Combat zone. Build report: Tanto.

For the last 16 years, I have been building and competing in robot combat. You name it, I’ve probably built it — from walkers to brick bots to full power flippers to hydraulic crushers in almost all weight divisions. I’ve even gone as far as building my own heavyweight scale arena, which is where my build report begins.

In 2009, we set up an event and built a 30′ x 30′ steel arena with the long-term plans of getting spinning weapons back in the UK (which were banned back in 2006). Sadly, this plan was scuppered by a very small thing. I was diagnosed with Leukemia. The arena went, my robots went, and eventually all the parts for a robot went. At my worst in 2010, I had given up completely on my robot combat dreams.

The therapy took its toll. I had good days and bad days. On one of the bad days, I flicked through some old robot photos, finding it a great distraction. For the next few days, I sketched robots of various shapes, sizes, and styles. Late one night, I looked through my designs and saw something I couldn’t stop thinking about. I designed versions with various add-ons and internal setups, but the shape was the same. Finally, I settled on one internal setup, one shape, one style, and one idea.

The design was a slim-bodied robot four inches thin. Overall, it’s 25 inches long and 20 inches wide, with two 10 inch wheels. It’s tiny for a heavyweight, but why so small?

To be able to repel the spinners in the US, the front needed to be thick steel. The forks are solid 3-1/2 inch high carbon steel and make up over 50% of the length of the robot. The back end is a half inch thick, and the rear, sides, top, and bottom are 3/8 inch thick steel. Again, why so small?

With a smaller surface area, I can increase the amount of protection while creating a smaller target for the opposition to hit. It also has high ground clearance.

Arenas are rarely as flat as they could be, so it’s best to overcompensate. Also, the thin body means I can decrease the gradient of the wedge to make it much easier to slide under competitors and shove them around. Two three inch motors running on 28V driving 10 inch wheels on a 6:1 ratio makes that sliding pretty high impact at 25 mph.

The big question: Why the forked front? Do I like forklifts or pallet trucks? No, not especially! The forks give a huge advantage when trying to get under something.

Why? Have you tried sliding a piece of paper under another piece of paper? It doesn’t work very well since the paper has a large surface area it’s trying to push under. A stiff pin or a knife, on the other hand, gets under a sheet of paper very well. Also, the split front works nicely against spinners. When spinning weapons hit weapon to weapon, usually one flings the other away.

Because the robot is so solid and 50% of the weight of the robot is at that end, it acts like a counter strike. By using the force of their weapon to slam me about, I transfer that back to them simply by Tanto’s shape.

By the time I felt well enough to work and earn money to build Tanto, I was living in Madrid, Spain. I bought the steel; a few weeks later, the drive and internals; and just before Christmas 2012, I found a workshop to use.

Have you tried cutting three inch high carbon steel? It eats grinding discs and spits out tiny white hot tears of laughter as you attempt to cut it! Nine hours later, I had finally cut one side of one fork out … this was not working! Avast! In yonder corner! A plasma cutter!

I approached the nice man using it, and a lot of pleasantries and 50 Euros later, he cut my steel for me.

The next morning, I arrived primed and ready … let’s weld this sucker! The nice plasma cutting man wheeled out a lush TiG welder and off to work I went. A full day later, and the beast was done. And by beast, I mean the welder. It was out of gas, but by tomorrow my work would be done, so with one final push, the robot was finished. Not bad for three days’ work.

The year ticked over to 2013 and with the New Year came a new job back in England. Within a week of being back, the internals were mounted, the wheels and shafts were machined and added, and finally she (my bot) looked done.

Even better than looking done, she looked like my design from my sketch book and the later SolidWorks drawings I did. It was a proud moment. The robot that had helped drag my mind away from the pain and illness I suffered, the design that I toiled over day and night, the robot I had worked so hard to actually build, was done and finally ready to return me to my beloved sport.

While Tanto is to many simply a wedged brick on wheels, it’s much more than that. To me, it’s a symbol of overcoming suffering; it’s a symbol of determination. Its impenetrable armor and outright speed shows that she will deflect the blows that would stop weaker robots.

She is my way of fighting what I cannot, and most importantly of all, she is a dream realized.

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