The creator of Battle Bots, Trey, sued Budwiser when they came out with a
Battle Bot-esque commercial. Budwiser was a big sponsor of Comedy Central,
the network that Battle Bots was on.
Aim at foot
I did too. It was a sign for me the industry was about to wake up and
fulfill it's long awaited promise. The demise of those shows really
looked to spell another period of hybernation, and I really dread that.
The previous spike was in the early-mid 1980's with the Hero's and
Androbots, etc. Of course my long standed and loudly proclaimed
assertion was it was DARPA that really helped put the community to
sleep by draining off about half a billion in resources that would have
been better left in the hands of the entrepreneurs. But there I go
again, with my Adam Smith inspired thinking.
We had three of four of those kinds of programs. Battlebots was the
original. Robot Wars was the British version iirc.
Randy M. Dumse
Caution: Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
What industry -- dangerous RC vehicles? I do think the shows were good
for the RC hobby, but I don't see that they had very much benefit to the
robotics hobby. I don't want to start a religious war, but really, I
can think of more ways they did harm than good:
- They gave millions of people the idea that a remote-controlled vehicle
is a robot. (Unless it happens to look like a car, I suppose.)
- They gave millions of people the idea that robots (since they think
that's what these are) are violent, destructive, and dangerous.
- They inspired hundreds or thousands of kids to play with dangerous
weapons in an effort to build their own violent machines. (I wonder if
there are any reliable statistics on how many injuries occurred as a
- They caused Servo magazine to waste a good quarter of its pages on
content of fairly little value to hobby robotics (an unfortunate result
that continues to this day).
- If any girls with a budding interest in robotics watched one of these
shows, they probably gave it up, as these shows were disgustingly
male-oriented. (My wife certainly had no patience for them, and she's a
computer science professor.)
I agree about the 80s spike, but I think we're entering a real golden
age now. Commercial robots like Roomba and Robosapien have been
dramatically more successful than anything in the past; robotic toys
(like TMX Elmo, and various dogs and Santas and whatnot with
speaker-independent speech recognition) are getting more sophisticated;
and the Robo-One events in Japan are becoming extremely popular there,
and starting to catch on here too. I think we're going to see more
advancement in the robotics hobby in the next decade than we saw in the
last two decades combined. Exciting times!
H-bridges for one. You can buy a fairly robust 100A (or even a 400A)
H-bridge now, at a smidgeon of their previous costs. That is a big
advance, and it came from the robot wars.
Then there are issues about available motors and ESC's and batteries
and other control elements. Many lessons about reliability,
durableness, survivability, etc., were advanced.
Frankly, I doubt it gave millions the idea a remote-controlled vehicle
is a robot. I agree that largely they were remote-controlled vehicle.
I just doubt the millions could tell the difference where the control
was coming from.
Besides, think about where other forms of automation started. Take
guided missles. They started out as AA guns, which were completely RC
projectiles (up to the point of lanch at least), all done manually.
Soon the range settings came off the radar. Shortly after that the hand
controls were integrated with the radar. Radio Proximity fuses were
added to the projectiles, giving them some autonomy in their task. Then
the radars were integrated into the projectile, fins and motors added,
and adjustments were made in flight... and so on. The same trend
existed in the robot warriors. More and more of the control was being
integrated. It was only a matter of time until the "John Henry" point
would have been reached, and the best systems would become completely
There are many insurgents who would now agree.
Do you have any idea how popular NASCAR is? There are plenty of
statistics about teenage drivers and their death rates. Blood lust in
sports is a human drive, long predating robot wars. Better robots than
gladiators, I'd say.
There are considerable statistics about how many lives are being saved
in combat by freeing EOD specialists from getting their limbs/heads
blown off. At least on our side because we've got the technology to use
I'm sure she watches shows that I wouldn't. Does that mean those shows
are bad? Or are you just pointing out men and women have different
interests? Sports viewing and participation being a very large one.
I hope you're right. I have a financially vested position in the
explosiong. Lately I've been feeling I was woefully self-mislead.
Forums such as these are getting quieter and quieter.
Randy M. Dumse
Caution: Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
No, I'm pointing out that these shows did a disservice to the robotics
hobby by driving women away. Some of those women may have been great
contributors to the field, maybe a real-life Susan Calvin -- but with
these shows portraying robotics as a testosterone-laden, violent, silly
pursuit in which women mostly participate by appearing in scanty
clothing, they turned their brilliance to other endeavors.
Was that necessary? Would a show about robotics that didn't involve
scantily clad women and truck-show-style theatrics not be entertaining?
If so, I think we should pick a different hobby.
You may be feeling the slow decline of Usenet in general. Most of the
young'uns wouldn't know a newsreader from a hole in their hard drive --
they're all about web forums and blogs nowadays. Personally, I don't
think those forms of communication are nearly as convenient as
newsgroups, but that's a battle that's already been lost. Only old
die-hards like us still hang out here. :)
The "sport" tends to be male-oriented, which I think is to be expected.
But I'm not so sure it has changed women's involvement with robotics as
a science. If anything, I see more women in robotics than ever, though
they may not get as much press. Example is Cynthia Breazeal of MIT, one
of the most famous faces of robotics, though hardly a household name.
Her field of interest is human-machine interaction, with a decided
emphasis *against* the violent! Part of this disparity is PR; everyone
remembers Rod Brooks and Cog, but Breazeal was heavily involved with
Cog, Kismet, and others. The other part is that human-machine
interaction doesn't exactly burn up Slashdot's servers.
In my own experience there are fewer and fewer people interested in
going out to their garage, and cutting and hammering together a robot.
Pre 1995 or so, this is what everyone had to do to get into the field.
There were few females interested in the whole scope of robotics. Now
with less emphasis on the physical construction -- we have a cultural
bias not related to combat robotics that says putting hardware together
is guys' stuff -- I've seen more and more female participation, not
I do agree that the showmanship of the TV shows could be sexist, but I
don't think it affected women's interest in robotics, if they already
had that interest. I think they tended not to tune in to begin with.
It's possible that, as you suggest, the shows didn't do very much harm
in this regard, but they clearly didn't help. Compare this to the
Japanese robot competitions, which are also mostly male-dominated (as is
Japanese society in general) -- but does get some women participants,
and seems to encourage this with such things as female judges and the
"demo" round where you can show off your robot in whatever way you want
(and female participants have done some of the most creative demos).
Girls (and there are always quite a few in the audience too) can see
such things and say, "I could do that too."
It's quite likely I'm over sensitive on this issue because of my wife's
connection to computer science and engineering. They have a constant
struggle to get girls to enter the field and stay in it, even though (as
you pointed out) there are some luminary role models for them.
True, there will always be girls who are passionate about a particular
field enough to damn the torpedos (and the old boys' club) and forge
ahead. And there are those who have no interest in it whatsoever. But
what's worrisome is the fate of the girls who are on the fence -- they
have interest and ability in engineering, but fear an uphill struggle in
a heavily male-dominated field. Those are the girls whose talents may
be lost to us by boorish displays of testosterone.
The real struggle for the engineering and computer science disciplines
is the outshoring of jobs...these disciplines need to address this
serious problem since it has cost the professions millions of jobs.
This has also not been lost upon students who have seen their parents
and neighbors seriously affected by offshoring who then choose careers
in fields other than engineering and science.
If you want students to enter a discipline, incomes and job
opportunities need to be adequate for the risk and effort expended to
enter the field.
Joe Strout wrote:
I don't know about that... I'm a software engineer, and my wife's a
computer scientist, and we certainly don't feel any pain from this
problem. I have more work than I can handle, and I know a lot of
managers and CEOs who are always looking to hire talented local
engineers, and have a hard time finding them. Good engineers can just
about name their price. I don't see any shortage of jobs; I see a
shortage of talent.
Well, students do a lot of stupid things. :) It could be that they
have a *perception* of such a problem, as you do, and that this would
impact enrollment even if the problem is not real.
"...*perception* of such a problem..." ???
It is a well known REAL problem....and declining enrollments indicate
that it is here to stay as witnessed by the mass engineering and
computer science layoffs of the recent years.
If you really followed the professions you would know about the
declining engineering and comp sci enrollment numbers ...and stagnant
and declining wages.
LOL...you mean they are finding it hard to hire at the third world
wages that they want to offer.
The talent is there...or should I say it was. You don't layoff
thousands of professionals with decades of experience and then expect
to find that same experience when you decide you need it again...it has
left the building.... for good as the saying goes.
Industry is getting the same it has given.
Sorry Joe but you sound alot like a headhunter.
Joe Strout wrote:
No, I don't believe it is. I'm well connected to several relevant
- Tech business (I run an internet company myself, and belong to a group
of technology CEOs, all of whom report a hard time finding qualified
- Software consulting business (I do some consulting on the side and
know quite a few other consultants in the U.S., and we all have more
work than we can handle most of the time)
- Computer science education (of which my wife is a professor, as
previously mentioned, and has observed that qualified graduates have no
problems findinga job).
All the contacts I have in these communities agree that outsourcing has
NOT caused any lack of jobs, and indeed, there are more good jobs
currently than there are good candidates. My brother-in-law (who
happens to be visiting for the holidays, so I asked him about this) was
recently trying to hire a couple of programmers in San Diego, and it
took them months to find decent people. Half the candidates he talked
to couldn't even explain a hash.
In fact, the common thread I see and hear is that the "generation Y"
kids coming out of school these days tend to lack motivation and (no
doubt as a result) skill. I don't know why that is -- but it may well
be exactly BECAUSE there are so many jobs seeking candidates, that even
with mediocre skills you can probably find something. So they're not
motivated to work very hard and actually learn their trade. But this
part is just speculation on my part.
Yes, enrollment is a problem, which of course is another part of the
reason why it's so hard to find good engineers. This declining
enrollment is not justified by the job market, however. Why the
students are not choosing to go into engineering is an open question,
and probably has a lot of answers.
For example, a lot more students are going into forensic science, and
this is linked directly to the popular "CSI" TV show and its
spin-offs... maybe engineering just isn't as cool these days as
forensics or business.
Or it could be that they're buying into the "oh no, outsourcing!" fear
that some folks spread around.
You seem to be laboring under a misconception -- I not only follow the
professions, I'm heavily involved in them. I've explained the basis of
my position; what's the basis of yours?
Like $65K/year (at which price, an employer I know ended up settling for
someone who doesn't even know how to debug)?
Yes, right. I'm not making this stuff up.
And done what, do you suppose? Gone into retirement? Become a greeter
at Wal-Mart? No. My town has a major HP facility, which restructured a
few years ago and ended up laying off a lot of engineers. I know a lot
of those guys; they're not sitting on their thumbs. They've found other
work, or in many cases, decided to start their own businesses (and many
of them are now struggling to hire young talent).
I'm not currently, but I expect to be hiring in a year or so. I also
expect to have to go to great lengths to find and woo talented
engineers, based on the experience of my peers at the same process.
The Combat Zone section of Servo is relatively new, circa May
2006. For a relatively small hobby such as amateur robotics,
it is challenging to find enough content fill a monthly magazine
without getting repeatative. (Servo is not the US magazine
to attempt to cover the hobbyist robotics space.) I suspect that
a number of combat robot enthusiasts approached the editors of
Servo and said that they could generate a monthly stream of
articles. I must confess that the articles in the Combat Zone
bore me to tears, but that just shows what my robot biases are.
The bottom line is that members of this community are the
ones who need to write the articles to fill the pages of
Servo. I will also mention that the Servo editors actually
pay for content. Writing up your initial exploits into
robotics is fair game and can help pay for the the next
crop of robots.
When the next crop of RoboBricks2 modules mature, I can
assure everyone that Bill Benson and I will submit another
crop of articles to Servo.
The more articles we submit to Servo, the more we can learn
from one another.
Maybe not as a regular column -- they shift from time to time -- but the
first editor of the magazine, Dan Danknick, is from the combot field,
and he very much shaped the magazine to include coverage of it. However,
IMO, by-in-large many of the players in robot combat are not always
interesting in sharing their insights. They're there to win, after all.
But it's a changed business, as like some of the early pioneers have
done (like Grant Imahara, Pete Miles, Tom Carroll, and several others
who have written books) they're turning their attention to showing
others how it's done.
Other way around: Battlebots was an offshoot of Robot Wars. The British
TV version was licensed from the American originators of Robot Wars.
Don't see this at all. These are basically heavy-duty RC cars, with
golfcar-like high-amperage DC controllers. How did taking existing
components, putting them into a small vehicle, and calling it a "robot"
answer some promise? Did it prove anything beyond the obvious that for
things like warfare or urban control you'd need a low-slung, heavy,
metal base with protected wheels and maybe even an invertible design?
Short term interest maybe, but promise? Seems to me competitions like
Micromouse and various robot sumo and soccer tournaments are FAR more
reflective of the promise of robotics. But they're not as exciting, so
they don't get mainstream television distribution (here in the US at
least; Japan is another story -- and yes, the Japanese kick our butts
when it comes to the robotics industry).
Don't get me wrong: I'm not against robot combat, and some of the shows
were interesting to watch. But I have exactly the opposite view as you:
they took people and their money *away* from real robotics. Like LEGO
Mindstorms when it came out in the late 90s, there was a momentary
flurry of activity, then the public's interest moved on. Like it always
does. The lack of the shows on TV means people want to see Donald Trump
fire someone. It doesn't mean robotics is crawling back into some hole,
because that analogy doesn't exist in the first place.
As a field, robotics just hums along, with occasional spurts of
*interest* from the general public. The regular, predictable activity is
where's it's always been.
snipped-for-privacy@NOrobotoidSPAM.com (Gordon McComb) wrote in
With all due respect Gordon, The community doesn't seem to mind
calling the bomb squad's heavy-duty RC "Car" with a few neat attachments,
I really dont think you guys are giving the BB guys due credit. I found
it totally facinating reading some of the memoirs of the builders, talking
about the progression of their "ROBOTS"
Many robot hobbist "slap together ready made parts out of a box"
I think each and every one of them enrich the hobby.
Besides .. there is no such thing as bad publicity, anything that
brings attention to robots .. is good.
just my thoughts
Ah, and so the argument usually comes down to this: who are the "real"
robot builders. My message avoided that, though IMO combat robots are
not true robots, while many of the bomb-squad and front-line robots are,
because they often incorporate many autonomous functions and sensors
that relieve the human operator of having to control every aspect of the
But I did say combat robotics in no way fulfilled a "promise" especially
in light of lesser machines such as a mini-sumo, which may not be
destroyed in a hail of sparks, and certainly isn't as sexy. But it is a
"robot" requiring programming, adequate sensors, and ample construction.
Yet I haven't read anyone saying mini-sumo offered some promise in the
field. IMO I think it's important to separate flash from substance, and
I suggested Randy fell victim to the glitz, mistaking the momentary rush
of general public interest with the real science that actual propels the
Well, then, hear it now.
I was so impressed with what Mini Sumo had to offer, I invented a
university class based on them. We used it as a vehicle to teach
robotics fundamentals and digital electronics. It was a replacement for
the previous Digital Electronics course. And it was a huge success,
garnering the front page of the local newspaper the day of the "finals"
competition, which was webcast around the world, and watched by people
in dozens of countries.
As you say, there is a truly autonomous application of a very low cost
robot, with wide open possibilities.
But this is another example of how the earth can shift out from under
you. Pete Miles book on Mini Sumo is now out of print. We used it about
as much as anything for a class text. The DPRG (Dallas club) ran no
Mini Sumo events this year. I have less visibility into other areas of
the country, but worry the sport may be in decline. I'm hoping I'm
wrong. Mini Sumo definitely did have promise for the field, and the
publics interest is still high in competing robots, as evidenced by the
big hoopla the local paper gave to the course. I'd love to see this
idea catch on at other universities and this become a sport between
visiting robot teams. A sort of "brains implementing robo-jocks", a
chance for the less physical of us to exercise prowess.
Randy M. Dumse
Caution: Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
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