Beep! Ring! Buzz! - The alarm clock, hotel room phone, and cell phone all going off at once? Huh - must be 6am Philadelphia time (5am internal time) and so it's time to get up and figure out how the heck to get to the Franklin Institute for some robot combat! Hit Back after viewing an image.
Unfortunately we had plumped for an expensive-ish hotel, which naturally means no free breakfast - boo! - although there was an in-room coffee maker, so while that was percolating away we checked our bags to make sure we'd put everything away, had some coffee, and headed out. We got pretty good directions from the phone, but have to confess the roads in Philadelphia were a nightmare to navigate, so it was about 7:15am by the time we'd finally parked at the Franklin Institute, and another ten minutes before we'd navigated the access ramps and elevators with 140lb of luggage in tow, but finally we found the event location!
As we unpacked, we looked around. This event has a totally different vibe than Motorama - even though most folks are still unpacking, it seems more leisurely than Motorama typically does. It's probably just that this is a smaller event, but it's reminiscent of the old Robot Club & Grille events we used to go to back when we lived in Baltimore.
Swinging around we see some familiar faces, as well as some new ones. It's great to see new teams join the fray, and interesting to see some of the competitors whom we remember from competitions in 2002 and 2003 almost a decade later having stuck with the hobby.
Alright, we've unpacked. The next order of business was getting batteries charging, and then we need to safety the four 'bots that are ready, and finish the wiring on Nihilistic Naysayer 2.0. It's barely 8:00am, and we're guessing the event won't really start until gone 10:00am, so we have two hours to get everything squared away.
Two hours (and a couple of cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee - thanks Beth!) later, and mission accomplished. The drumbot has been wired up, and has passed safety, although we do need to grind the skids on the front a little, as the 'bot isn't sitting square, so the wheels aren't getting enough traction to drive properly.
Knowing that our fleet has been made ready, we took a few minutes to wander around and check out some of the other competitors. This amazing-looking 'bot is Minenräumer, a combat 30lb'er from Jason Ribeiro of Team Terror, who drove down from Ontario, Canada, in the wee hours of the morning. It's predominantly made of layers of wood, and the weapon is a set of chain flails.
Here's an old favourite: Fiasco, from Team Gyroscopic of New Jersey, a very successful 12lb'er and definitely a favourite to win the hobbyweight division.
This is another Team Gyroscopic creation: Catastrophic, a beetleweight with a hefty drum on the front of it.
Ah yes: Tetanus! One of the meanest 'bots in the 30lb featherweight category, and one of the ones we most want to face with Intrusive Interloper 2.0. Let's hope we get some luck in the brackets, and that match is later rather than sooner :-)
Here's another great 'bot from Team Brain Damage: Threecoil on display. It's a six-pount mantis-weight 'bot, a weight class not being run at the competition, but its' ingenious flywheel-powered flipping mechanism is pretty marvelous to check out.
We're getting closer to "Go Time", and the pits are fairly full. This row of tables houses some of the NERC officers, most of whom are getting to really compete, not having to do all the work of managing the competition, as the Franklin Institute themselves have people working the arena, etc., which is neat. Another major difference between this competition and Motorama.
Having had the usual safety briefing, it's time for the competition to begin! The first match is loading up, and we're not too far off our own first match, so it's time to get the game attitude in place, and see how we do!
While the matches start rolling, we take the Dremel-ish to the prongs of Nihilistic Naysayer 2.0 and level out the chassis. The Franklin Institute is a little more refined than the Small Arena at the Farm Complex, so we do our grinding in the Pelican case so as not to leave metal shavings all over the floor.
This was pretty neat - the Franklin Institute put out a big-screen TV, which is wired to John Wolan's camera in his booth, so from the pits you can see the action - neat! The competition is well underway, and we need to grab the 'bot and radio for our first match - Intrusive Interloper 2.0 versus O.D.W.!
The judges rightly awarded the win to O.D.W., due to Alan's much better driving, and we had some repairs to do. One of the wheels on Intrusive Interloper 2.0 had worn down to the hub, so we decided to patch it up with some foam tape and a layer of traction tape on top of that. Roughly a half-hour passed and it was time for our next match: Steel Stiletto versus Zandor - uh oh, Alan again!
Phew! No time to commiserate the judges' decision in favour of Zandor, because we're up again, this time with Nihilistic Naysayer 2.0 versus Fiasco.
That didn't exactly go as planned - the drive train on our drumbot was not up to the task, but we're going to have to check it out later, as we're up for our third back-to-back match with Belligerent Battler 1.0 versus Devastating Moment.
That was aggravating - because our tap-out button was on the far side of the arena, Devastating Moment got in a few more hits that we would have liked after the beater came off, but them's the breaks. We had some time to breathe, check on batteries, and do a little patching before our next match came up: Malicious Mule versus Swamp Woman 2.
So, it's looking like the new drive motors in our antweight may have been a bit of an over-compensation - going from the 50:1 Copals which were slow but pushy, to the 10:1 Pololus left us with not even enough torque to push the opponent, despite being able to hit a pretty high speed. We're going to have to see what we can do about that for the next match.
After that flurry of matches, it wound up that we had about three hours before our next match, so we were able to make some repairs at this point. Here's a shot of the damage Fiasco inflicted on Nihilistic Naysayer 2.0: mostly superficial scrapes, except ...
... there was also a hit to one of the 'wheels' which ripped off the foam and dinged the motor can. Unfortunately we didn't have a spare for this 'bot, so after one match we had to tell the event organizers that this 'bot was going to have to drop out. Boo!
Steel Stiletto, on the otherhand, came through it's match with Zandor just fine, despite running with one chain missing - somehow the master link in the chain broke in transit ... no idea how that could have happened <coughTSAcough>
The worst thing about the beater bar popping out from Belligerent Battler 1.0 is that we could probably have prevented it by putting cross-bars across the top and bottom of the uprights, as we had planned to do, but never got around to executing. So we decided to do it now.
We also have an issue with one of Malicious Mule's wheels not engaging with the shaft, so we switched the set-screw location, and cut a crude 'spacer' from some polycarbonate we had with us, to see if helps keep the wheel in place. Having done those repairs, it was time for our next match: Intrusive Interloper 2.0 versus Minenräumer. We put the 'bot in the arena and powered it up, but we saw no power lights on the Victor 883s - something's wrong! Uh oh - we told the judges we were using our one postponement to fix this and pulled the 'bot out of the arena. The problem was a very simple fix actually - after the last match, we had put all four battery packs in series, hoping to get more speed out of the 'bot in lieu of capacity, but completely spaced the fact that four 3-cell LiFePO4 battery packs means 4 x 3 x 3.3 volts, or almost 40V, which is way above the rating of the Victors, so that wouldn't work. We rearranged the packs back into two parallel sets of two packs, and everything was good - phew! Now, about that match ...
Now that was a fun match - probably the best driving we've done in a very long time, but not good enough to push Minenräumer up one of the arena walls and back onto its' wheels. Winning this match meant that Intrusive Interloper 2.0 has made it to at least third place! Commiserations to Jason, though, and we still think it's a great concept. After swapping in some fresh batteries, we watched a few matches, including a particularly vicious one between Tetanus and O.D.W. where the wedge on O.D.W. was completely ripped off, meaning that our next 30lb match will be against O.D.W. again, but Alan has plenty of repairs to do first!
Our next match was Malicious Mule versus Hangar 11, an antweight fresh off a victory in a Florida competition. Unfortunately we didn't get any video of the match, but Malicious Mule was completely out-driven again, and so with a 0-2 record, is out of the competition.
Alan worked wonders on O.D.W. and with the aid of his bot's 20 minute postponement was able to get it drivable again, so it was time for our next match: Intrusive Interloper 2.0 versus O.D.W. - again!
You know your driving is pretty poor, when you come away from a match in which your entirely healthy pushy-'bot has just gone three minutes with another pushy-'bot that's wedge-less and is missing a couple of drive motors, and you still don't think you're going to win the judges' decision, but actually we did! Phew! That meant Intrusive Interloper 2.0 was in the featherweight final against Tetanus! We know the event is crunched for time, though, as we were told that the "20 minutes between matches" rule was going to be tightly enforced, and we have a bit of an issue, in that we can't fast-charge Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries, i.e. they need a full hour to charge, and having just had a full three minutes of pushing, chances are we've used a fair amount of the capacity of the batteries, so we just had to put as much of a charge in them as we could and hope we break the opponent before running out of juice!
While the battery chargers were doing their thing, it was time to head to the arena again. As only four hobbyweights turned up, the competition was run as a round-robin competition in that weight class, meaning everyone fights everyone else. Nihilistic Naysayer 2.0 had to forfeit the rest of it's matches after the first one, so it was automatically in last place, having not won a single match. Zandor had technically 'beaten' Nihilistic Naysayer 2.0 and actually beaten both Steel Stiletto and Fiasco, so it had three wins, and was in first place. Both Steel Stiletto and Fiasco had one 'win' and one loss, so the winner of this match would take second place overall - plenty of incentive!
Unfortunately, despite breaking Fiasco's weapon about forty seconds into the match, the judges' decision didn't go our way, presumably due to the poor driving compared to the opponent's. Drat! But hey - Steel Stiletto takes third place! You can see from this photo that the hits Fiasco was dishing out at the beginning had plenty of oomph to them: in the bottom-right of the photo the polycarbonate inner rail cracked, so the bearing came out and the chain came off the sprocket. We'd also lost over half the screws holding the top and bottom plates on. This could have been very bad!
Right at twenty minutes Intrusive Interloper 2.0 was being called for the final. We hurredly connected the batteries, screwed the lid down, grabbed the radio, and went over to the arena. The featherweights were being run as a double-elimination competition, so if we won this match, we'd have another twenty minutes to recharge, then have to fight again. Fingers crossed!
Argh! About forty seconds into the match, Intrusive Interloper 2.0 stopped. We were out, but hey - second place! To Tetanus! Not too shabby. Back at the pit table we quickly found out what had happened. The hits from Tetanus had knocked the leads on the DeWalt motors loose, so the motors weren't getting any power. Well ... that's one thing to fix for next time!
The rest of the damage was relatively superficial with plenty of scoring of the three-quarter inch sides and rear, and plenty of notches in the front wedge. Vowing to exact revenge at next year's Motorama, we started packing up.
While we were packing up the award ceremony was held, and we received our two trophies - Third place for Steel Stiletto and Second place for Intrusive Interloper 2.0 - Yay! Having packed our bags, we left them to go and get the rental car. The Franklin Institute had two weddings going on, so we weren't allowed to leave with our stuff the way we came in - we had to drive around to the side and load from there, which proved to be a challenge. Not remembering what the outside of the Franklin Institute looked like, we got caught up in the one-way system and - long story short - it took half an hour to essentially make three right turns.
Oh, but it gets better. It was a seven mile drive back to the hotel, but our phone was dead, so what should have taken fifteen minutes turned into a thirty mile drive taking over an hour! It gets better yet - we arranged to meet up with Ed and Beth for dinner, and the place we were going to didn't exist! Google said it was there, but there not only wasn't a restaurant at 8500 Essington Avenue, there wasn't an 8500 Essington Avenue at all!
And - it gets better yet ... we ditched the dinner idea, and went back to the hotel, and ordered a Philly Cheesesteak meal to be delivered. The delivery guy called and said "I'm at your door", but there wasn't anyone there. After some back and forth we walked from our hotel (Four Points by Sheraton) to the Sheraton Suites just up the block, and voila! Food. Somewhat cold food, as it turned out, having waited an hour for it, but none-the-less we ate it, had a beer and forgot about it, and went to bed happy, with two trophies under our belt.
What we accomplished:
- Wrangled a fleet of five 'bots to a competition via 'plane
- Got all five 'bots into the arena at least once
- Achieved third place with Steel Stiletto
- Achieved second place with Intrusive Interloper 2.0
What we learned:
- We're as bad as ever in making reliable drive trains
- Aluminium shafts with bronze bushings aren't a good idea
- The Franklin Cup is a very different event than Motorama
- Driving around Philadelphia is difficult!
- Competing is still as much fun as ever
- DeWalt motor leads need to be secured - don't rely on the top plate to hold them in place
Where we go from here:
- Rebuilding some dodgy drive trains
- Minor modifications to most 'bots
- Receiving our Hexy the Hexapod kit
- Revving up for Motorama 2013!