Building combat robots, contrary to most preconceptions, is neither difficult to get into nor restricted to those with engineering knowledge and training - I'm a good example of that, being a geologist with very little clue about material strength who has used a CAD program maybe twice in his life! If you have a basic understanding of what the sport is about and how to connect wires together, you are fully capable of building a competitive combat robot.
Spending time reading and posting on the FRA and RW101 forums is an excellent way of finding out how to get involved, but it can take some time to wade through all the information on there, so as (hopefully) an aid to that process I present here an assortment of advice and thoughts gleaned from personal experience with the art of building and fighting somewhat dodgy robots. This is aimed at the newcomer hoping to get into antweights, but large parts of it apply equally to everyone!

The page is divided into two parts - practical advice, which is mainly concerned with how to build a working, legal, fighting robot, and abstract advice, which is best described as "a loose collection of semi-conscious rambles of little use to anyone".

"The only crap robot is one that doesn't get built" -- Jon Witte

> Safety must always come first - or, at least, a very close second - when building robots. Always be extremely careful when using tools of any description, and treat live robots with the utmost respect no matter what their size. Wear the correct safety gear, where possible test weapons when you are well out of their range, and be very careful what you do with your transmitter when testing a robot. That last clause is drawn from personal experience - don't lower the transmitter to a position where you can knock the throttle stick upwards and suddenly have a spinning weapon where you're going to put your fingers to turn the robot off...

> Read, reread, and reread again the rules. The name label rule excepted, they are there for very good reasons, especially the ones concerning failsafes and allowable weaponry, and if the rules don't save your skin they will save you a lot of disappointment as robots that break the rules will simply not be allowed in the competition, with no exceptions.

A collection of antweight robot parts> Contradicting the above slightly, if you build a robot and it is overweight or oversized, don't think you can't fight it anywhere - feel very free to come to events outside of the main Antweight World Series, or to any heavyweight event that has an antweight arena set up in a corner (most of them do). You're allowed to fight there, and you'll have a lot of fun and get lots of advice from roboteers as to how to get it underweight and within the cube!

> The size rule states that antweights must fit completely inside a 4" (102mm) cube at the start of battle. Nothing says it can't expand outside the cube once the battle starts, or indeed that the footprint of the robot has to be 4" - you can fit a 140mm long wedge shaped robot in the cube with it being perfectly legal, and most antweights make use of the diagonals of the cube to fit.

> Although other frequencies are allowable, due to the near-universal use of 2.4 Ghz radio control gear it is strongly advised to go with the crowd and use that, as heavy use of the 2.4 Ghz band causes a lot of 'junk' signals to cloud the broader wavelengths used and may make control difficult. (Having said that, if you do choose to use 27 or 40 Mhz, you are unlikely to have problems with frequency clashes!)

> Despite the number in the name, M2, M3, M4, etc. sized bolts will in fact fit in slightly smaller sized holes, which is necessary to know should you wish to 'tap' - i.e. put a thread in - as you can't put a M2 thread in a 2mm hole - you need a 1.6 or 1.7mm hole instead.

"If at first you don't succeed, you are about average" -- Rex Garrod

> Firstly, there are (or were) a thousand other roboteers' websites, a sizeable amount of which have sections similar to this one. All of them are worth reading, for the simple reason that nobody can tell you what will work for you when the time comes to sit down and design and build your own robot for the first time. Some of them might resonate more with you than others, and some of them might tell you that what you're doing or planning is completely wrong, but - within the rules, of course - there is no right or wrong way to build a robot, just many paths to success, as a quick glance at any list of competition winners will tell you.

> Don't enter the world of combat robotics looking for success above all else - unless you're incredibly lucky, it won't come immediately, and you will find that you enjoy the events a lot more if you don't see winning fights as the sole raison d'être. Seeing other teams as friends rather than competitors will go a long way towards your own enjoyment, and always be open-minded and prepared to constantly drink at the well of knowledge that events and talking to other roboteers brings to you.

> Roboteers are near-universally friendly and helpful people - if something goes wrong at an event, you will never have to tackle the problem alone. The only fighting that happens is in the arena!

Catatonia with a temporary cardboard body to check dimensions> There is also no right or wrong approach to design; don't be intimidated by people who CAD everything or produce the most amazing plans and drawings, or who can machine or print parts for everything, if you can't; robots of all types can and do win matches and technology level rarely factors in who wins.

> Everyone's first robots tend to be a lot less good than hoped for. If yours is one of them, accept this as a fact of life, and always remember there are things that can't, or aren't, communicated by text on a screen or words in your ear but will become so much more apparent to you after five minutes of fighting than they would in a lifetime of absorbing advice!

> Practice is, perhaps more than anything, the key to doing well in combat robotics. Even if you don't do much of it, learning how your robot responds, how quickly it turns, et cetera, in even three minutes of driving it around on the floor will make things a lot easier compared to blindly jumping in without a clue and learning these things as you go along.

> Luck is in effect almost as much, if not more, than ability and work when push comes to mechanical shove (how else would you imagine Jigsaw won a World Series?). With that in mind, don't ever give up or admit defeat, because the amount of times a fight's victor has walked to the arena expecting certain defeat is far more than you could ever imagine. (With that said though, you are permitted to shout 'stop!' if you know the fight against something particularly nasty is lost and wish to avoid further damage, and there is no dishonour in doing so!)

> Finally, nobody can tell you that you can't build a successful robot and win a championship. If they do, they're wrong, no matter what your ability or what their standing is. You will have problems you won't expect, and there will be moments - many of them - where it seems you can never get better and it doesn't seem fun any more, but they will pass, and as cliché as it sounds, your day will come.

> If you are building, or thinking of building, a combat robot, the very, very best of luck to you and I look forward to meeting you and seeing your robot someday. ^__^

If you think you need more help, I am always willing to provide it (although surely there's far better people!) - you can find me frequently on both the FRA and RW101 message boards, or contact me directly at joey.mcconnell@nospam.picus.org.uk.