You Pass the Butter

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Last year at the Northside Maker Faire I met Adrian Choy, Lead Robotics Specialist at Museum of Science and Industry. Last month he got in touch with me about his amazing robotic competition, Robot Riot. I think Adrian's Quote about Robot Riot sums up the competition nicely.

If the DARPA Challenges can be considered the Olympics and Battlebots can be considered boxing then ultimately I want people to consider Robot Riot as Wrestlemania.

Based on the Hebocon competition, Robot Riot is a sumo style competition where 2 robots compete to push each other out of the ring - but that's where the similarities to a standard sumo competition end. First of all, pushing the competitor out of the ring does not guarantee a win - the crowd is the final kingmaker in this competition. This means that your robot needs style and needs to put on an amazing show. The Riot emphasizes artistry, grandstanding, showmanship and craziness.

I had been planning on going to The Riot all month, but I've been running around like crazy between trips and work, so I wasn't sure if I was going to try to compete or not. The Wednesday before the Riot, Wade and I decided to give it a shot and see if we could put together something functional for Saturday.

We talked about a lot of different possibilities - from a dog robot to a crawler robot. Back when I was testing the RoboTurret, I had it accidentally fall over and start crawling away. I thought it would be funny to have a turret crawl around the ring like a snake (something I accidentally figured out you can do with a pan/tilt turret while testing some of ours at Trossen).

We started sketching a robot and discussing 'personas' that we could dress up as. I was just about ready to dress up as Tiger Millionaire when we hit upon the idea of the idea of building the Butter Robot from Rick and Morty. Of course our our robot wouldn't be your run of the mill butter robot, no the plan was to build The Butter Buster

Obviously this would mean that Wade would be dressing up as Rick and I would be dressing up as Morty. A couple of Amazon orders and a goodwill trip later, Wade and I were ready. Special thanks to Kit for styling the Rick wig, she did an awesome job.

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The robot build turned out to be pretty basic. For the mobile platform we 'borrowed' a Surveyor SRV-1 from the Trossen Museum. I made a super basic plate in Tinkercad to adapt the surveyor to a RobotGeek bracket. I also made a hole that we could put a bluetooth speaker in to give the robot some jams. (We played with the idea of adding an MP3 module right onto the robot, but ended up deciding against it for time and control constraints). The rest of the endoskeleton was 4 RobotGeek Servos (roll, tilt, 2 arms) cobbled together with C-brackets and side brackets. The arms are made out of aluminum standoffs and right angle brackets.

For electronics we've got an Arduino Pro Mini controlling everything, powered by a little 7.4 LiPo. A little dual 1A motor driver is enough to push the motors in the SRV-1. Luckily the servos and drive motors were all happy in the LiPo's 6.6-8.4 battery range. To add a little show we've got a WS2812B RGB LED (A.K.A. Neopixel) for the robot's 'eye' and LED Driver connected to the red led on the top of the 'bot.

The mini gets its marching orders from an ArbotiX Commander via an XBee link. The commander hardware and library made it a cinch to control the robot.

The Butter Buster Firmware is pretty basic - the firmware reads from the commander to directly control the servo motors. There's a little bit of hacky drive control to let the robot get driven from a single analog (instead of tank control). The neopixel changes color as the robot moves forward/backwards/turns.

Wade used his extensive experience with EVA foam to build an awesome head for our robot that fits directly over the endoskeleton. A hole for our salvaged camera lens and some wires for the top of the head finished the look.

Butter Buster is by no means the best designed robot. The initial run actually had the power switch on the back, so it would fall over and power off. Even after that was fixed, the balance was during operation was a little tricky. To rotate without too much roughness you need to tilt the head forward just right, and falling over was still a hazard. Despite that it's a capable enough robot, and Wade even figured out some good ways to get back up from a fall with the tilt and roll servo. Really, he didn't even need to, as he could still drive around even after falling down. I think the wonky-ness was part of it's Robot Riot Charm.

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The event itself was a total blast. Adrian came in an awesome referee shirt and started things off right with a Piezo Buzzer rendition of out national anthem. Other competitors included 'Ham Immanuel', a walking pig robot, and 'Knife to Meet You' a vibrating robot with a knife attached. Check out the video to see all of our fights in action. I'm hoping to get a copy of the live stream from Adrian soon.

Butter Buster performed all night admirably. In the first match we did manage to burn out our roll servo, but a pair of wire cutters and some tape got the Butter Buster back in fighting shape (without roll capabilities that is.) Before each match, Wade (our designated pilot) had to take a shot of J├Ągermeister, and while he was certainly drunk by the end of the night, he too did a great job, piloting the robot as effectively as he could have. We won our first 3 matches, and in true Hebocon style we attached Bowie Bot's head and limbs and 'america bot's flags to Butter Buster, upgrading him into the 'Young American'. In the end we got pushed out of the arena by 'A Bot Named Slickback', a pencil-case bodied, 4-cell LiPo monster of a rover. This robot actually ran itself off the stage after every fight except ours. But I'm still proud of our little butter busting robot.

So what's next for the Butter Buster? Who knows, maybe we'll make the con circuit, or put him in the next Robot Riot. Until then, he sits on the shelf, watching, waiting, ready to pass the butter and bring the pain.

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