BattleBots: Coping with Carnage

If you’ve haven’t seen last night’s episode of Discovery’s BattleBots yet, you might want to stop reading this until later because—spoiler alert—we got destroyed. Poor Ghost Raptor faced off against the Robotic Death Company’s Cobalt and was left in dismembered pieces on the floor of the arena. Now that the fight has aired, and the smoke has (literally) cleared, we can tell you about what happens during and after the combat (to find about how BattleBots is set up, and how teams prepare, check out my earlier Spectrum guest post).

The first thing to know is that although there’s been several weeks between the airing of our fight with Glitch and last night’s bout, in reality these two brawls occurred on the same day. The fight against Glitch happened at 10 am in the morning, and the fight against Cobalt was at 7 pm that evening. Between time it took to get back to the pit and the time needed to check out the robot with the Battlebots folks before the next round, team Raptor were left with less than 7 hours to try and repair the damage from our first battle.

We sadly had to lose our flamethrower.

To be fair to the BattleBots producers, this compressed timeframe wasn’t their original intent, but were due to problems in getting Glitch ready (which ultimately led to Raptor captain Chuck Pitzer helping them out in the Pit) that pushed the two rounds together. The rookie team behind Glitch are such sweethearts, and we really bonded with them on set. But in reality it caused us a four-day delay. And Glitch left us with quite some damage. They busted our weapons and electronic components and took a bite out of the side of the bot. We needed to swap a bunch of things out, and even machine some new parts, and we sadly had to lose our flamethrower. Mercifully, as I mentioned in my previous post, The Pit and surrounding tents are amazingly well equipped for this kind of work. Chuck was mostly to be found in the welding tent, which had all kinds of cool welding tools sponsored by Lincoln Electric, while the others were running around working on a new configuration optimized against Cobalt.

You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but we’d just finished a very tight race against time to get Ghost Raptors weight under the acceptable limitDiscover / BattleBots

We were already quite tired: I slept only 3 hours the night before, and the fatigue may have led to us making an important mistake. One important thing when you create a new configuration is that you need to watch how it affects the weight of your robot, as it cannot exceed 114 kilograms. Knowing Cobalt’s weapon—a heavy vertical spinner—we choose to put a more beefy (and thus also heavier) blade on GhostRaptor’s horizontal spinner, and with all the custom protective parts that Chuck was welding, we totally forgot to recheck the new weight. So once we loaded Ghost Raptor up with its LiPo batteries in the battery tent, and went for the official weigh in, it turned out she was well overweight.

A few moments later we were getting scooped up and thrown into the wall. Oops! And then there was a big explosion.

We were already being called into the arena to get in line, so we needed to decide fast: a lighter blade? Less protection? We were racing against time at that point. We took off some of the protective front parts and had to remove one of the pair of forward projecting forks, so that is actually the reason Ghost Raptor went onto the battle grounds with just one, which I thought looked kind of hilarious.

The fight itself was very dramatic—and I guess made for good TV. I remember us entering and the fight starting. Early on, we were in control thanks to Chuck’s driving and at one point we were dominant, but a few moments later we were getting scooped up and thrown into the wall by Matt Maxham, Cobalt’s driver. Oops! And then there was a big explosion. Chuck is a great driver, and Ghost Raptor is a beautiful machine, but fragile when hit in the wrong parts. And Cobalt is just such a killer. Now, here Ghost Raptor was, her insides all torn out over the arena as white smoke curled and dripped out around her.

What a beautiful mess. For me, normally seeing lithium batteries fail like this would be super bad, as I work on wearable technologies. I felt little like a rubber necker at an accident, ogling Ghost Raptor’s death throes. It might have been from the lack of sleep, but I could not take my eyes off it, it was so mesmerizing. Moments later on screen you see a man emerge onto the arena floor with a large flexible smoke ventilation tube and a fire extinguisher to put an end to the spectacle: this was actually Trey Roski, one of the founders of BattleBots.

I slept pretty well that night, with the explosion still in my head.

We gathered up the scattered parts that we had lovingly put together and brought Ghost Raptor back to the Pit. To get her back in fighting condition for more shenanigans, there was actually no better place than the Pit, with all its equipment. We looked at the pile of parts on the cart and all I can remember is us all just bursting out laughing over the situation. Even the bigger parts were bent. It looked like robot spaghetti, just a bunch of junk. Did we even have enough spare parts to rebuild it?

We separated out all the useful pieces we could, working in the rough 41º C Vegas desert heat. Some parts we could use there and then, others would go back for post-show reconditioning work we just didn’t have time for. In the end we were able to recover about 35 percent of the parts we needed. Some of the scrap was given away as mementos, but a lot of it went to BattleBots’ on-site artist, David Fay. David used scrap from broken robots to make a really beautiful Trojan horse sculpture for a charity fundraiser.

During this time, Matt, Cobalt’s driver, came over to say sorry for completely annihilating Ghost Raptor, and brought a signed piece of Cobalt with him—apparently we had at least taken a bite off off it mid-fight! But for us, the long day was finally over. We did a final review of the parts we had left, and then headed off to take a shower and jump in the pool of the hotel where we discussed our rebuilding strategy for the next day. I slept pretty well that night, with the explosion still in my head, and all that happened. It felt very very relieving and wild in a weird way!


Strategy Session

On the Offense


Robot Spaghetti

Humpty Dumpty


War Trophy