early 1994 I bought my first copy of Wired magazine which coincidentally
featured an interview with Marc Thorpe who intended to hold an
event named "Robot Wars" in San Francisco later that year. After
signing up to receive spectator information I cut it out to display
outside my office.
three friends, all wearing custom printed "Robot Wars Road Trip
1994" T-shirts, we drove all night up to Fort Mason for the
event. It was awesome; I cheered so much I was hoarse for days
afterward. I remember many of the fights but possibly the best
was Master v. Beetle at the end. Sparks and everything.
The next year I was ready to build a
robot myself to enter but I wanted to check out the growth of
the sport. So a group of us once again made the trip with our
1995 shirts. It was two days
of complete mayhem and destruction, marked by the appearance
of La Machine and Thor. I even had a chance to talk to Mark
Setrakian who, though really busy, took the time to explain
some of Master's design to me.
I went home, bought a vertical mill, set up a small machine
shop and started building Agamemnon for the middleweight
class. It was a fun year and way more hard work than I ever
expected. At the event in 1996 we had a blast and it turned
out the be the perfect robot fielded at the perfect time;
we came home with two middleweight trophies. Fortunately
La Machine had
moved to the heavyweights by then because
after seeing its power, I realized that all my preparations
would have been futile against it.
I was hooked so I immediately started
working on Alexander, a second middleweight for 1997. I also
picked up a lathe from an old buddy, so I had new directions
I could design in. I didn't do nearly as well that year as many
of the trick mechanics I used completely failed, in addition
to having motor problems. I was subject to an odd ruling by
a judge and even boo'd by the crowd. But it was a great learning
I decided to try a 180 lb. heavyweight
for 1998 so I began on Agrippa with big tires and a lot of pushing
force. Then a private business dispute between the Robot Wars
owners cancelled the 1998 event at the last minute. But during
the year I started building electronic R/C interfaces for Agrippa
that turned into a small business. I realized then that there
were a lot of "toy robot" and industrial vendors but nobody
in the middle that could help out the Robot Wars crowd. So I
gave it a roll with the spare time I had. It started to pan
especially in the UK where Mentorn was producing blockbuster
Robot Wars TV shows for the BBC.
After surviving a legal challenge, the
BattleBots event emerged in 1999 where I competed the now long-in-the-tooth
Agrippa. I had no chance whatsoever of winning but I did get
to fight my friend Peter Abrahamson. In the middle of our battle
we switched sides and controlled each other's robots. See, neither
of us really cared about winning - we just wanted to have some
fun and put on the best show that we could. In the end I was
sawed to death by Ginsu, the sequel to La Machine.
This sport has really changed my life.
I'd probably be a hyper-rich computer programmer in Silicon
Valley right now, exercising stock options while getting ready
for my next IPO. But as it is I'm the single largest consumer
of hand soap in the city of Orange, there are permament metal
shavings embedded in the living room carpet and I give out carbide
end-mill part numbers on my Christmas list.
But I know I'm a better man for it.