By: Cory Hunter
Few applications of robotics technologies are as exciting as seeing two combat-ready machines duking it out on live television. What was once relegated to the realms of science fiction has quickly taken a place in pop culture, formally under the brand name BattleBots. Here you will see all kinds of robots, with unique designs, expertly engineered to defeat all that stand in their way of the elusive Golden Nut. Currently, in its seventh season, this ABC series premiered on June 23, 2016.
Enter the BattleBots
This season of BattleBots features teams from around the world, including entries from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, France, and Brazil. Each team will participate in a pruned weight class, different from the first five seasons, which includes all of the robots in a 250lb class. Additionally, before being allowed to compete, each team will have had to pass through pre-qualifying and qualifying rounds. Of the 44 selected robots, eventually, the total competitors would be pruned to 32, 16, and then to the final tournament rounds.
Of the top competitors this season, four have already risen to the top of the round of 16. Of these teams, two, in particular, seem to stand out as potential winners. The minotaur of team RioBotz, a Brazilian team poised to take the gold this season, is led by Marco Antonio Meggiolaro. Marco is a skilled engineer, professionally serving as a professor of mechanical engineering in a Rio-based university. His bot uses a drum spinning mechanism to damage opponents, render them immobile, and protect itself against any potential attacks.
On the other side of the ring is the Bronco from team Inertia Labs. Based in Sausalito, California, Alexander Rose and Reason Bradley have come together to create some of the most memorable entries in BattleBot history. There most reason contribution, Bronco, uses a pneumatic lifting “Launcher” mechanism to flip even the heaviest robots in the arena. Both Bronco and Minotaur are set to square off in the next big installation of the show, advancing the teams to the quarterfinals before the eventual end of the tournament.
Micro linear actuators in BattleBots
Though there is a virtually endless supply of designs for the most destructive robot, some specific mechanisms have become the tool of choice for engineers. Flipping arms have increased in popularity in the most recent seasons because many robots are completely incapacitated when flipped, and the damage caused by using the robot’s own weight and gravity against it can be sizable. Of course, some designers have built ways to compensate for these deficiencies, but the shock impact alone makes Launching weapons like those featured on the Inertia Labs Bronco so effective. Though the Bronco uses powerful Pneumatics to achieve nearly 25000 pounds of force, electric micro linear actuators can be an equally effective tool.
Micro micro linear actuators are also often used in the production of a “crusher” robot which uses a weaponized arm mechanism to pound or chop at opponents. Many successful Crushers also use hydraulically powered systems, however, these systems must be customized and can be both dangerous and expensive to experiment with. Alternately, electric micro linear actuators can be used to the same effect. In order to compensate for the loss of power, gear motors and leadscrews can be added to increase torque. Unfortunately, leadscrews have a problem with efficiency, but this can be mitigated by effectively using the threaded screw system and choosing the correct placement of the stationary Nut mechanisms.
The other advantages of the electric linear actuator are precision and easy programmability. Some designers tend to shy away from their use because of the necessary assortment of parts which must be installed: motor, driver, coupler, motor mount, actuator, cable, enclosure and programmable logic circuit or motion controller. However, depending on the application, if precise, complex motion is necessary, then electric micro linear actuators are really the only choice. Finally, the lower life-cycle cost relative to the pneumatic actuator is a big plus to consider.
One final interesting application of micro linear actuators in the BattleBots arena is their use for locomotion. The official BattleBot rules specify that all competition-ready robots must have easily visible and controlled mobility. These methods obviously included the rolling apparatuses, such as a track or wheels. However, if the robot being built is instead fitted with legs, micro linear actuators can be used to move the robot. These Non-wheeled robots should have no rolling elements in contact with the floor. Likewise, they should feature no continuous rolling or cam-operated motion in contact with the floor. True “Walkers”, using linear-actuated legs will qualify for a walking bonus if the legs can operate independently of each other. This means that each leg must be able to move laterally and vertically without affecting the other legs. This bonus includes additional weight options which other robots would not be allowed.
Regardless of your favorite bot this season, it is obvious that each team has done their best to produce exciting displays of technical skill and engineering innovation. Pneumatic systems tend to be an essential component of some of the most successful robots, but electric micro linear actuators, such as those designed by Morai Motion, can also be an effective tool to produce effective robotic solutions. Whether you are designing a Launching, Walking, or Crushing robot, micro linear actuators can serve some important roles in the design process.