Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fighting Robots

In 1984 I was asked if I would like to be in charge of a new event at Milehicon, called the “Critter Crawl”. I was told it would involve windup toys. This was too much like chum in the water for me, so I agreed. Then I asked what it would involve, and was told “anything you like”. So I had been had.

The original Critter Crawl was announced to be a contest for self-propelled toys, similar to a beauty contest, in which the contestants would be set to traveling along a vaguely defined runway to the approval of the audience, most applause wins. I encouraged people to build something as opposed to simply buying a windup Godzilla, and we had 2 constructed, and several off the shelf entries. The next year was similar to the first, and I admit, some of the purchased entries were quite spectacular, still, it was basically a beauty contest.

For the third year, I notified the Con-Com that the rules would be changing and the contest would become more interesting, and definitely more violent. The Denver Mad Scientists Club put together a set of rules for a contest called the Critter Crunch that allowed for a maximum amount of innovation and minimum restrictions, that has defined robot fighting ever since. The book “Gearheads” by Brad Stone, which researched the topic, says that this was the first organized robot fighting event ever, and all others are derivations. Under these rules, it’s possible to build a competitive machine for about $50.

Over time arms, armor, and control systems have evolved to the point that most of the machines can ignore the occasional flamethrower, and could probably operate under water, for a limited time at least. One of our members has developed a simple robot vision system based on the thermion, and makes plans and kits available over the internet. Last year saw the first victory of a fully autonomous machine over a human-controlled one.

Two crunches will be held in the Denver area this year, at Milehicon, and Worldcon.

The Frankenstein rule shown at the Critter Crunch rules link has been modified from its original wording which was: Frankenstein Rule: Should any critter prove to be excessively obnoxious, the audience may, at its discretion, light torches, take up pitchforks, and deposit the offending machine, and its operator in the nearest body of water.

The would-be builder is commended to contact the Denver Mad Scientists club, and Keith Laumers books on the likely end result, “Bolo”.

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