“I tend to not turn Tombstone on outside of the arena. It scares the crap out of me…” – Ray Billings, Hardcore Robotics team captain. We sit down with BattleBots’ resident bad boy to talk about the engineering behind the world’s meanest fighting robots. We also talk robot carnage. Because we know you’re really here for robot carnage.
00:03 Ray Billings leads the Hardcore Robotics Battlebots team, and is the “resident villain” on Battlebots.
00:40 Mike went to high school with Ray’s son
01:15 Ray’s robot, “Tombstone” is ranked #1 on the Battlebots circuit. Highlights here.
1:34 The winner trophy for Battlebots is a giant nut.
2:00 Ray doesn’t turn on the robot very often outside of the arena
2:35 Ray’s carnage story: he bent a 1” thick titanium plate
3:20 You have to see combat robots live to get the full experience
4:10 The first match of Battlebots 2018 should be one of the most epic Battlebots fights of all time
4:30 Ray has done over 1,000 combat robot matches in 17 years
5:00 How Ray got into Battlebots
6:25 The main robot is called an offset horizontal spinner. It spins a 70-75 lb bar at 2500 rpm.
7:40 The body is 4130 choromoly tubing. The drive motors were intended for an electric wheelchair, and the weapons motor is from an electric golf cart.
8:20 Normal electrical motors are not designed to work for combat robots. Ray significantly stresses the motors.
8:50 The weapon motor was designed to be used at 48V 300A, but Ray uses it at 60V and 1100A (at spinup). This would overheat and destroy the motor, so it shouldn’t be done long-term.
9:40 – 70-80kW at spinup, and no start capacitor. He just uses a big marine relay.
10:00 Ray’s robot has 1 second to be lethal
10:30 If there’s a motor-stall potential mid match, Ray will turn off the motor to save batteries/electronics
11:00 What’s the weak point of Ray’s robot? One match, the weapon bar snapped in half.
11:40 Ray uses tool-grade steel, so it won’t bend, it’ll just snap.
12:40 The shock loads can break the case. The weapon motor looks like it’s rigidly mounted, but because it’s on a titanium plate it has some shock absorber. There’s also a clutch system in the sprocket to help offset shock.
13:40 Ray’s robot has to take all of the force that the opponent’s robots do (equal and opposite), but if it’s coming in a direction you want vs. one you don’t want you can design-in protection.
14:40 What test challenges were faced during assembly and design?
It’s been highly iterated. There are no shortcuts for designing combat robots. You have to see where something breaks, then adjust.
15:45 When Ray started in 2004, his robot was just a “middle of the pack” robot. With years of iteration, it’s now a class-dominant robot.
16:45 Ray spins up the robot at least once before a competition. It’ll pick up debris from the ground and throw it around.
17:50 Battery technology and batteries for combat robots: Originally they used lead acid batteries for their current ability. Now, almost everyone uses Lithium chemistry. The sport is about power-to-weight ratio, so the lighter batteries have given people much more flexibility.
19:00 Why aren’t there gas powered combat robots? There are some that have flamethrowers, and there are a couple gas powered ones. However, they aren’t as dependable.
20:15 Ray has wrecked arenas. The arena rails are 1/2” steel, and Ray can cut a soda-can sized hole in them. He’s wrecked panels and ceiling lights.
21:20 Combat robot communication systems: today everything runs on 2.4 GHz digitally encoded systems. They often use RC plane controls because they are highly customizable and there are a lot of available channels.
22:00 Drive systems: the wheels & motors come together. They use a hard foam in the tires so you can’t get a flat.
22:45 Centrifugal force – not a huge problem because the blade spins in-plane. But, when he gets bumped up the blade fights gravity before it can self-right.
24:40 The rest of the Hardcore Robotics team is three people.. The team is Ray, his son (Justin), and his friend Rick. Rick used to run his own team, but has more fun fabricating and building robots than he does driving them.
25:30 There will be 6 fights/hour, and the show will be on the Discovery channel and the science channel premiering May 11th.
26:15 The first fight got leaked in some promo footage, Tombstone vs. Minotaur.
26:35 Would Ray rather fight a good robot or a bad one? Ray says “anyone.”
Battlebots 2018 (season 3) will have “fight card” fights, then a playoff of the top 16 robots.
27:50 A given frame only lasts an event or two before needing to be replaced. This many fights is really hard on the robot.
29:20 Combat robot kits are a great way to get into the sport, especially ant-weight and beetle weight kits.
30:00 Stupid questions
31:15 Ray wants to try a new hammer robot, a full-shell spinner, and a vertical spinner.
33:15 Ray is also an engineer at Intel.