I’m Ali, the designated driver for Big Dave 3 (as the title suggests, no alcohol please while on duty). Over the course of building Big Dave 3 we’ve had the opportunity to test how it handles on a variety of surfaces. However, that’s not the main focus of my first blog post for the ARC team! Instead I will give my account on what it feels like to be behind the wheel of a lethal contraption.
As I have had some limited previous experience in driving RC vehicles (as well as electric go karts) and plenty of time with video games, my main thought was simply hoping it would simply move, although by the time the second wheel went on I was confident that this would be the case. My expectations of driving, if I had any, were that Big Dave would move relatively slowly, in spite of my colleagues reassurances about the power levels involved, that I wouldn’t need to think about much else other than the driving, and the low ground clearance would hinder us significantly on anything other than a flat plane, which is why I spent a lot of time with a broom cleaning the floor of the workshop and outside space before testing.
The audience may be pleasantly aware that Big Dave does indeed move, and actually at a relatively rapid pace, both in a straight line and in something that could be loosely described as a slalom. It can go round corners without any major issues, climb inclines at the right angle without losing speed, the go-kart tyres are rather good for slippery surfaces, and consequently driving Big Dave is a LOT OF FUN. As a child I have always wondered how you control the robots in Robot Wars and I was a terrible armchair commentator. While I don’t pass judgement in the same fashion these days, I always thought to myself, I could do better than that robot, especially if it had a better weapon than the robot that beat it (e.g. see Hypno-Disc v Chaos 2 in the grand final of series 3). And now I’ve had the opportunity to drive Big Dave 3 and I can say that if the robot is engineered to a reasonable standard, and you are a reasonable driver with some experience of driving robots, then you should be able to make reasonable moves that won’t get armchair commentators in uproar. This was my time to shine. Finally one of my childhood dreams has finally been made true! The euphoria of holding the controller, pushing the throttle down for the first time and watching Big Dave go off into the artificial lighting of the workshop (read sunset) was a sensation. Poetry in motion, to put it another way.
However the above statement is qualified with a number of caveats. The controller is very, very sensitive, which means that you liable to spin out of control with even a slightly bit too much throttle. Chris, our sparky/rules guru has worked wonders with the controller configuration, but I’m used to machines that are less sensitive on the throttle, so it came as a bit of a surprise with the sensitivity of the controllers! Nonetheless it can go in the direction I want it to, which is useful to say the least, and you can be delicate with the manoeuvres too. Slowly but surely, I am getting a good feel for how Big Dave moves around different surfaces, although this won’t matter so much in Robot Wars (except in the case of an oil/hydraulic fluid leak). With the power we are generating from the motors, we are also finding our limits very quickly; how fast you can corner, top speed etc. With that comes my next point; there is so much more to think about than just going forwards and sideways. The electrics can be shaken about inside, for example. Of course, the obstacles on the arena are difficult to replicate but with the right sized objects you can have some fun making obstacle courses like the original series of Robot Wars. These are not things you don’t give much thought to when you drive your own vehicle! So rather than being a case of just pushing some sticks on a controller around, suddenly you have a lot more to worry about. Nonetheless, a well engineered robot will allow you to focus on the driving, and experience on different surfaces will give the user a better understanding of how a robot will react to different surfaces.
Some other off the wall observations; Big Dave’s low ground clearance means that it eats grass when it goes off road, big time. So Big Dave’s a herbivore? More like an omnivore, it’s also partial to shoes, any ankles attached to said shoes and wooden pallets. I’d say its a rather healthy diet really. While there are no weapons on Big Dave 3, we don’t have the full experience of driving it around yet. But, given time, this will be rectified and it may control even more to my liking. I prefer the slightly slippery surfaces for Robot Wars as you can corner quite well at medium to high speeds, looking cool as you position yourself for another attack. Although this does lead to some awkward moments when you put just a little too much power on the throttle and you do a 360° spin when you weren’t meant too… Also, we had a lot of fun knocking over barrels with Big Dave. Perhaps some of the knockout games like skittles and football could be reintroduced to Robot Wars?