Robot Wars

From Academic Kids

Robot Wars is a 1990s phenomenon, spawning a television show, in which amateurs compete in a tournament-style contest to see whose remote-controlled robot is the best at fighting. The first contests were held in the San Francisco area, and were inspired by the work of San Francisco artist Mark Pauline and his Survival Research Laboratories.


Early History

The first Robot Wars competition was held in August, 1994 at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California. It was the brainchild of Marc Thorpe with financial backing from Sm:)e communications, a New York record company. The San Francisco based Robot Wars continued through 1997 when the partnership broke up, starting many years for legal wrangling between Thorp and Profile Records (the former Sm:)e communications). Profile moved Robot Wars to England and began filming the Robot Wars television series. The robot builders left behind in San Francisco formed BattleBots, Inc. and began a series of competitions which led to the American television series on Comedy Central.

The show

Robot Wars has since become a successful British television series, which has attracted a large cult following. The TV series is less anarchic than the original American version and has well-defined rules, classes and a tournament structure. In turn the UK series was remade in the US for television. Reruns are shown on PBS and G4 in America, and on the Sci Fi Channel, Jetix and UKTV People in the UK. Versions of the show have been shown in many different countries, including Sweden, Italy and Ireland. In some countries that prefer not to use the English commentary, the show is dubbed; in others commentary is provided by native-speaking commentators who attend the recordings in the UK.

There were nine series in the 7-year run of the UK program. Craig Charles (of Red Dwarf fame) hosted all except the first series, which was done by Jeremy Clarkson. The show was co-hosted by Philippa Forrester for six series and Julia Reed for two series, whilst Jayne Middlemiss co-hosted the final UK series. Running commentary of the battles was provided throughout the run by BBC football (soccer) commentator Jonathan Pearce.

The TV show is filmed in front of a live audience, who view the action in the arena through tough Lexan safety screens. The audience are encouraged to behave in the manner of spectators at a Roman gladiatorial contest, waving banners supporting particular teams, and calling "pit!, pit!, pit!..." when a house robot has totally disabled a competitor and appeals to the audience for the final verdict as to its fate.

In 2002, Nickelodeon had a kids version of Robot Wars, hosted by Dave Aizer.

The robots

The competition which forms most of the televised part of Robot Wars is the heavyweight class, with a maximum all-up weight of 100kg (this was increased from 80kg after the first three series). The rules allow electric or liquid-fuel power (though in the latter case fuel carried is strictly limited to five minutes running time), and permits any weapons that remain attached to the main vehicle (i.e. untethered projectiles, flame throwers, and water cannons are banned).

Most of the machines are not true robots by the scientific definition, because they are not autonomous. They are remotely controlled by their teams, so could be more properly referred to as Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs). However, the TV show has influenced the general public in the UK to such a point that if you were to say "I'm building a robot" the likely response will be "Like on Robot Wars?". Remote control is not a requirement however - autonomous robots are allowed to compete.

Types of robot

In the first series, and to a lesser extent the second series, competitors' robots were very diverse, with all sorts of untried designs being put forward. After a while competitors designs tended to converge to a few established successful designs. In later series, it was often the same teams and robots that ended up reaching the final stages of the contest. Successful design types include:

  • Wedges with flippers - can get under an opponent and flip them over. Chaos 2, the only two-time champion, is one of the most well-known and most powerful of these types, possessing a carbon dioxide powered front flipper that can literally throw other robots out of the arena. The most recent development of this design is the Dutch robot Gravity, with flipping power far exceededing that of the retired Chaos 2. The flipper on Gravity has a lifting force of around four tonnes.
  • Invertible flat boxes - are immune to being inverted by wedges. Weaponry varies; often a cutting disk is used. The most notable of these is past champion Tornado. In many cases, these robots do not rely on their weapons but rather on their ability to push opponents into the arena pit or to repeatedly slam them against the arena wall until they break.
  • Jaws - can enclose a competitor and crush/pierce it. This requires enormous force and there have been few successful designs. A notable exception is former UK and World champion Razer, which once did devastating damage to the house robot Matilda with its hydraulic pincer. (At the end of the show in which this happened, there was a brief voiceover [saying things like RIP - "Rust In Peace", and DIA - "Destroyed in Action"], suggesting that Matilda had been irreparably destroyed, but the robot was subsequently shown to be in good repair, albeit heavily bandaged.) The Dutch machine Tough As Nails is a new kind of jaw wielding heavyweight. The whole body is a horizontal claw with 2 big wheels attached. The exerted force is not that great, with 1.2 tons at the jaw tips, but it is a very fast acting weapon, running on high pressure CO2 gas rather than hydraulics. On the UK live robot circuit, Kan-Opener is probably the most powerful crushing robot, having gone undefeated in the Annihilator competition. Both Kan-Opener and Tough As Nails are invertible.
  • Stored energy weapons - heavy flywheels spun up to speed by electric motors or internal combustion engines have proved very successful in causing damage. The first UK robot to fully demonstrate the power of such a weapon was Hypno-disc, which literally tore apart some of its earlier opponents. In the US the full-body spinning robot Blendo was deemed too dangerous to take part in the early competitions, which lacked adequate barriers between the robots and the audience. Typhoon 2 is the UK pinnacle of this design, having won the final series of UK Robot Wars. This type of weaponry is often banned at live events, simply because there are few arenas in the UK which can contain them without risking the audience's safety.

All championship winning designs have rolled on wheels rather than maneuvering on tank-style treads or walking on mechanical legs. Tracked and walking robots require more advanced building capabilities and are generally heavier, bulkier, and more fragile. Walking robots are given an additional weight allotment to help compensate for the design difficulties, but tracked robots are not. An all-terain environment would offer a tracked or walking robot some advantages, but most robotic combat is held on a smooth, flat arena where wheeled robots are more appropriate.

The competition

There are a variety of games played, though the main knockout arena game is the most popular. Other games have included obstacle courses, robot football, and tug of war. In some games, including the main arena game, there are additional "house robots" who patrol certain areas of the arena. If a robot enters those zones, the house robots are permitted to join in and add to the general chaos.

There are other hazards in the arena, the most popular being "the pit", (known in earlier series as "The Pit of Oblivion") a hole in the floor into which a robot may fall and become trapped, unable to get out (in later series, the pit could be opened by any robot activating a 'switch' on the arena wall, which was really a tyre painted yellow. In one series there was an actual switch, as the tyre was constantly getting knocked off the wall). There is also a powerful flipper which can fling a robot across the arena, retracting spikes, flame torches and cutting wheels built into the arena sidewalls. In two series there was a spinning panel on the floor, also activated by a switch/tyre, known as "The Disc of Doom". However, this was soon removed from the arena again, as the competitors hardly ever used it, and wedge robots were getting their front ends stuck under the panel at the start of fights. Finally, in the final three series there was "The Drop Zone", a large "X" on the floor, where beaten robots were placed by a house robot or opponent, and after a countdown from 10 to 1 by the audience, a very heavy object (for example, a TV, an ocean buoy, or most commonly, a washing machine) was dropped on top of them in a rather cartoony fashion.

The house robots are not bound by the same rules as the competitors, and are generally much larger and heavier, as well as being professionally built. The number of house robots in the arena varied in each series - 4 in Series 1, 6 in Series 2, 5 in Series 3, 6 in Series 4 & 5, 8 in Series 6, 9 in Series 7, and in the spin-off show, Robot Wars Extreme, where various other competitions and random battles were contested, there were 6 in the first series, and 8 in the second. The American show, Robot Wars: Extreme Warriors, hosted by pro wrestler Mick Foley, had 6. The five 'main' house robots; that is, the most well-known ones, are Shunt, Matilda, Dead Metal, Sergeant Bash, and Sir Killalot. There was also The Sentinel, a giant robotic arm which impeded contestants' progress in the Gauntlet game in Series 2. In Series 4, the Refbot was added, to ensure fair play in the arena, and to provide extra camera footage from the heat of battle. Although initially criticised for always 'getting in the way' of fights, he was more or less accepted by the time Robot Wars Extreme got under way the following year, when he was given the ability to give out yellow and red 'cards' to offending contestant, and more often than not, house robots, (red cards meaning the house robot was forbidden to take part for the remainder of the battle, even when a robot was being destroyed in the normal way by their fellow house robots) and 'count out' defeated robots as if in a boxing match.

In Series 6, a new pair of house robots were built, named Mr. Psycho and Growler. They were very well received, and in Series 7, a further robot joined the group, a boxing robot named Cassius Chrome (nicknamed "Hammered Ali").

In general the winner is the last robot still functioning. In the event of a tie or disputed outcome, there is a panel of adjudicators who judge based on "style, control, damage, and aggression".

The Dutch series- made by Mentorn, on the request of BNN - 1 and 2 took place alongside the UK series 5 and 6. For series 7 several Dutch and 1 Belgian entry entered the main UK competition, with mixed success.

The UK TV series Robot Wars has now drawn to a close, however, robot builders in the UK have been taking part in competitions independent of Robot Wars for several years and the community is expanding. Combat events are organised across the UK on at least a monthly basis, usually bi-weekly. The Netherlands are also active, but with less frequency.

There is an active group of roboteers in Brazil, but at the moment not much is known.

The Fighting Robot Association (FRA) is the most prominent body in the UK at the moment.

Competition winners

1994 (United States)

  • Heavyweight (100 lbs.) - Ramfire 2000
  • Middleweight (70 lbs.) - X1
  • Lightweight (40 lbs.) - The Julie-Bot

1995 (United States)

  • Heavyweight (160 lbs.) - The Master
  • Middleweight (80 lbs.) - La Machine
  • Lightweight (40 lbs.) - Test Toaster 1
  • Super Lightweight (20 lbs.) - Kreigmaschienmensch (KMM)

1996 (United States)

  • Heavyweight (165 lbs) - Biohazard
  • Middleweight (100 lbs.) - The Agamemnon
  • Lightweight (50 lbs.) - Atiller the Hun
  • Featherweight (25 lbs.) - Wedge of Doom

1997 (United States)

  • Heavyweight (170 lbs.) - Biohazard
  • Middleweight (100 lbs.) - Vicious-1
  • Lightweight (50 lbs.) - Defiant
  • Featherweight (25 lbs.) - Wedge of Doom

UK Series 1 (1997)

  • Best Design Award - Plunderbird
  • Best Engineered Award - Mortis
  • Most Original Entry Award - Psychosprout
  • Sportsmanship Award - Nemesis
  • UK Champion - Roadblock

UK Series 2 (1998)

  • Best Design Award - Razer
  • Best Engineered Award - The Mule
  • Most Original Entry Award - Milly-Ann Bug
  • Sportsmanship Award - Plunderbird 2
  • UK Champion - Panic Attack

UK Series 3 (1999)

  • Best Design Award - Razer
  • Best Engineered Award - Chaos 2
  • Most Original Entry Award - Hypno-disc
  • Sportsmanship Award - Díotóir
  • UK Champion - Chaos 2
  • Robotic Soccer Tournament Champion - Evil Weevil
  • Pinball Warrior Tournament Champion - Razer
  • International League Champion - Razer
  • World Champion - Razer
  • Middleweight Champion - Tentomushi & A-Kill (joint winners - however they later played off head to head and Tentomushi won)

UK Series 4 (2000)

  • Best Design Award - Gemini
  • Best Engineered Award - The Steel Avenger
  • Most Original Entry Award - Gemini
  • Sportsmanship Award - Díotóir
  • UK Champion - Chaos 2
  • Best Newcomer - Tornado
  • Northern Annihilator Champion - Spikasaurus
  • Southern Annihilator Champion - Razer
  • (UK v USA) War of Independence Champion - Mortis (UK)
  • Tag Team Terror Champions - King B3 & 101
  • Celebrity Special Champion - Pussycat
  • Pinball Warrior Tournament Champion - Gemini
  • Sumo Basho Tournament Champion - Panic Attack

Robot Wars Extreme - Series 1 (2001)

  • Antweight Champion - Combat Ant
  • Featherweight Champion - Beefcake
  • Middleweight Champion - Typhoon
  • All Stars Champion - Razer
  • Tag Team Terror Champions - Díotóir & Pussycat
  • Challenge Belt Champion - Tornado
  • UK v Germany Champion - Nasty Warrior (Germany)
  • World Champion - Razer
  • Forces Champion - Anvil
  • Armed Forces Champion - Anvil
  • First Annihilator Champion - Pussycat
  • Second Annihilator Champion - Disco Inferno

UK Series 5 (2001)

  • Best Design Award - Razer
  • Best Engineered Award - Derek
  • Most Original Entry Award - S3
  • Sportsmanship Award - Pussycat
  • UK Champion - Razer
  • Best Newcomer - Fluffy

UK Series 6 (2002)

  • Best Design Award - 259
  • Best Engineered Award - Anarchy
  • Most Original Entry Award - Crushtacean
  • Sportsmanship Award - Kat 3
  • UK Champion - Tornado
  • Best Newcomer - Dantomkia
  • UK v Germany Champion - Fluffy & Das Gepäck (Joint Winners - but they never settled the score, they just got to take home a trophy each...)

Robot Wars Extreme - Series 2 (2002)

  • All Stars Champion - Razer
  • Annihilator Champion - Kan Opener
  • Minor Meltdown Champion - Bigger Brother
  • Tag Team Terror Champions - Bulldog Breed & Robochicken
  • New Blood Champion - Storm 2
  • Antweight Champion - Anty B
  • Featherweight Champion - Arg
  • Lightweight Champion - Typhoon Thunder
  • Middleweight Champion - Typhoon
  • Challenge Belt Champion - Tornado
  • Iron Maidens Champion - Chompalot 2
  • University Challenge Champion - Tiberius 3
  • Commonwealth Carnage Champion - Firestorm 4
  • European Champion - Tornado

UK Series 7 (2003)

  • Featherweight Champion - DTK
  • Middleweight Champion - Typhoon
  • UK Champion - Typhoon 2
  • Annihilator Champion - Kan Opener
  • All Stars Champion - Pussycat
  • World Champion - Storm 2

Other countries

Robot Wars Extreme Warriors (United States):

  • Series 1 (2001) - Panzer Mk. 2
  • Series 2 (2002) - Panzer Mk. 3

The champions of Dutch Robot Wars were:

  • Series 1 - Slicer. A drum armed stainless steel armoured wedge with tracks.
  • Series 2 - Pulveriser, a disk wielding agile machine, operated by a bunch of partyanimals.


The main tournament also featured 'seeded' robots, ranked in a table based on past performance. In Series 2, the 6 grand finalists from Series 1 were seeded, but the robot Cunning Plan did not return for Series 2, so Mortis got a seeding. In Series 3, there were no seeds, due to the raft of rule changes that year.

In Series 4, some robots were seeded based on past performance, such as Razer, and some by popularity, such as Mortis, Plunderbird 4 and Díotóir. The series semi-finalists from Series 3 were all seeded, but when Trident and Blade's Big Bruva pulled out at the last minute, the list was reshuffled slightly, and Centurion 2 and Suicidal Tendencies were both given seedings.

From Series 4 onwards, winning a heat final and going through to the series semi-finals won that robot a seeding, which meant that they gained automatic entry into the next year's competition. The four grand finalists got the first four places, with the eventual champion obviously being seeded first.

Between Series 6 & 7, many 'veteran' teams had pulled out, such as Razer, Chaos 2, and Hypno-disc, so the list had to be compiled in a similar way to that of Series 4. Since Razer was no longer competing, Firestorm 5 and Terrorhurtz, who would have been third and fourth, moved up to second and third, with Bigger Brother taking fourth spot. Other seeds were given their place on the table on past performance, whilst Storm 2, who won automatic entry into Series 7 by winning the New Blood championship in Robot Wars Extreme Series 2, was given the 16th and bottom spot.

Series 2

1. Roadblock

2. Bodyhammer

3. Mortis

4. Cassius

5. T.R.A.C.I.E.

6. Chaos

Series 4

1. Chaos 2

2. Hypno-disc

3. Razer

4. Panic Attack

5. Firestorm 2

6. Behemoth

7. Steg 2

8. Gemini

9. 101

10. Spawn of Scutter

11. Wild Thing

12. Evil Weevil

13. Gravedigger

14. Bigger Brother

15. Wheely Big Cheese

16. Killerhurtz

17. King B3

18. Cerberus

19. Pussycat

20. Aggrobot 2

21. Díotóir

22. X-Terminator 2

23. Mortis

24. Berserk 2

25. Shadow of Napalm

26. Plunderbird 4

27. Sir Chromalot

28. Wel-dor

29. Dreadnaut XP-1

30. Stinger

31. Centurion 2

32. Suicidal Tendencies

Series 5

1. Chaos 2

2. Pussycat

3. Hypno-disc

4. Razer

5. Stinger

6. Panic Attack

7. Firestorm 3

8. 3 Stegs To Heaven

9. Wild Thing

10. Wheely Big Cheese

11. Dominator 2

12. Tornado

13. Spawn Again

14. X-Terminator

15. Behemoth

16. Thermidor 2

17. Splinter

18. Gemini

19. Mini Morg

20. Mousetrap 2

21. Suicidal Tendencies

22. Atomic 2

23. 101

24. S.M.I.D.S.Y.

Series 6

1. Razer

2. Bigger Brother

3. Firestorm 4

4. Hypno-disc

5. Chaos 2

6. Dominator 2

7. S3

8. Panic Attack

9. Wild Thing

10. Spawn Again

11. Stinger

12. Tornado

Series 7

1. Tornado

2. Firestorm 5

3. Terrorhurtz

4. Bigger Brother

5. Dantomkia

6. Spawn Again

7. 13 Black

8. Panic Attack

9. Pussycat

10. Behemoth

11. X-Terminator

12. Bulldog Breed

13. S.M.I.D.S.Y.

14. Thermidor 2

15. Ming Die-nasty

16. Storm 2

See also

External links


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