RoboGames 2008 Report

I’m really not sure where to start with my RoboGames coverage – the weekend was jammed packed full of interesting people and cool things – like talking with the machinist who worked on the NPC motors many of us use in our droids, to hanging out with the Orb Swarm folks or Grant Imahara from Mythbusters, or getting some inside info from the engineer who maintains the machines that spin our aluminum domes. Artoo even got in on some battle bot action in the arena and lived to tell the tail.

The event is held at Fort Mason in San Francisco each year and attracts thousands of people from all over the world. I was in attendance all 3 days with support from my friend Richard, and Gerard was there on Saturday with his R2.

The games themselves cover everything from the traditional battle bot arena tournaments, to robot soccer and sumo fighting. There are also special categories for art and bar tending robots. Maybe next year I’ll enter Artoo into the latter. In total there were 70 different competitive categories.

Artoo was a big crowd pleaser as usual, and many photos were taken with his admiring fans. My favorite was this one I found on Flickr by inkyhack.

Our friends at Nuts and Volts / Servo Magazine were also in attendance, and they graciously allowed us to share their booth space and a spot to charge our batteries.

I’d posted earlier about Artoo entering the arena. Here he is “battling” Last Rites and Vlad the Impaler II.

One of the things I love about events like this, rather than a regular media/sci-fi convention, is networking, sharing ideas and learning from people who are into technology. For example, I got to talk with the creators of the Orb Swarm. These are gigantic steel balls filled with lights and sound that seem to roll around aimlessly. I first saw them at Maker Faire and was instantly mesmerized by them.

They’re incredibly cool and everything about them is “open source”, from the physical plans and electronic to the software that runs them. The most interesting thing about them to me was the wireless controllers which are based on Xbee. I’m still reading over the info in their wiki, and will hopefully talk to them in the future to see if we can replicate the system for us in some Artoo’s.

Here’s a short video of orbs in action

Artoo also got to play soccer with one of them 🙂

I also met Pierre and John from Team Claymore who work at Kerner Optical (the old ILM model shop). Grant Imahara from Mythbusters was also there on Saturday and we all hung out and talked droid for a while.



I-Wei from Crabfu and creator of the Steampunk R2 was also there and we stop on by for a photo op

TechShop also had a booth, and I got to hang out with founder as well as some of the employees. We’re hoping we can organize some special builders events at the Menlo Park location soon.

One of the best things about the event was talking with with the battle bot folks. They’re a wealth of knowledge and many of technologies they use can be directly applied to R2 building. Gerard and I hung out with a gentleman called Mutt for a while. He had a combat robot in games and used to work at NPC Robotics, in fact he was the guy who used to work on the NPC-2212’s and confirmed that the surplus wheelchair motors we’ve all been talking about are the exact same motors NPC re-engineers with longer drive shafts for robotic application.


Another thing we brought up with a few of the battle bot builders was drive systems, and in particular direct drive vs belt. I know this has also been banded around the Artoo group for a long time with a lot of people working hard on fitting the NPC motors for direct drive. The consensus from the battle bot folks was that direct drive was a real bad idea – number of reason being the possible failure of expensive motors or mounting system due to a jammed system vs just having the drive belt fail. After seeing how well these guys bots held up in the arena I’d definitely bow to their experience and superior knowledge.

One big lesson I learned at th games was the importance of a kill switch. Again, there’s been lots of talk in the builders group about coordinating radio frequencies etc. Well I can tell you, you can plan as much as you want, but it only takes one person not to following the rules to spoil your day. There were 100’s of bots in attendance, and the organizers had a good handle on frequency allocation for the most part, many people used the the new 2.4Ghz spread spectrum system which helped a lot, but even so there was a lot of interference and drift between radio bands on the older setups.

On Saturday afternoon an army of high school students showed up with dozens of small bots that jammed a whole lot of channels. I ended up swapping crystals on more than one occasion and thankfully I had brought my frequency analyzer to help track down problems.

So my number one upgrade coming up is adding an easily accessible kill switch for Artoo.

I also had my battery charger die on me on Saturday – which was not good. Luckily I had two sets of batteries that were fully charged and I was getting around 4-5 hours of solid runtime from them – but I think a spare battery charger would be a good thing to have in the car.


Here’s a few short videos of my Artoo found on Flickr

And, no show would be complete without a bunch of kids interacting with Artoo. I’m always amazed that so many of them thing he’s real and autonomous – even when they come over and ask if him operating him, if I say “no” – they totally believe me and go back to talking to him. Simply amazing 🙂

In closing

The number one question at this event was “Where’s C3PO?”, and they didn’t mean some dude in a costume, they were expecting a full functional mechanical droid. Which made a change from “Does the holoprojector work?” or “What about the jet rockets?”

I should also mention that my new wheel casters worked out great. I don’t think I’ll be going back to omniballs anytime soon 🙂

Fort Mason is right on the bay and across from Alcatraz, so before we left on Saturday we had to get a quick shot for our scrap book

As always, there are many more photos in the gallery. So click on thru to browse them all. And if you search flickr for “robogames” you’ll find dozens of photos and videos of us in action. Here’s of some of my favorites.


Posted by Chris on June 19th, 2008 in Events | 2 Comments

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2 Responses

  1. Samuel Coniglio remarks on


    You have excellent photos from the Games! I’m writing an article for SERVO magazine about RoboGames. I missed the Friday events and would like to include an image from the R2 vs battlebots in the arena. Please contact me.



  2. Chris remarks on

    Hi Sam

    More than happy to share the photos for the article. Email sent 🙂


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