The Great TLC Robotica Challenge

Run Amok Combat Robotics
A Journal from the Inaugural Robotica Competition - 2001
Privacy Policy

Behind the scenes at the first Robotica competition
Privacy Policy
Back in late November or early December of 2000 I saw a little snippet of a notice at the end of "Junkyard Wars" on the TLC network. The voice-over said something like: "Visit the TLC website and sign-up to compete in the TLC robot challenge -- a new event in robotic combat."

I was at my computer in 30 seconds, went to the website, and sent in an email requesting an application and more info. I had been following robot combat for a couple of years, and intended to get around to building something. I had a notebook full of sketches and ideas, and here was an event with a deadline that would get me going. In the application I emphasized my diverse and unique background with a wide range of mechanical interests and a good story to tell for the show's "background" segments. The production company liked what I wrote, and asked me to send in some photos of my various mechanical creations. I sent shots of my Lotus sports racer, some R/C cars and robot arms -- along with a couple shots of myself. They called for an interview; we talked. Next day I got the word that I was "in".

The whole concept of the show changed a lot from the start until the rules finally gelled several weeks later. Originally, there was to be no weight limit, and the dimensions of the 'bot would be no more than a 4' cube. Events featured a figure-8 race with a jump, a maze with obstacles including a flame-thrower, and a "Storm the Castle" event where the 'bots had to break thru a wall into a castle and demolish objects contained therein while a "guardian bot" tried to get in their way. All of these changed by the time we filmed.

Two months later we had our robot 'Run Amok' ready. I had lost 15 pounds and driven myself to minor physical illness with the stress. We had been thru two visits by camera crews from RBI productions, and had endured a major crisis when I broke the steering servo just before the shipping date with no spare available. The story of building Run Amok is found elsewhere on this web site; this is the story of the competition itself.

We arrived at LAX on Alaska Airlines mid-morning on Thursday, March 1st, 2001. We were scheduled to compete the next day. The production company was running a shuttle van from the hotel to the airport and back, but rather than standing on the curb at LAX looking for a vehicle with a hand-lettered sign in the window we decided to rent a car - a bright red Chevy Malibu. We settled in to the hotel (Days Inn in Glendale), had lunch at Zankow Chicken, and went for a swim.

We wandered over to the old ABC studios (on Prospect, near Hillhurst) at mid-afternoon to see if the robot had arrived on site. The studios are the current home of "General Hospital", and other studios are used for ad-hoc projects like "Robotica". I had brought a new servo to replace the unit that had failed in filming the previous Saturday and wanted to unpack Run Amok and install the new pieces. The 'bot had shipped out the day before via airfreight. The robot was in transit from the airport, and arrived in a few minutes. Mike Walsh (assistant producer) found us, provided passes, and got us up-to-date on schedules and such. I was set to interview at 6 p.m., which would have left us with plenty of time for the evening meal and an early bed. I unpacked the robot and installed the parts without any trouble. Then we waited. Waiting would prove to be a skill that I would perfect during the competition.

Lissa and Max watched a round of figure-8 competition (the first day's filming had begun), then wandered off back to the hotel. The production guys gave me a meal ticket and I wolfed down a plate of lasagna. The interview filmings were running late: I got in aroung 8 pm. I wandered around a bit after the interview. They were having trouble with The Maze -- the guillotine wasn't working. I found out later that they had taped 'til about 2:00 A.M. but hadn't done the "fight-to-the-finish" for Thursday's shoot -- we'd have to make that up on day 2. On the way to the hotel I stopped for a jumbo combination "Rice Bowl" to go to share with Lissa.

Get it in the show

I arrived at the studio at about 8:00 AM with friend Michel Gabel. Lissa and Max would arrive later in the morning. The 'bots for the second day of the shoot were assembled for the weigh-in. Run Amok tipped the scales at 172 lbs. -- exactly what I'd calculated its weight from components.

First challenge of the day was the qualification testing. I had charged batteries the night before, so was ready to go. Eleven robots were set to test for the eight positions open that day. First, a simple 1-minute run on the figure-8. I had worried about qualifying strategy -- would the top qualifiers be matched together? -- but was told that the seeding would NOT be simple "1-2, 3-4" type. I went full for it: got five plus laps in, then lost it a bit after the buzzer and bashed the set up a little. Second best got 4 laps (Juggerbot).

For the next test, six piles of paint cans half-full of sand were stacked up in truncated triangles (stacked 2-3-4) around the course. Object: knock 'em down to one-can high. If you finished all six piles, you could exit the course and push the box from The Maze it's own length for one additional point; one-minute time limit. I got all the stacks and pushed the box with time to spare. First seed!

We got our pit assignments and were sent off to wardrobe to get our jumpsuits fitted just before lunch. We drew pit #1 and the red team patches. Our opponent was Rich Reindeau and his "Spring Breaker" 'bot in blue patches. Rich was a one-man team, and the only other car-steering 'bot in today's group. Nice fella. Spiffy paint job. The other 'bots in our group were "Mini Inferno" and "Killer B". Mini was a crowd and builder favorite. About the size of a briefcase and weighing under 40 pounds, he had been cheered on in the qualifying round where he nailed all the paint cans and managed to shove the box as well. Killer Bee was a long and low wedge with a large and well funded team behind it. It had two big rear drive wheels and a pair of omni-wheels in the front acting like castors set well back with their main axis transverse to the direction of travel (?).

After lunch we headed over with the 'bots to tape our entrances into the arena. What with wardrobe and all, I hadn't had a chance to charge batteries yet -- but had enough power to make our entrance. I ran back to the pits after the entrances were taped and brought the chargers over to the backstage area. I found a plug back by the coffee urns and got everything ready.

The Hard Way: Two Fours

"ROBOTS READY: BOOP, BOOP, BOOP, CRASH!" From the start of the figure-8, it was obvious that I was faster than Rich was. We really didn't want to damage each other, but it turned into a slugfest, mostly because Rich was having directional traction trouble and I had the power trim turned up way too high. I only completed 3 laps, and Rich only 2. I was also penalized 10 points for careening off the course. Score: Run Amok 40, Spring Breaker 20. When they turned me around for the "winners' interview" with Tanika, my remote went under my arm and jammed the throttle to full. Run Amok took off -- smashed thru a light fixture, and rammed the commentator's booth. That startled the show host (Ahmet Zappa) pretty well! Terry the tech consultant inquired as to what happened, and suggested that I shut the transmitter off next time.

Back in the pits, Rich surveyed the damage he took in our collisions. A large brick that he'd added for ballast had ripped loose and pulled his servo wires out from the transmitter. No permanent trouble. Extra zip ties and duct tape made sure it would stay put next time. I banged a few dents out of the wedge, brought the batteries up to charge, and sat back to rest. Killer Bee had brutalized Mini Inferno to win their race.

Next event: The Maze. After I loaded Run Amok up under the starting tower and "went hot", I turned to walk to the control balcony. I switched off the transmitter, and Run Amok promptly backed itself out of The Maze and flopped over onto its back on the floor. It takes about 0.2 seconds for the interface "fail safe" to decide that it has no transmitter signal, and in that time, it decided to send a reverse signal to the motor. No damage. Re-staged and left the transmitter on. The wedge was off for added clearance in The Maze.

Slow and Steady

"ROBOTS READY:" At the start, I took the teeterboard slow, and carefully pushed the box out of the way. I had a good angle on the "spinners" and moved onto the speed bumps. I got under the guillotine, but the turn to the ramp was very tight. I backed up into the guillotine again, and let it hit a couple of times while I sorted out the correct turn radius. Through! At the base of the waterfall I lined up and hit throttle hard -- still no sign of Rich. Max was on the raised scaffold with me, and was supposed to be telling me where Rich was, but all I was getting from him was "It is loosing." Was "it" me or Rich?? Anyhow, I goosed it good and flew up the ramp, slid across the wet platform, and jammed down onto the inner guardrail underneath the far waterfall. Klaxon -- we won!

Rich had run out of clearance over the speed bumps. Good thing for me, because he had a real demon start and was thru the spinners before I was at the box. Although he had planned for enough clearance to roll over 2 X 12s, he apparently hadn't included a layer of paint in his measurement. It was that close. He got credit for three obstacles. Run Amok 100, Spring Breaker 45.

Some quick calculations here: I had a 75-point lead into The Gauntlet. Rich could score no more than 100 if he won, so I needed only clear the second of five obstacles (glass, paint cans, bricks, concrete pavers, and the safe - 15 points each) to lock in a victory. Officially, the safe weighed 100 pounds. Bull pucky! I had tried to lift it and guessed more like 200. I really didn't want to bash the wedge against the safe. Mini Inferno had won The Maze after Killer Bee jammed himself in around the guillotine. Mini trailed, but could still win if he won The Gauntlet.

How I Learned to Hate the Safe

It was creeping up on midnight. "ROBOTS READY." At the go, I charged thru the glass and paint cans and into the bricks. A paint can had jammed itself under the chassis and was alternately lifting the front and rear of the 'bot and effectively neutered my charge. I'd already scored enough points to go onto the next round, but that damned paint can was working a hardship on me! Wild gyrations ensued to shake that can free and get thru the bricks. Both happened more or less simultaneously, but time was passing. No buzzer yet, so Rich must have been having trouble too. I smacked the pavers hard, and now got one of them jammed under me! My vision narrowed and my determination to get to that damned safe grew. More gyrations -- sideways in The Gauntlet. Pavers are everywhere. This is taking forever. Re-aligned, I take a run at the safe. Whump. Nothing much happens. Back up again. Whump. Hey! It moved a little! Tried just pushing -- a little wheel spin and no movement. More impact needed. Whump. Whump. Whump. Whump. Whump. Whump. Whump. Almost there! Whump. Whump. Whump -- KLAXON! I ran around to see if it was over the line... YES! I CAN MOVE THE SAFE!

There was a big crowd reaction! Terry (from JPL, the tech judge who actually ran the "competition") tells me that the last hit pushed it across at 2:59 on the 3-minute time clock. That felt great! During the interview with Tanika, I uttered what was to become my "sound byte" in the Robotica commercials: "You have to play to the crowd, right guys?" Next, on to the "fight to the finish", but our opponent was yet to be determined.

The next Gauntlet run was between "Killer B" and "Mini Inferno". Mini weighed in at 38 lbs. soaking wet. The winner of this event would face off against Run Amok in the platform plummet. Killer B got hung up along the way, and Mini actually made it to the safe first. He was ramming and actually making headway against the mighty safe, when Killer B's driver noticed that they had the motor power limit on the transmitter turned down to half. The "B" had dual electric go-kart motors putting out at least 4 H.P. each, and once they cranked the power up it was over. They won The Gauntlet and moved on.

Up to the Platform

As I write this, I haven't seen the tapes of the Run Amok / Killer B battle and, even though I was there, I'm a little confused about what actually happened. The whole Run Amok team had been in serious tactical meetings for hours. We decided that since KB's wedge was lower than our wedge (it scraped the floor), we should run without our wedge and go over the top of him when rammed. My main worry was getting trapped between the rear of his 'bot and the wall, as I was sure that his pushing power was greater than mine was. KB had an unusual arrangement of "omni-wheels" in the front, oriented transverse to the long axis. I have no idea why they thought this was a good thing, as it would give a very small axle height when rolling forward and very small resistance to a sideways shove from an opponent. In addition, the front wheels were located quite far back, which actually took weight off the rear wheels. In spite of their powerful motors, the long lever arm of the nose was very vulnerable to sideways attack. Therein lay my hope.

The previous day's filming had run long and their 'Fight to the Finish' matches had been moved to tonight. Those matches went first and they were quite similar with the two 'bots charging forward, the more powerful machine ramming the weaker into the rail, and nothing else happening 'til the rails dropped and the weaker bot fell off. While I was sitting off in a dark corner of the studio watching the fights, a member of another team came over for a chat. Their team had overheard the Killer B team discussing their strategy. Since the KB team had been bad-mouthing other teams all day and had made no friends in the pits, they decided to share that info with me. Killer B was set to scoot out to the center of the arena and stop dead. Apparently they hoped that I would charge and launch myself off their wedge. I didn't want to get trapped behind them, so decided to adopt a "let them come to me" tactic.

Sometimes You're the Windshield
Sometimes You're the Bee

"ROBOTS READY." It was getting well on into the wee hours of the morning. Max and Lissa had gone back to the hotel -- Max was worn out. Lissa had left me with one simple charge: swat the B. Horn. True to their plan, KB moved to the center and stopped. I moved 4 inches toward them -- and also stopped. Nothing moved for a few long seconds. They cracked, and rammed forward. I gave a little throttle, and Run Amok rode gently up their wedge and sat there. The next few seconds are a bit vague. I recall driving off KB, and I remember that they attempted another headfirst ram, with similar results to the first. Then, while I was turning in an attempt to get to their flank, they managed to run into the rail and stick their wedge hard under the gap between the rail and the platform. They were immobile!

I came around and planted my bumper gently on their side and waited. If they freed themselves, I was in great position to pin their nose to the wall. I heard a countdown to rail-drop -- then three rails fell down with a crash. The fourth rail was stuck due to the pressure of KB's wedge. I held firm -- tipping my front wheels to the right and back to center, telegraphing my intention to follow their nose back and push it off the edge when they backed off the rail. A crewman reached up and banged on the release mechanism with some heavy implement. Time was frozen. More assault on the release. The crewman stepped back. The rail fell. I poured on the amps.

There is a problem with tank steered robots. Directional control is dependent on thrust vectors, and some of those vectors are not under your control. I think that Killer B tried to turn into me -- hard throttle on the right side. I was applying additional factors into their thrust vector by pushing demon-bent on the left side. Net vector: backward off the platform! I couldn't believe it. Run Amok sat all alone on the platform. I very carefully took the transmitter off from around my neck and sat it on the narrow shelf in the control balcony. I wasn't about to have another run-away and damage the champion 'bot! Interview with Tanika -- I have no idea what I said. The KB team whined a bit about getting stuck. I note that they had not been in the studio studying the platform as I had. Preparation is everything.

By getting into the "fight to the finish", I'd won $500. By winning, that went up to $2000. That would pretty much pay for Run Amok, and I was very happy. It also got us a berth in Sunday's "champion of champions" match. The only additional money to be won would be for the outright win -- an additional $10,000. I had no illusions of taking that prize.

I stayed around to watch the final platform match between Juggerbot and Hamerschlag. It was a great match that seemed to go on forever! Juggerbot's front add-on wedge bent back very early in the match and seriously impaired their turning ability (they doubled its thickness in later matches). Once the rails dropped it was a kind of tumblebug match, back and forth across the platform, with Hammerschlag trying different attack angles. At one point, Juggerbot had two rear wheels completely off the platform, and was given up for dead. One little extra push would have done it, but their opponent stayed clear for fear of going over the edge with them. Eventually (this really did take a long time) Hamerschlag got themselves in a bad position behind Juggerbot while trying a new angle and went over. My voice was completely gone -- I'd been shouting encouragement to Mike and the rest of Team JuggerBot for the whole match. Two Oregon 'bots in the final big show!

The Finals

We had the next day (Saturday) off and took a little trip over to Knott's Berry Farm for some R&R. We arranged to meet our friends Mike and Jennifer Gabel after work at a Mexican restaurant near the equestrian center. Mike had been with us all the previous day at the studio and tried to keep us sane by being our gopher. We hung the nickname "Coffee Boy" on him for his efforts.

Next morning, off to the Gabel's for breakfast. Mike and Max ran off to the store for eggs and kitty litter. By the time they got back breakfast was mostly over, and I had to get to the studio. I got there just a little after eleven, and wheeled Run Amok over to the pits. No repairs were needed, but I did set up all the battery chargers and checked over the systems. On Friday, I had so little to do between matches that I would sit around with my feet up on the workbench and actually pretend to nap. This was in sharp contrast to the frantic activity in the other pits, and the camera guys loved it. Pit assignments took a while.

Eventually, the pairings were announced. In pits 1 and 2: Ram Force and Jawbreaker. Pits 3 and 4 held Juggerbot and Viper. Pits 5 and 6 were assigned to Run Amok and Kritical Mass. I liked the assignments. Kritical Mass had a carbide spike on the front, and a very nasty tri-foil rotating vertical blade on the rear. I wouldn't have to face the active weapon in the preliminary rounds, and if I made the finals, they wouldn't be there to use it on me. I was also happy not to be facing the other Oregon bot.

The production company appeared to be casting Team Force as the "bad guys" in their scripting. Later in the day, at the short "finalist" interviews, they asked me directly if I was a part of any "team-up to defeat Team Force" agreement with another team. I said that I was aware of no formal agreements between any teams to gang up on Ram Force, but that I didn't think a formal agreement was needed as certainly Team Force had become everyone's "prime target". As it happens, Team JuggerBot and I did reach an agreement a little later -- more on that to come.

We eventually got the pits organized, got our jumpsuits on, and had a little lunch (brought in to us). We all loaded the 'bots up on carts and did the whole "entry into the arena" filming thing. It went smoothly. The whole production was speedier than it had been earlier in the filming. Audiences for the preliminary shows had come in two shifts at 1:00 and 7:00, but for the finals they had been scheduled for 1:30 and 4:30. Even with the smoother running, it was pretty obvious that we were gonna run out of audience before we finished.

Aluminum versus Carbide

I was determined to redeem myself in the figure-8 race, following Friday's festival of set bashing. I had the transmitter trimmed up so that full power could only be obtained by really jamming the stick forward. I was also more used to driving from the balcony. "ROBOTS READY." Right from the start, the controls felt much better. I had sawed my way thru the corners on Friday, but was able to carve them correctly today. I was first back to the crossover, but Kritical Mass was pretty fast and was in my face coming out of their first corner. I decided to see if my wedge could get under their front lip -- at about 15 MPH. WHAM! Nope. On around the far turn I could see a big whole in my wedge. I guess they won the "aluminum versus carbide" battle. I would have bet that their stubby little spike wasn't long enough to keep me from getting under them. I just kept carving turns. I collected a goodly array of punctures, dents, gouges, and scrapes in the wedge but my last-econd headlong crash into Kritical Mass scored my sixth lap and held them just feet short of their finishing their sixth. This would prove to be a critical element as I left the race with a 30-point lead -- 80 to 50.

Back in the pits, I sent `Coffee Boy' off for a 2 by 4 to bash the dents out of the wedge, but it was Aaron who came back with a big 4 by 4 that worked great. I was able to close up the punctures and get it back nice and flat. One impact had actually bent the reinforced side-rail of the wedge. Once it was useable again, I got three members of the Kritical Mass team to sign it on the backside. Great momento! Charged the batteries and checked the systems. The chain was showing a little stretch, and I noted that for the next pit period. I pulled the servo out and checked the play. The nylocks at the ends of the bellcrank were a little loose, but the central screw was tight -- I snugged them all down and re-installed. Ready for The Maze. It was dinnertime, so off to the commissary. Rich had been hanging with us all day, and shared a table with us at dinner. The meal was a little rushed, as Max and I had to get back for something or other.

Ram Force and Juggerbot had won their earlier races against Jawbreaker and Viper. In The Maze, they each won again. Juggerbot and Viper both got stuck, and at the end of three minutes Terry decided to exercise his option of freeing them both up and continuing the event. Viper was thru the guillotine and only needed to climb the mesh thru the waterfall to win. Juggerbot was tangled up in front of the guillotine and looked as though Viper had an easy win. At the restart, Viper immediately got sideways again, and Juggerbot bashed thru the guillotine and up the ramp for the win! This effectively locked in Juggerbot and Ram Force for the final "fight to the finish'.

The Big Bouncer

Max didn't want to climb up onto the driving platform for The Maze, so I was on my own. After having Spring Breaker jump out to an early lead in the preliminary maze run, I was determined to hit the teeter-board more aggressively this time.

Robots ready I took off, zipped cleanly up the teeter and down the other side. The increased speed had the far end of the teeter-board plunging down toward the floor. It struck just as Run Amok's front wheels reached the end -- and then the board bounced back up! The front wheels were flung upward just as I hit full throttle. The acceleration added to the height of the bot's nose as we raced forward. Isn't there a plywood box around here someplace? WHUMP! Run Amok bashed into the box nearly vertical. By rights, she should have gone over backward, but the ridges on the box caught the front wheels and kept them from rolling up the vertical face. I backed up, reorganized, and shoved the box out of the way -- I was rattled. I got her around the turn, but it was sloppy and I wedged Run Amok sideways in the corridor just short of the "paddle wheels". I banged back and forth between the maze walls a few times while Kritical Mass completed the course and leapt up onto the center platform for the win.

This was not good. The score for The Maze was 100 for Kritical Mass, 30 for Run Amok. My 30-point lead had turned into a 40-point deficit. Back in the pits, I tightened the drive chain and did some calculations.

The situation wasn't terrible: if I could win The Gauntlet with a complete run thru the safe, I would get 100 point with a maximum of 60 points for Kritical Mass (15 points for each of five obstacles, with an additional 25 for the winner). The score would be tied, and I would move on based on winning 2 of the 3 events. I found out the Kritical Mass had not completed their Gauntlet run in the preliminaries (their small tires and low clearance cost them), so I at least had a good shot. With batteries charged, I re-set the controller trim for absolute full power and waited.

Red Hot and Smokin'

In the first Gauntlet run, Jawbreaker poured on serious power and won convincingly in a time of about 15 seconds. The crowd (mostly other teams at this point -- it was getting late) loved it! During the interviews, Team Force was actually "booed" for comments about how "...this was just a formality", and that they "...hadn't wanted to hurt their 'bot."

Second Gauntlet run: Viper never stood a chance. Juggerbot had the power turned up and destroyed the obstacles with a pass in 4 seconds flat. Most 'bots at the competition couldn't have run 50 feet thru thin air in 4 seconds! Those guys did their homework.

Do-or-die time. I'd considered running down one side of the course to try avoiding rubble build-up, but thought the guard rail was too risky. Down the middle it was. "Robots ready." Crash: thru the glass. Thwump: thru the cans (none got underneath this time). Crunch: over the bricks -- carrying a few. Then whap -- hard into the rail with big concrete blocks in front, and brick debris behind. Pinned. I had been running along the side of the course trying to keep up with the 'bot, and stepped closer for a look. It didn't look good. On the positive side, Kritical Mass was high and dry on the blocks, and wasn't going anywhere either.

OK: hard forward, hard reverse, repeat. Move the steering servo -- squirm! Nothing. Well, we've got amperage -- use it! Hard forward and hold (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5). Back and hold -- hey, was that a little movement? Oh yea! I got a little room and started bashing at the remaining blocks. I'd lost track of time -- hoped I had some. Thru the blocks, now have at the safe. I really hate that safe. That lousy safe stands between me and a shot at Ram Force in the fight to the finish. I took a few seconds in order to back up for a good run. [Note: a conventional wedge really sucks in The Gauntlet -- you end up pushing the whole damned wall of crap out in front of you, and you can't get rid of bricks and blocks on the ground. Go for a boat-prow.] Wham! Now were rolling -- hit it again! About four more and we got the "finished" buzzer. My hat flew and the crowd (mostly other 'bot builders by now) cheered.

Over in position for the interview, somebody said, "Hey Mark, your robot is smoking. Is that OK?" Well, no -- that wasn't OK. I ran over, brushed off the broken glass and stood Run Amok on her tail. Acrid smoke poured out of the Bosch motor, and it smelled strangely like burning pencils. I shut off the interface and radio and stepped away to let the camera guys in. I was suddenly very thankful that I had bought and packed a spare motor!

In the interview, I made a point of thanking the Kritical Mass team for being fine competitors and great sportsmen. I assured Tanika that I had a spare motor and that I would be ready for the final big event. I towed Run Amok back to the pits and took a look at the still-hot motor.

Back in the pits...

I decided to pull the chain off, and run the motor up to see if I could cool it a bit. It ran up to speed, and it actually sounded pretty good -- but it still smelled awful. Team JuggerBot came by and offered any help they could provide. The TV production guys liked that offer so much, they made the JuggerBot guys back up and do it again for the camera. Looking into the motor, I could see that the commutator and brushes looked just fine, and that the only damage was apparently a serious darkening/melting of the varnish on the windings. We had been given 90 minutes to work before the "fight to the finish", so I had some time before I needed to make the call on whether or not to swap-out the motor. I put the battery chargers on, and decided to give the motor a load test by driving Max around on it for a bit. The chain went back on. Other teams were stunned -- you've got a spare motor, why don't you put it in? I explained to the camera that I was concerned about making an error in replacing the motor and was willing to go with the damaged motor if it tested well. To actually replace the motor, I would have had to:

  • pull the top armor (4 bolts);
  • drop the motor out (4 bolts);
  • remove the commutator end-plate from the old motor (mount spot-welded onto it - 3 bolts);
  • put the end-plate on the new motor (3 bolts off, 3 bolts on);
  • swap the drive sprocket over (1 set screw and grind a new flat/pilot hole);
  • re-mount the motor (4 bolts);
  • re-mount the top armor (4 bolts); and
  • plug the wire harness back into the 4QD speed controller.

Not a really big deal, but I could rip off a wire or short a circuit in the process. I believed that the motor had a few minutes left in it, and I didn't plan to get into a nose-to-nose pushing match with either of the other guys on the platform anyway.

One of the photographers wanted to mount a still camera on Viper, and get some shots of the motor testing. I said "sure". We went out into the broad hallway outside the pits, and with Max sitting on Run Amok, we followed Viper around while the remote camera clicked away. We put enough of a load on the motor to get it warm, and it seemed to pull fine. Back to the pits and back on the chargers. I still had enough time to swap out the motor, but I didn't see any merit in it. I relaxed, and watched the other teams sweat.

One of the other non-involved teams took Lissa aside and pointed out that if I could place Run Amok behind Ram Force, Juggerbot might be able to push Ram Force up my wedge and over the railing before it dropped. Interesting -- but it assumed that Juggerbot could out-push Ram Force and the Run Amok was tall enough to clear the rail. Hmmmm. I did talk a bit with Mike Morrow, and we agreed that we would try to get rid of Ram Force and then we could settle our battle as true Oregonians -- by throwing slugs at each other.

There's Nothing More Dangerous
than a 'Bot with Nothing to Lose

OK, time's up. Ram Force and Juggerbot loaded into the arena first, with Ram Force taking the "odd" side. They had to wait a couple of minutes while I got Run Amok on the forklift and up onto the ramp to load last. I decided to stay out of the way at the start and see what developed. "Robots ready."

As I had expected, Juggerbot and Ram Force immediately went head-to-head into a pushing match. I couldn't get behind either of them because of my relatively large turning radius (Run Amok doesn't "pivot") and was left without much to do except put in an occasional "pop" to the side that did neither harm nor good. I was over in a "neutral corner", and had turned to face the center when I saw a real freight train go past, with Ram force doing some serious pushing from my left-to-right. Juggerbot had gotten crossed-up and was sideways across Ram Force's anti-wedge front device. I fell in behind Ram Force and their driver suddenly realized that his position was very poor! If they pushed Juggerbot off the edge, I would be right behind them with my wedge under their defenseless rear. Everything froze. The walls dropped. Juggerbot was thrashing tires trying to get enough traction to break free, and Ram Force backed up just a couple inches. Juggerbot caught a little traction and leapt off the 'bot catcher, only to go off the edge at high speed when they couldn't get stopped in time. Ram Force appeared to have part of his special wedge-catcher front weapon off the edge of the platform and gotten it hung up. His tires spun, but Run Amok held her ground with just the tip of her wedge under their tail. The crowd, which had fallen silent when Juggerbot took the big plummet, started chanting -- "Run Amok... Run Amok... Run Amok..." I gave full power to the very tired motor.

Suddenly, Run Amok was alone on the platform. Ram Force claimed they hit the trim button in error and drove off on their own. I think it's possible that they tried the same thing Killer B had tried -- to turn into me without calculating the thrust vector. Lissa thinks I just plain pushed them off. As I write this, I haven't seen the tape of the battle, so it's still speculation. Maybe the tape will clear up the issue, maybe not. Either way, I was not prepared for the outcome. It had never even remotely occurred to me that I might win this thing -- I just wanted to get in some good hits and maybe help take out Ram Force.

Added note: I've now seen the tape. I think Ram Force may have hung up their front scoop on the platform edge, but they didn't try any turning. Run Amok cleanly pushed them off.

The crowd went completely berserk. I have no idea what I said in the interview. Team JuggerBot mobbed me -- they would have loved to win, but this was next best. Mike from the Juggerbot team told me later, "When we went off the edge, we were really down. We couldn't believe it. Then I looked back up, and there you were -- you had him! It was great!" I love those guys. Read Team JuggerBot's Robotica commentary at their website (archived).

I called for Max to come over, and someone handed him the giant trophy to stumble in with. It must look great on camera.

We got a ramp back up to the platform and unloaded Run Amok. I was briefly tempted to jump her off the edge and save the trouble, with the forklift and all -- but she had earned more respect than that. Over in the backstage area, the entire crew had gathered to give Run Amok, Max, and I a great round of applause. Peter Margolis (who had produced our videos in Oregon) came in from the editing truck and told me about the screaming that he and the other guys had been doing during the match. We had a couple pictures taken with Tanya, Tanika, and Ahmet. The applause continued. The photographer grabbed us for a few photos with the platform in the background, and then we went back to the pits.

Team Juggerbot popped open a bottle of champagne, and Dan Danknick handed me a beer. I met the Executive producer -- Mr. Nash himself -- and we took a couple of photos for the SWOL clothing company that had helped with the Production. Max and I got a couple of nice vests for our efforts. Mike, Jennifer, Lissa and Max took off -- it was going on 4 A.M. -- and I packed up Run Amok in her carton back at the impound area. The wardrobe lady let me keep the jump suit (but don't tell everybody). Juggerbot and Ram Force had gone off to the parking lot for a grudge match, and banged on each other 'til their batteries were flat without a clear victor. Mike Morrow and team packed up Juggerbot for their drive back to Oregon, and I filled out the paperwork to get Run Amok shipped back. I drove back to the hotel in our rented, bright red Chevy and the world was a good place.

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