meeting rooms, and easily annotated by hand if necessary. And when the project is finished the designs can be physically archived in your company’s filing system of choice. These days, it is common to save drawings as PDFs, which can be opened on any device, and archived electronically. And that’s the way we like it, for now at least.

Conclusion

So, as the title of this blog asks, will model-based definition be the end of 2D drawings? I don’t think it will happen soon. The small conveniences allowed by MBD are not enough to encourage engineers to convert to a new format, especially one with its own set of difficult quirks. MBD may well become more popular in the future, but for now, I believe old-fashioned 2D drawings will still play a fundamental role in engineering and my career.

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Despite advancements in computer-aided design over recent decades, 2D technical drawings remain as the industry standard deliverable. This means that after designing a part for a customer or manufacturer in 3D, they will expect you to prepare drawings like these:

Click images to zoom

This way of representing a 3D object on a 2D page through using a number of different viewing angles is called “Multi-view orthographic projection; it has been the standard for engineering design across most of the world for many decades now. The 3D model is just a tool to help create the drawing views and dimensions, which are what truly define the part.

But now there is another way…

A rotatable 3D model with dimensions, tolerances, and annotations all included. It’s called “Model-based definition (MBD)” and there are some who think it is the future of engineering design. A simpler version can be seen below, just click the play button to enable the 3D ability.

As computers become more powerful, more people than ever before can open a 3D model file, like this one pictured, on their PC, tablet, or even smartphone. People can also intuitively figure out how to navigate around the model to find and extract the information they want from it.

Is it better?

To overcome the 2D drawing’s legacy of over 200 years, any new system trying to take its place would have to be far superior to encourage engineers to make such a major change to how they work. So what are the advantages?

Seeing is understanding

Trying to imagine a solid object using information from “flat” 2D views sometimes results in errors, and unnecessary mental gymnastics that are done away with when using MBD. However, standard 2D drawings already have a solution to this, which is to include a 3D orientation view.

A view like this one on the right, or even a few of them, can go a long way to helping the reader understand your drawing. 3D orientation views can be easily generated from Computer Aided Design (CAD) models.

Dimensions

MBD does make it easier to find information about a particular feature all in one place. Just zoom-in and see every dimension you need to fully understand the feature. This replaces the need of having to inspect multiple 2D views to find the various dimensions for the width, height, and depth, which might be far apart on the page. These dimensions can even include geometric tolerances (the subject of my last blog).

File types

There is no universal or standard file type for MDB yet. Different CAD packages have different file type outputs that require a specific program to be installed on your device to open. Some PDF readers can display 3D PDFs, which allow you to examine 3D models and their annotations in a slightly cruder, less controlled way.

With 2D drawings, all you need to view them is paper, which can then be copied and carried into workshops and meeting rooms, and easily annotated by hand if necessary. And when the project is finished the designs can be physically archived in your company’s filing system of choice. These days, it is common to save drawings as PDFs, which can be opened on any device, and archived electronically. And that’s the way we like it, for now at least.

Conclusion

So, as the title of this blog asks, will model-based definition be the end of 2D drawings? I don’t think it will happen soon. The small conveniences allowed by MBD are not enough to encourage engineers to convert to a new format, especially one with its own set of difficult quirks. MBD may well become more popular in the future, but for now, I believe old-fashioned 2D drawings will still play a fundamental role in engineering and my career.

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Further Reading

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An insight from a Graduate Engineer

An insight from a Graduate Engineer

Edson Da'Silva - Graduate Engineer, Communication Systems

By: Edson Da’Silva
Graduate Engineer, Communication Systems

31st May 2017

Home » Mechanical Design

I’m Edson Da’Silva and I’m a graduate engineer here at Plextek. I joined the company in September 2016 and it’s been a fantastic start to working life. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve been working on a good number of interesting projects, which have been beyond what I ever expected to do. So here is my view of a working day as a graduate at Plextek.

As with every engineer, my day starts with coffee (it appears we can’t function without it), then once the caffeine has kicked in I prioritise my day’s work; due to the demands of a consultancy, prioritisation changes day to day so it’s important to refocus this daily.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - Edson Da'SilvaOn a normal week, I can be doing anything from assisting clients with technical enquiries, to co-writing project proposals and typing up any relevant documents. I’m involved in many aspects of Plextek’s client service, which I really enjoy; however, a majority of my work is hardware design and testing. Occasionally, I get involved with software design and mechanical prototyping as well. It’s great to get involved in so many aspects, as I get to experience other areas of product development, which I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.

The starting point for most hardware designs is a simulation. This might include testing and simulating the frequency response of a circuit. As for the circuit design, I am responsible for putting together the schematic diagram of the circuit, which gets passed over to the PCB team for the layout and manufacturing.

Depending on the nature of the project, I occasionally get involved with some aspects of mechanical prototyping. For example, the project may have a PCB that will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and will require a protective enclosure for it. My role would be to conduct some testing of materials in the lab and pull a concept together for testing purposes. Once we have proven that the concept is suitable and the whole system works well in the enclosure, I work with the mechanical design team to fully implement it into the product so that it is ready for manufacture.

Sometimes software is required to test the functionality of a hardware design, and I occasionally get to write it myself, which enables me to gain further experience and grow my skillset. While I haven’t done much software design yet, packages, such as “Visual Studios”, are very powerful and flexible, allowing for small test programmes as well as large software packages to be built using the same tools.

At any given moment, the projects I work on can focus on a wide variety of different tasks. On a busy day, I can be working on up to three completely different projects. Whilst that can be challenging at times, since joining Plextek, I have improved my ability to effectively distribute my time between projects. I also enjoy switching between projects and tasks, as it gives me some time to pull away from a problem and come back to it later with a different approach.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - EdsonAn integral part of being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is the internal engineering training program. The in-house training scheme incorporates teachings from Plextek’s most experienced members and practical tasks that look to provide training across all areas of the business. So in between project work and other tasks, I try to get on with some of those activities too.

Because the work can be so varied, it is not uncommon for me to come across a piece of technology I am not familiar with. In my mind, it’s all part of the learning curve and I often do my own research when I get home so I can learn a little more about the subject area. An important aspect of being an Electronics Engineer is to continuously progress and learn as technology evolves.

What I enjoy most about being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is that since joining, every single project I have worked on has been fascinating. The variety of the work, and the challenge of climbing a new learning curve with every new project, makes every day an exciting prospective. A big part of being a graduate engineer is the creative way in which you tackle a hardware, software or mechanical problem. I will often work as part of a team, so we can bounce ideas off each other and come up with inventive ways to solve a problem or design a prototype for example, and although it can be challenging at times, it is always a rewarding experience.


Keep an eye on our careers page for Graduate Career opportunities

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I’m Edson Da’Silva and I’m a graduate engineer here at Plextek. I joined the company in September 2016 and it’s been a fantastic start to working life. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve been working on a good number of interesting projects, which have been beyond what I ever expected to do. So here is my view of a working day as a graduate at Plextek.

As with every engineer, my day starts with coffee (it appears we can’t function without it), then once the caffeine has kicked in I prioritise my day’s work; due to the demands of a consultancy, prioritisation changes day to day so it’s important to refocus this daily.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - Edson Da'SilvaOn a normal week, I can be doing anything from assisting clients with technical enquiries, to co-writing project proposals and typing up any relevant documents. I’m involved in many aspects of Plextek’s client service, which I really enjoy; however, a majority of my work is hardware design and testing. Occasionally, I get involved with software design and mechanical prototyping as well. It’s great to get involved in so many aspect,s as I get to experience other areas of product development, which I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.

The starting point for most hardware designs is a simulation. This might include testing and simulating the frequency response of a circuit. As for the circuit design, I am responsible for putting together the schematic diagram of the circuit, which gets passed over to the PCB team for the layout and manufacturing.

Depending on the nature of the project, I occasionally get involved with some aspects of mechanical prototyping. For example, the project may have a PCB that will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and will require a protective enclosure for it. My role would be to conduct some testing of materials in the lab and pull a concept together for testing purposes. Once we have proven that the concept is suitable and the whole system works well in the enclosure, I work with the mechanical design team to fully implement it into the product so that it is ready for manufacture.

Sometimes software is required to test the functionality of a hardware design, and I occasionally get to write it myself, which enables me to gain further experience and grow my skillset. While I haven’t done much software design yet, packages, such as “Visual Studios”, are very powerful and flexible, allowing for small test programmes as well as large software packages to be built using the same tools.

At any given moment, the projects I work on can focus on a wide variety of different tasks. On a busy day, I can be working on up to three completely different projects. Whilst that can be challenging at times, since joining Plextek, I have improved my ability to effectively distribute my time between projects. I also enjoy switching between projects and tasks, as it gives me some time to pull away from a problem and come back to it later with a different approach.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - EdsonAn integral part of being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is the internal engineering training program. The in-house training scheme incorporates teachings from Plextek’s most experienced members and practical tasks that look to provide training across all areas of the business. So in between project work and other tasks, I try to get on with some of those activities too.

Because the work can be so varied, it is not uncommon for me to come across a piece of technology I am not familiar with. In my mind, it’s all part of the learning curve and I often do my own research when I get home so I can learn a little more about the subject area. An important aspect of being an Electronics Engineer is to continuously progress and learn as technology evolves.

What I enjoy most about being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is that since joining, every single project I have worked on has been fascinating. The variety of the work, and the challenge of climbing a new learning curve with every new project, makes every day an exciting prospective. A big part of being a graduate engineer is the creative way in which you tackle a hardware, software or mechanical problem. I will often work as part of a team, so we can bounce ideas off each other and come up with inventive ways to solve a problem or design a prototype for example, and although it can be challenging at times, it is always a rewarding experience.


Keep an eye on our careers page for Graduate Career opportunities

Further Reading

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