Sunday, September 30, 2018

Icewave 2018 Recap Part 6 - Rotator

Warning: This post contains spoilers! If you have not watched our match with Rotator, you should come back later and read this after watching! 

A Day to Prepare

Coming off a victory against HUGE, we felt confident that a 3-1 record would place us solidly in the tournament of 16.  At this point we did not know the exact match-ups though.  We get to work on the teardown and inspection of Icewave.  It's starting to become familiar, but very tiring, now.

After inspecting the bot, it looks like nothing failed.  Our 3D printed parts had survived and kept the red engine in one piece!  This is great news, but now we have a tough decision to make.

Our new engine crankcase has finally arrived, but it'll be a massive effort to dismantle the old yellow engine and transfer all of the parts over to the new crankcase.  The crankcase also has to be heavily modified (with a precision angle grinder) to remove all the excess material.  With not much else to work on, we begin that process.  However, we tentatively decide to leave the red engine as-is on the robot, since it seemed to be working.  Installing a brand new engine could introduce a lot of new, unanticipated problems.

We also take the opportunity to run everything again in the test arena just to be sure it's all good.  We're feeling pretty content at this point.  We have our new spare engine ready in case we need it after this match, but we'll fight this upcoming match as-is.

Icewave v. Rotator

We learned going into this match that Rotator was changing configurations.  Victor was going to add our least favorite defense mechanism, a big sloped plow on the front of Rotator, in place of one of their discs.  As usual, this is frustrating, but expected.  Without putting much thought into it, I guess I mistakenly assumed their single disc would be the one near the floor.  It wasn't until we were lining up to fight that I realized this configuration meant their disc would be raised up high on the back.  Our engine cover is only made from very thin 1/8" aluminum sheets.  This should be fine though, since our primary defense is our spinning blade anyway.  In 3 seasons no robot has done significant damage to our engine, because they just can't get past our blade.  We make our way to the arena.

Victor looking like he's ready for an EDM festival.

Angie's back!

Upon learning we made it into the tournament, Angie couldn't keep herself away.  She flew back in for the weekend so we were a complete team again!

The match gets started, and we spin up to full speed.  Our two bots clash a few times and our blade creates a shower of sparks off Rotator's new titanium plow.  Everything seems to be going fine, and we've avoided flipping over so far.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, our engine cuts out.  I drive around for a few seconds to avoid Rotator while we recover.  Alex is operating the engine controls, so he immediately hits the starter and we can hear the engine restart.  The engine dies again a few seconds later.  We haven't been able to spin up.  Alex restarts the engine a second time, and we can hear it run for a few cycles, but then it dies again.

This entire time I am doing my best to avoid confrontation with Rotator in the arena.  I ask Alex what he thinks is going on, but it's not clear why the engine is behaving this way.  Regardless, now it seems dead for good, as Alex attempts to restart to no avail.  I drive around for a few more seconds, but without a spinning blade, I know I'm going to have to face the music at some point.

I bite the bullet and drive straight into Rotator.  His disc immediately tears through our engine cover with ease, and the engine inside has been hit.  At this point, nothing else could be done but to try to show aggression by driving straight into him and shoving him around.  Unfortunately, this meant more and more engine pieces would get ripped off until Rotator had slowly dismantled the entire upper half of Icewave.

Short of a miracle, nothing would stop Rotator from taking the win at this point.  We continue driving as aggressively as possible for the remaining 2 minutes with a 5 MPH robot and no blade.  The judges rightly claim Rotator as the winner, and that ends our run at the 2018 Giant Nut!

Affectionately known as "Zombie Icewave" now.

While we're disappointed at how this match turned out, we're mostly frustrated that we'll never know why the engine died.  It's nearly impossible to investigate the root cause when your engine is spread across the arena floor in 100 pieces.

What's Next for Icewave?

Overall we are very pleased with Icewave's performance this season.  It was a drastic improvement over our missteps in 2016, and we definitely had some amazing fights.  Another season hasn't been announced yet, but we've already begun thinking what to do next.  We're excited to have a clean slate (literally) to work with.  Should we double down and build a custom engine that is more robust than the old one?  Should we do the smart thing and switch to electric motors and abandon the ICE completely?  Send us a message on our Facebook page and let us know what you think we should do!

Thanks for reading!


*** Photo Credit:  Jon Bennett, Tony Woodward, Dan Longmire ***

Icewave 2018 Recap Part 5 - HUGE

Warning: This post contains spoilers! If you have not watched our match with HUGE, you should come back later and read this after watching! 

Back in the Pit

After our frustrating loss to Skorpios, we knew we had to step it up in our next match to prove we were fit for the Tournament of 16.  At this point we don't know who we are fighting yet.  Fortunately, we now had a day off from filming to tear Icewave down and inspect everything.  We were about to find out that we needed it.

It seems like our new red engine has now succumbed to the shock like the first one, and pieces were breaking off left and right.  We also noticed half of our drive train was feeling pretty seized up.  We brainstormed for a few minutes about potential engine solutions.  The new crankcase we had overnighted from Ebay had not arrived yet due to a FedEx error.  They always seem to have the worst timing.

Having Alex look over the engine allowed us to see the problem with a fresh set of eyes.  Why were we using all of the existing mounting holes on the weak flange of the engine instead of the more reinforced, thicker areas of the housing?  Now it's too late.  The housing has lost so many pieces that it's going to be difficult to salvage.  With the event progressing and more bots getting damaged, the Tormach guys had an overwhelming amount of parts in their queue.

The Tormach guys were awesome, but they needed to learn to say "no" to some of the crazy parts.

We needed a solution much faster.  Without a spare engine, and with limited tools and materials at our disposal, we come up with a plan to 3D print some blocks that will support the engine.  Fortunately, Donald Hutson from the Lockjaw team had arranged with his sponsor, Stratasys, to have one of their fancy new FDM 3D printers at the event for the builders to use!  3D printed parts can be weak in a lot of situations, but in this case, we felt pretty confident our solution would work.  We spend the next hour or two measuring the engine, designing parts in Solidworks, and running some test prints.

The parts would be used mostly in compression, sandwiched between the engine mounting plate and the engine.  This would provide us with more mounting points that hadn't previously existed on the engine.  We decided we would also epoxy these new plastic parts to the engine housing to fill any gaps between the two parts.  Here you can see me feeling very confident about our solution.

So Many Problems

While I was working on the engine, Alex was getting waist-deep in our drive train.  After tearing everything down, we concluded that one of our drive motors had loose magnets.  This happens generally after large impacts (like in BattleBots?) and most motors can only take so much abuse.  When the magnets break free from the outer can of the motor, they can prevent the motor from spinning.  Fortunately we have two spare motors and we're able to swap one in.  We also take this opportunity to replace our little wheels, which had turned into even littler stumps of plastic by now.  Actually, come to think of it, does Icewave have the smallest wheels of any bot at this event?

I think by around 9PM, we had everything back together and the epoxy had cured long enough that we were going to try to squeeze in a quick test run in the safety arena before the pits closed for the night.  We wheel the robot outside in the dark, set up some work lights at the test box, and fire up the engine.  I ease the throttle up, and everything seems to be running great, so I continue spinning faster.  The engine is roaring at full bore now and we're pumped that it all came together so well.

Suddenly we start to hear the engine losing some speed, even though I haven't touched the controls.  It couldn't be running out of gas already! We look up, and now we see fire and sparks shooting out from the exhaust pipe, and we immediately know something is wrong.  The engine coasts to a halt and we bring it back to the pit area to assess the damage.  Somehow the head of the engine had managed to work itself loose from the crank case, and now there is a large gap between the two.  Otherwise, everything looked fine!  Honestly, how did the engine rattle itself apart at 15,000 RPM and not cause complete mayhem?

We immediately jump into replacing parts with spares we had brought to the event:  new piston, piston rings, and cylinder head.  We work like a NASCAR team and get the engine back together just before the pits close, with enough time for one last test run.  This time I should probably take it easy on the throttle.  We find out that tomorrow we fight HUGE.

Icewave v. HUGE

Huge is an amazing robot.  It's not often that we get to see very new, unique bots at BB.  And upon first glance, it seems like a design that would never work.  Then I remember watching one-by-one as they took down each of their opponents in some amazing upsets.  It became clear to me by now that their weapon had to be taken seriously. We make our way to the arena.

I look like a lobster, so that means we're in the Red Square!

We might be a little delirious at this point.

The match gets started.  I knew I had to be very patient with my driving to avoid their weapon.   I try to circle them a few times, but they rotate in place very well.  Eventually I'm able to sneak in and clip one of their wheel spokes with our blade.  Huge is still standing, but the missing chunk from their wheel causes them to get hung up for a second.  The wheel starts to collapse a bit, and I move in for another hit.  This time our weapons make direct contact and both robots get thrown apart.

Huge is now limping severely, but their weapon is still spinning and they're pivoting on one wheel near the arena wall.  I probably could have stayed back as Kenny suggests in his on-air commentary, but we're only 30 seconds into the fight, and we haven't seen any of the massive hits that are expected from Icewave.  Going into this match, I knew I needed to impress the judges if I wanted to have a shot at the tournament.  I move in for another hit, and this one rips Huge completely in half.

Photo Credit:  Jon Bennett, Tony Woodward, Dan Longmire

The Aftermath

It's always a little bit sad to see someone's creation get split apart like that.  I have to give credit to Jonathan and his team though.  They took the damage in stride and actually had Huge rebuilt before the end of the night!  Check out the chunk missing from Huge's blade where our weapons connected!

They were also kind enough to sign a piece of their bot and give it to us as a souvenir!

We decided to take a much needed break to go out to dinner.  The next day would be another day off, but then the tournament begins!  Click here to continue to Part 6!

*** Photo Credit:  Jon Bennett, Tony Woodward, Dan Longmire ***

Icewave 2018 Recap Part 4 - Skorpios

Warning: This post contains spoilers! If you have not watched our match with Skorpios, you should come back later and read this after watching! 

Kenny's Intro

It had now been about 2 days since our Yeti fight, and even though we didn't have much to do, we worked non-stop and used every bit of those two days to repair.  I'm not sure where all the time went.  The producers asked if we would be able to do a cold open with host Kenny Florian out near the safety arena.  The story was that Kenny was trying to talk about Icewave, but couldn't get his lines out because Icewave was so loud.  This was one of the more fun (and scary) parts of non-combat we were able to do.  I was very hesitant to run Icewave with everyone standing so close, but we kept the blade speed relatively slow and it turned out great.  This actually aired as the intro to the episode where we fought Vanquish.

The film crew wanted one more take but we ran out of gas.

Icewave v. Skorpios

We learned Skorpios had been adding some attachments to their bot, similar to Ghost Raptor's "De-Icer" from Season 1.  We had prepared for this with very simple solution that we call "the beak".  It is a small piece of aluminum that we could attach to the front of the engine cover to deflect the pusher-style attachments like the De-Icer.  We also had a sheet of polycarbonate for overhead defense that we were going to add, but didn't have enough weight for in this configuration

Skorpios's version of the De-Icer was made from hockey sticks!

The beak is the orange thing.  Oh hey, it's Alex!

Normally Team Icewave is myself and my teammate Angie.  Angie and I used to work together, and she's a very talented mechanical design engineer.  She is responsible for most of the CAD design of Icewave back in 2015, as well as half of all the fabrication and assembly.  Unfortunately, Angie was only able to stay for the first half of the two-week taping due to work, so I convinced my good friend Alex to fly out and take over half way through.

Alex is a seasoned, old-school BB veteran.  Some of you might remember him from Team Loki back on Comedy Central (Surgeon General, Turbo, Rammstein, and Afterburner).  He's also very experienced with engines, which made him perfectly suited to jump right in.  This match also turned out to be a Main Event, so it was really cool being able to walk through the tunnel as a complete team for this one day before Angie had to leave!

The match gets under way, and as usual, our bots exchange some decent hits.  Very early in the match, we somehow managed to hit a tiny piece of metal on Skorpios that they used to restrain their weapon for safety outside the arena.  The hit bent that metal piece into their weapon, eliminating the ability for their the arm to articulate for the rest of the match.

I knew Orion, the driver of Skorpios, was a great driver.  I now also realized that Skorpios was much faster than Icewave.  At one point we connected and managed to remove part of their front armor.  However, normally after a big hit, we are able to evade for a few seconds while our blade gets back to speed.  In this match, Skorpios was able to recover quickly and stay on top of us, not allowing the blade to spin up.

To make matters worse, this uncovered a technical detail we had been overlooking for a while.  Icewave's engine is coupled to the blade through a two-stage belt and chain reduction, but first through a centrifugal clutch on the engine output shaft.  This allows our engine to idle without the blade spinning, and allows the engine RPM to rev up into a more efficient power band during spin-up.  For 3 seasons now, we never really needed to REDUCE the throttle back to idle much during a match.

Here's the problem.  The servo we had connected to the throttle was attached in a way that allowed us to reduce the throttle low enough that the engine would stall.  I had convinced myself this was an added safety feature, in case our remote killswitch failed for some reason.  But in reality, this makes idling the engine very difficult for the person controlling that lever.  Only a few ticks on the throttle would be the difference between "too fast" and "about to stall". 

Never having been in this situation before, Angie (who was controlling the throttle) rightly kept the idle pretty high throughout the match to avoid a stall.  Over time, this took its toll on the first stage belt, which became hardened and slick from the heat.  After that, our spin-up time became much worse, so we had no shot of spinning the blade up quickly even if we had broken free.  The match went the full 3 minutes, but Skorpios had pushed us around most of the time.  The judges gave the decision to Skorpios.

After each match, all bots are required to be taken outside for safety reasons.  We don't want any damaged Lithium batteries exploding in the pits!  Here we joined the Skorpios team as they were being interviewed by a film crew.  It looks like we managed to rip off a few pieces of their wedge at least!  These guys were awesome enough to give us one of the hockey sticks signed by their team too.

You can see by now it's dark outside, so it's late in the day and we still need to get Icewave apart and inspect everything.  With a 2-1 record, a spot in the Top 16 is now questionable, and we need to make sure we're at 100% for our fourth and final pre-season match.

"Nope, scratch that!  We need you to put on a very serious face for some intro shots."

Stay tuned for our next post where we get back to the pit, see what broke, and prepare for our fourth match!

*** Photo Credit:  Jon Bennett, Tony Woodward, Dan Longmire ***

Icewave 2018 Recap Part 3 - Yeti

Warning: This post contains spoilers! If you have not watched our match with Yeti, you should come back later and read this after watching! 

Icewave v. Yeti

By this point we had spent quite a bit of time swapping our engine out and preparing for our fight with Yeti.  We ran into a number of other small problems along the way.  We noticed our throttle servo was not behaving properly, so we had to swap that out.  We didn't have many spare servos, so this was concerning.  Nevertheless, the filming schedule was fairly spread out at this point, so we felt pretty prepared for the fight.  We learned Yeti was removing his forks in favor of a large fixed wedge on the front.  This is always frustrating, because fighting a wedge means we flip ourselves over, but of course I would have do the same if I were fighting Icewave.

This fight was to be filmed as a Main Event, presumably because of Yeti's high ranking and great performance last season.  This means we enter through the tunnel!

The match gets under way, and we engage in a few big hits.  Neither bot seemed phased though, and we kept going.  Lots of sparks were flying, and it felt like an eternity. According to these pictures, we were approximately 20 seconds into the match at this point.

Then,  all of a sudden, our blade has a direct impact with Yeti's wedge.  This sends Icewave flying as I predicted.  I remember being stunned, hoping Icewave still drives when it lands.  Amazingly, we land on our wheels and we can still drive!  I try to maneuver Icewave to a safe area to spin up again, not even noticing that Yeti isn't moving.  What happened?  The driver of Yeti, Greg Gibson, is trying everything he can, but Yeti seems unresponsive.  The refs start a countdown on Yeti.

The replay of this shown on Discovery was really cool to watch because it shows how much our blade flexes on impacts like this.

At this point, it's probably worth going off-topic to talk about something I'm sure most builders go through.  Icewave, along with most of the other robots on the show, weighs 250 pounds.  It requires at least 2 people to lift onto a cart when it's fully assembled.  Because of this, Icewave spends most of its time at our shop in 3 pieces:  the bottom part (drive train), the blade assembly, and the top part (the engine).  If we're lucky, we'll get the whole thing together a few weeks before the event and drive around with the engine running.  If there is ever a point where the engine is ready to run and the blade is installed on the robot, we NEVER install the belt that connects the engine to the blade. In previous matches, we've seen Icewave flip over, explode catastrophically, and send shrapnel flying in any direction.  It is just too dangerous to run Icewave's blade anywhere outside of an arena.  All of this is worth mentioning because I think it provides insight into how I operate Icewave in the arena.

At this point in the match, our blade is getting up to full speed again and I stop driving to avoid hitting any arena floor seams or uneven areas that might cause us to become unstable.  I have positioned myself to attack Yeti again if he recovers, but he's still being counted out.  By now I realize that I haven't moved in a while, and the referees also need to see movement from Icewave to prove we're still functional.  At the end of a match, it is common practice to drive back to your starting square to signal that you are still operational.  I decide to try to drive between Yeti and the arena wall to make my way back to our square.  In doing so, I was fooled by our own paintjob (apparently) and accidentally nicked Yeti's wheels with the tips of the blade.  I didn't realize this had even happened until I turned to Greg after the match had ended and he said what happened.  A few minutes after wheeling our robots outside, Greg's team had discovered the cause of their shutdown -- a loose connection on their radio receiver.  I've been on the other end of this before, and it totally sucks.

Post-Fight Teardown

Back at our pit area, we immediately inspect our recently-replaced engine for cracks.  So far, everything seemed like it was holding up.  We had a few small things to fix, like more servo troubles.  We had to drive to a nearby hobby shop to buy more servos, then fabricate new servo mounts because of the different form factor.  We also had a small crack in our engine cover, which is a common occurrence because the engine cover is thin aluminum that I welded myself.  The builders were fortunate enough to have the support of Lincoln Electric with some really nice machines at the event.  Here you can see Rob from Lincoln has repaired the cracked engine cover within a few minutes.  He was also awesome enough to give me my first lesson and test run at TIG welding.  Their new high-tech TIG machines made it pretty easy for a complete newbie like me to pick up.  I just wish I could afford one!

Click here for our next post where we prepare for our match against Skorpios!