Qualifying for Robot Wars 2000

Eventually Robin, Andy and I were all at the studios near St Albans along with SMIDSY apparently working and wearing a pair of basic spikes Robin had fabricated Saturday using bolts.

It was all fairly standard Mentorn stuff, get a work bench, fill out a load of forms most of which you'd already filled out three or four times before, get SMIDSY up on the bench on its new cradle specially manufactured by Andy, find out they couldn't get a channel fix on the new Multiplex transmitter…

…yup, we had a terrible moment where they couldn't confirm the channel on the Multiplex because its crystals weren't like any others they had experience with (ours was the only Multiplex there). Luckily Andy cleared things up a bit and we swapped in one of the new crystals that had arrived in the mail at my place Friday morning.

On to the failsafe check. One motor refuses to run and we get that 'oh no not again' sinking feeling (well I did anyway), but Andy tracked the problem down to a servo lead. We scrabbled around to find a spare, cannibalising it off of old kit and Andy replaced a servo lead. We got the technical check redone and Andy then fixed the faulty lead which had been next to the one he replaced ;-) It's 11:45 and we're up and running. Only problem, the batteries are in need of a charge.

Robin had done a bit of testing on the Saturday and then left me a note to charge the batteries as he was uncertain how it was set up. Unfortunately when I got back in the house at 03:00 and found the message, I didn't know how the new plug worked either. I'd scrabbled around and got the charger out, plugged in the plug underneath where I thought it went and shambled up to bed. Unfortunately the hole for the charger wasn't quite aligned, so nothing had been achieved while I slept.

We'd hooked up the charger for a bit while sorting the servo problem and I managed to short the leads and blow the only 10a fuse we had for the charger! Five minutes later and it's charging again with a 15a fuse and I'm hoping I have no need for my rear fog light for a while! But still, we're apparently running, fully booked in, and waiting for the off.

At 13:45 we're told we won't be fighting until at least 16:00, but one of the technical guys has taken a shine to SMIDSY and gets us in as second reserve for the afternoon session. Basically we don't get a chance to go and eat, we have to stick with the 'bot ready to fight at a moment's notice once RotoTractor (a suprisingly SMIDSY-like design) has gone in as first reserve. Sure enough, one of the scheduled competitors fails to fire up and RotoTractor is called in. 5 minutes later a second 'bot fails to start and we're in.

We follow the runner who's rolling SMIDSY into the staging area on a wheeled table. There we take it straight off of the table into a table height loading bay. Next it's out of the loading bay into a pen where all the protective padding is removed and SMIDSY is fired up. Robin then does a quick shuffle with the 'bot, a door is opened and he drives it into the arena, lined and ready to fight a huge black 'bot called Draco, armed with a lifting scoop and a nasty looking axe. We go back off of the loading area, round and up some stairs to a balcony where we're met by a crowd of around a thousand people, all hyped up. We've had a brief talk on what to do. The call comes across, 'Let the wars begin!' And Robin is shooting SMIDSY forward, Draco, caught out by the jump start also begins moving as in our speaker the count of 3… 2… 1… Activate! comes across. About the moment that Activate is mentioned SMIDSY is smashing in under the scoop of Draco and preparing for another hit. We pound in again and again, Andy on the jaw controls, Robin driving round and diving in to gash the sides, or continue to flatten the front scoop. Me, shouting directions over their shoulders.

The pit is activated, pneumatic this year it starts as a normal floor tile, but is then lowered when the crowd calls loud enough or the director gets bored. I call Robin's attention to it, he'd missed it in the melee. Draco is trying to get its axe into play, but it stops over 2 inches short of SMIDSY's top, hitting the stops on its bulkhead. Robin has turned SMIDSY and is going in with the spikes, one already bent out of shape thanks to a hard hit on the arena wall. Draco becomes less and less effective and by the time the crowd count down to 0 for the end of the round it's limping with one motor disabled. Surely we've won!

Cease is called and the compere announces the judges are not amused with our jump start. Rules can't be broken and sometimes you have to do things you don't like. My heart starts to sink once more, he then announces we have a Yellow Card. This means nothing, I'd been suckered in, I thought the bout was going to be taken from us. He continues, asking the crowd to cheer to decide the winner, bearing in mind our rule-breaking demeanor, Draco gets a poor reception of thumbs down and boo's, he announces SMIDSY and the crowd goes *WILD* :-) . Robin has disappeared down to drive SMIDSY back off of the arena, we're interviewed and blame the jump start on Robin being over eager and getting Red Mist. Somehow we manage not to swear in front of 500+ under 10's *and* resist the temptation to announce Robin just surged too early. Or put the blame down to being EvilBikerSkum!

We float down the stairs and return to the pits with SMIDSY. Fully functional, barely scratched, and a WINNER!!! You're bloody stars, every last one of you.

For the first time after running I can think of, all SMIDSY needs is a charge-up. We announce to the technical guy we can fight again if he wants us, and go to bask. Andy gets an angle grinder and takes SMIDSY off for some jaw sharpening, we tighten up the loose spike and sit and wait for the next bout.

Around 16:40 we're lined up next to Kronic the Wedgehog. It's a bright blue 'bot with a flipper and a pneumatic spike. Low to the ground and nicely built it's already won one round too. Once more we're processed through and up on to the balcony. This time Robin waits (on pain of hard stares) for Activate to be called. Once more we charge towards each other.

This is another slugging match. Wedgehog has the same turn of speed as us, we chase them around the ring trying to get spikes or jaws to bear. They are too tight to the ground for us to get under and eventually while we're pushing them from the front they activate the flipper. We are held vertical on their front armour, they flip again, a third time and we're over. Robin hits the arena floor full forward throttle selected and SMIDSY charges straight back in to the fray. We bash and push for a while and then are flipped back the right way up, once more we land and hit out unscathed. This happens a couple more times, we have had some good hits on Wedgehog, they have almost carried us out of the arena. They can't pin us, we can't do serious damage to them. Finally after five minutes of stand up battle cease is called. The crowd are consulted and Wedgehog gets a better response. Sure enough the judges follow suit and the vote goes against us.

Bubble a bit burst we return to the pits, only to be told that winning or losing that bout won't necessarily cause problems. Most 'bots only managed one bout, and some had it very easy. We'd just come out of our second stand up fight and it had had one of the best crowd reactions of the day!

After packing up I talked to Bill Hobbins, the Producer. He has final decision on who is in and for this day had no firm idea which six he would pick. Previous days he'd had no problems. We'll find out in a couple of days, but the crew liked us, and a lot of them get consulted. If we get in, all well and good, if not, today has been excellent. Finally all the work, money and sleepless nights have been repaid and we know what SMIDSY can do. Talking to the Draco team after the bout our first hit sheared the join between the shovel and its activator, a 4 inch slab of ally. We know what needs to be done from here if we get in (and we'll have two weeks to do it in!) I'll be watching the post box.