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Reviews of Robot Combat Books
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Kickin' 'Bot -- Grant Imahara's Grant Imahara's book, Kickin' Bot. Kickin' 'Bot is a very ambitious piece of work. It's a big book -- 500 large pages packed with drawings, tables, and entertaining inserts. The book provides full plans and complete instructions for building a simple and very durable featherweight combat robot that could certainly be the basis for a variety of competitive applications.

Chapters cover absolutely every aspect of 'bot creation: tool selection and use, design methods and considerations, weapon systems, material selection, component comparisons, testing, troubleshooting, R/C programming, preparation for competition, keeping your head working at a tournament, revisions, and even a little philosophy about competition. If it isn't covered here, you don't need it to build a 'bot.

The author holds back no secrets. Every few pages I came across some golden bit of information that had cost me untold time, effort, and cash to unearth the hard way. My copy won't sit on a library shelf -- it will reside dog-eared and grease-stained on my workbench. Highest recommendation!

Gearheads Book Cover Gearheads -- The other 'must read' on robotic combat is a very different type of book: Gearheads, by Brad Stone. On the surface, this book is a history of the rise of combat robots from their early underground roots to international media phenomenon. It's also a story about what happens to people when large chunks of money become involved.

It's all here -- the early Robot Wars competitions in San Francisco, the clash between the creative and business aspects of robot combat, the legal turmoil, the personalities, the excitement... I locked myself in a quiet room and read the book cover-to-cover. Food crumbs on the pages mark where I grabbed a quick snack while continuing to read!

Anyone with an interest in the story behind combat robots needs to read this book. It is a fascinating read, and does a fine job of keeping all the parties involved very human. Highly recommended!

RioBotz Tutorial Cover RioBotz Combat Robot Tutorial -- This has to be the biggest bargain in combat robotics books. The highly technical 367 page volume is available for free viewing or download as a PDF file at the RioBotz website. If you'd prefer a hardcopy you can order one from Amazon for $10.

The successful RioBotz robotics team claims, "In this document, you will learn the fundamentals to build combat robots, including materials selection, motors, electronics, weapon design, and much more." The technical details can get very deep for non-engineers, but there is enough here for any combat robot builder to pick thru and gain useful information. The authors have some strong opinions that are not shared by all builders, although the team's success speaks well of their approach. Packed with photos, illustrations, charts, and formulas -- highly recommended.

Combat Robot: Weapons Book CoverCombat Robot: Weapons -- Combat Robot: Weapons is the second book in the series from Chris Hannold, the first being Combat Robots: Complete, which claimed to have "everything you need to build, compete, and win!"

Both books come with a CD-ROM of bonus material. The CD with this book contains useful charts, evaluation versions of design software, suggested internet links, and robot combat videos. It adds much to the package, although the material is not well integrated with the text.

The book itself is a good read. Chris writes about his combat experiences, dicusses the various types of robotic weapons, and gives a bit of philosophy on robot design. You won't find pages of formulae to calculate energy transfer or mechanical force here. Neither will you find detailed information on building any specific type of weapon for your application. You will find advice that took Chris a long time to accumulate during his career in combat robotics.

I first met Chris at the Robotica competition. His entire team is very personable, and they have a great deal of experience in robotic combat. The book is worthwhile just to read and ponder over. It is also available from remainder book dealers at a very good price! Recommended.

Build Your Own Combat Robot Book CoverBuild Your Own Combat Robot -- You might reasonably believe from the title of this book that it is a book of plans and instructions for building a combat robot. It isn't, but that doesn't make it bad.

This is a big book (381 pages) that does cover a wide range of combat robot topics: history, drivetrains, motors, batteries, motor controllers, radio systems, construction, materials, and weaponry. There are also unexpected chapters on autonomous 'bots, microcontrollers, and mini-sumo robots. Scattered throughout the book are brief interviews with well-known combat robot builders that are particularly interesting. There are plenty of very good photos, and a good number of tables, graphs, useful appendicies, and a very complete index. The overall design and editing of the book are very good.

On the negative side, the level of detail and technical data varies greatly from chapter to chapter. Some chapters are almost entirely theoretical, while other chapters provide only high-level practical overviews. There is also quite a bit of opinion mixed in with the practical data, and it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. Published in 2002, the lists of suppliers and web links are now largely outdated, and there is no specific information on the currently popular sub-lightweight robot classes.

I can recommend Build Your Own Combat Robot by Pete Miles and Tom Carroll for readers who have an interest in building a large combat robot and who want to comprehend the range of knowledge and skills that such a project requires. It is an entertaining book to browse and read, but I don't think an average new builder could construct a competitive robot from the information supplied.

Building Bots Book CoverBuilding Bots -- William Gurstelle writes books on fringe homebuilder technology: potato cannons, catapults, and now robots. Mr. Gurstelle does not have much experience in the field of robot building -- he claims to have written the book because of his frustration in trying to gather information into a friendly and useful format from the internet.

The book is friendly and readable. If you're having trouble with the level of technology in other books on this subject, you might find the style here more to your liking. The author's relative lack of experience leads him to cover some areas that other authors assume the reader would already know. The glossary even has a deffinition for 'goatscrew'.

On the minus side, the photos in Building Bots are generally of little-known robots from Minnesota, are not accompanied by useful descriptions, and are each printed several times in different locations. It isn't like photos of combat robots are hard to come by!

See if you can find a copy of this book in your local library before you buy.

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