abandon all hope ye robots who enter


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A friend introduced me to her brother on the other side of the country. He's starting up a VEX IQ robotics club. I gave them an engineering presentation & plan on giving them a robotics design talk in the near future.

Title for the virtual presentation

This is where the kids are building their bots

Presenting from a little corner conference room over my lunch break at work

They wanted a glimpse of fighting robots, a preview of my next upcoming presentation

I'd given engineering & robotics presentations to my kids' classes several times, but my son is now in classes with kids from other schools who haven't seen my presentation. was one of the older audiences I've had in a long time, so they asked some really good engineering & science questions. The 5th grade class wrote me the nicest thank-you cards with some awesome drawings & really special comments.

I'm getting a lot of mileage out of this presentation

The kids asked a ton of insightful questions about how to glue stuff together

Multi-purpose room: one of the multi purposes is engineering presentations

This was AMAZING & meant so much to me: a stack of thank-you cards

I coordinated with a friend to give her students an introduction to engineering. Some of them hardly spoke English, but it turns out that engineering can break the language barrier! We capped it off with driving tiny robots in their classroom.

Everybody took turns driving tiny bots

They loved the hands-on robot opportunity

On display were a giant nut & the 2 youngest Dr. Infernos

250lb BattleBots are great, but these little ones are easier to haul around & share

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures or videos of the Engineering & Robotics Careers & Projects presentation & demo in April, but there were lots of parents at the Drawbots event to take photos!
We turned the local school's Innovation Lab into a Drawbots assembly line.
The kids had a great time designing, building, & testing. I think the parents had even more fun working the assembly line!

The vibration assemblies for this event were made from the same large batch as the March Girl Scouts robotics workshop, fabricated with the aid of my great kids.

Presentation that I shared w/ the 1st grade class in April, with a bonus bot demo after

The 1st graders put together some sophisticated bots!

Orderly queue at the Drawbots Assembly Line

Gluing the vibration assemblies to the bodies

The faculty put together fantastic decoration supplies

You can never have too many pom-poms or feathers in your robot factory

This classroom had plenty of space & a smooth floor--ideal for testing lots of Drawbots

I might get some of those gear carpets for my home! Haha

The boys eventually found ways to fight & entangle their Drawbots

I got the opportunity to bring engineering, robots, & Drawbots to a local Girl Scouts Daisies troop (1st graders).
We started off with a presentation about interesting engineering careers. The girls behaved so well, & their hands kept shooting up to ask great questions.
Next, while the girls ate their robot-themed snack, I showed them how to drive some safe antweight bots then let them take turns driving.
While they were playing with the antweights, the parents & I set up our Drawbots assembly line.
The parents & the girls really came through with extra fancy decorations on their Drawbots.
We had 1 snafu: the motor weights on this batch of motors were too small, so the Drawbots didn't vibrate enough to be very active. Troubleshooting opportunity: add some hot glue & wire or other scavenged weight to the motor shaft to make them more dynamic--for a more robust solution, I enlisted my son to press 100 brass pucks into 100 brass tubes (all of which I cut on a little hobby chop saw--excuse to buy a new tool!), & then I pressed these weights onto the existing motor weights to give them more oomph. Success!
I also had my daughter help with preparing the motor/battery vibration units, because I was running the project for her Girl Scouts troop & her school class 2 months later.

Presentation that I shared w/ the Girl Scouts

This was a truly well behaved set of girls!

Yes, I lugged my laptop, a TV, & a bunch of extension cords to the school lunch tables. Worth it!

Bots on display

The girls picked up driving skills right away. No-weapon antweights make for a great introduction to fighting bots

A selection of the Drawbots that the girls made--the parents gathered up some fantastic decorations for this event

Our assembly line for Drawbots--parents on one side, girls on the other; the conveyor belt concept

Stockroom, vibration assembly, legs assembly, then decorations

I left the crafting up to the other parents--know your limitations!

Such an organized array of decorations

Firing up the first Drawbots of the day

Drawbots art mural coming along nicely

Prepping the Drawbots vibration assemblies: drilling through the battery holder body to later accept a long screw to secure the lid from popping off during vigorous drawing

Packing 2 million batteries into 1 million batter holders

All the vibration assemblies kitted & ready for Girl Scouts & 1st grade

The motors I got for this build (at right) had tiny weights too small to make the Drawbots adequately mobile, so my son & I fabricated a ton of brass weights (left) to press on the motors for more kick

Cut about 100 tubes & pucks from brass tubing & rod, then deburr & press fit to make heftier motor weights

4th time around! In early 2020, right before the pandemic, the preschool president said "PSSST!" & used presidential powers of persuasion to assemble a group of perky parents on a Saturday to prep the vibration assemblies. It went much faster & was much more fun than doing it alone in my garage. Props!
Then, the pandemic hit.
I held on to the parts until we decided to run a scaled-down version of the event outdoors. Extension cords galore! It went great. The kids still loved it.
Bonus: the preschool teacher took the spare parts back to school to build a small set of Drawbots with the current class.

Picnic tables lined up make for a great assembly line

I invested in a new hot glue gun this time around (any excuse to buy a new tool..."It's for the children!")

Gluing vibration assemblies to bodies. Note the Gatorade bottles--I mentioned that these make good Drawbot bodies, but somebody brought full bottles. Oops!

Shampoo bottle? That's a new one. Why not. Let's try it!

It was a chilly May day, but that didn't deter us!

Somebody likes Christmas colors

I got much fancier w/ the decorations this year: glitter balls on wobbly springs, color-changing disco LEDs, & multiple different types of googly eyes!

We tried a new configuration, dubbed The Pig: large bottle on its side, with 4 legs, with 2 vibration motors to give it more pep

This picture has so much pink

This Drawbot would blend right in with the latest effects-heavy sci-fi blockbuster movie

Another Pig-style Drawbot--quite a cheery one

"Take me to your leader"

The concrete had some grooves & texture, so the Drawbots occasionally got caught, but they still worked great

That's a lot of silver tape--I'm looking into colorful tape for Drawbots 5

There's an age range of about 6 years in this photo--Drawbots appeal to the very young & the not-as-young-but-still-relatively-young

Look closely & you'll see extra markings in the concrete grooves, where the marker tips got caught

Extra parts made it back to the preschool for the really young kids to build their own. This is one of 2 Drawbots spin-off events where I taught others how to run a build. It's not too hard--ask me how!

The local elementary school has an annual campout at the park next door. Entertainment, BBQ, movie, tents, then breakfast.
Ref John introduced Judge Jason to the event organizer.
"You can bring robots?! Great! Just tell us what you need us to set up for you!"

Bots & nuts on display for the afternoon

Even with most of the guts removed, The Disk O' Inferno is still awkwardly heavy. Automotive creeper for the win!

"Hey kids, want to get started in robots? Start small! Consider a kit for your first bot!

A dense row of cones works (relatively) well to keep a bunch of excited kids (mostly) away from (slightly) sharp bot parts

He likes to be scratched behind the ears--note the pointy spike wedgelets swapped out for blunt round fork tips for demos. Toes are safe!

Cardboard boxes didn't stand a chance

Instead of playing Where's Waldo?, play Where's Ref John?

"OK kids, form 3 lines. When it's your turn, drive the robot with the silver sticks--don't touch the other 10 switches & knobs or you'll mess up my settings!

And this is why I put double batteries in parallel in each antweight Viper, & why I've turned down the joystick limits a little: super long run time on a charge!

3rd time around: more efficient! I found a preassembled single AA switched battery pack wired to a vibration motor. Not as peppy as the assembly with 2 AA batteries, but much less prep labor!
Efficiency is key when both kindergarten teachers ask you to get about 60 students through the Drawbots assembly line during their class overlap period.
It was a challenge, but we did it!

Prototype with the smaller power supply. Not as loud, but gets the job done

I went lighter on the wire strain relief hot glue this time: just the ends, to protect the solder joints if a kindergartener yanked the wires

Laid out, ready for bonding prep: alcohol wipe + light abrasion

And several short hours later, with podcasts to help pass the time, vibration subasemblies are all prepped!

Enough vibration to power a small army of Drawbots

The robots made another preschool visit. Just a little bit of play & demos this time. A preview of a forthcoming Drawbots build event!

Dr. Inferno ]|[, some antweights, & Drawbots on display

A new take on arts & crafts

Fortunately, the kids gravitated towards the friendliest & safest bots!

Who loves robots? Scouts!
In February 2019, I gave a robot talk & demo at a local Cub Scouts pack meeting.

In January 2020, one of my robotics pals, who is also a Boy Scouts leader, asked me to give a long Zoom presentation double feature: interesting aerospace engineering career anecdotes, then BattleBots.
In January 2021, I gave a Zoom presentation on space robotics & BattleBots for a friend's troop. I also participated in a "Meet the Local BattleBots Builders" Zoom presentation for the same troop.
In September 2021, our Cub Scouts pack asked, "Jason, could you keep the kids occupied with robots for an hour while the parents watch an unexciting presentation, ask logistics questions, & fill out registration paperwork?" "SURE!"
(Don't fret--I'm cooking something up for the local Girl Scouts troop in early 2022!)

Cub Scouts are a great audience--excited, enthusiastic, & well-mannered. We capped off the evening by having the den leaders duke it out with one-pound antweight bots

Zoom presentation for a local scouts troop: the 1st 1/2 focused on engineering careers, & the 2nd 1/2 focused on BattleBots

Some California builders (& 1 California judge) shared storeis of their BattleBots experiences & hosted a Q&A for a Boy Scouts troop Zoom meeting

Mechanical Engineering presentation & robot demos for the kindergarteners

I had to borrow a van & a cart to haul all the robot stuff to school

Display area: BattleBots, trophies, Drawbots, robot toys, etc.

Drawbots from years past were part of the display, a preview for a Drawbots build later in the school year

Andy Hedge lent me his antweight arena, & Suni Murata lent me 2 of his robots to add to my set

Every student got a short turn to drive a little bot

Bot toys in the kitchen area

Parents like playing with robots too

Some of our family's old Drawbots from years past

What's more fun than robots? Noisy robots!

I've seen less impressive modern art in museums

Drawbots dancing

During snack break, I drove Dr. Inferno ]|[ around the playground.

Cover slide for my engineering/BattleBots presentation for the kindergarteners

The next year, for my 2nd Drawbot project day, I took my lessons learned from the inaugural Drawbots event & led a build for *two* classes during their overlap period.
Improvements included adding a screw for better battery compartment lid retention, & moving the vibration units to the bottom of the bots for improved stability.

Plus, the teachers showed me that overturned tables make fantastic hard & smooth surfaces with integral walls!

Setting up to build a whole bunch of vibration units in 1 big batch

Some battery covers popped off during the previous year's event ("solved" by last-minute tape application). This year: screws for solid cover retention!

Holes drilled & countersunk, ready for screws

CA glue (superglue) for motor attachment this year--much faster than hot glue!

All motors bonded to battery packs

This year: orient the motor for much shorter exposed wires: wire snags are less likely, & less hot glue is needed to tame the wires

Vibration assemblies fully kitted & ready

Testing the updated Drawbot configuration--success!

Prepped Drawbot bodies: washed cans & bottles, covered can sharp edges with duct tape--ready for the students

Sorry, kids--before we build robots, I'm first going to talk about an exciting career in mechanical engineering!!!

Assembly line set up, teaching the students & the parent helpers what goes into a Drawbot

Efficient & orderly assembly line. Parents had almost as much fun as the students

Teaching the students about assembly flow & how products are built

The Drawbots test lab

Oh my, are these Drawbots smooching? Scandalous!

Pipe cleaners make Drawbots more fun

Drawbots do best on hard, flat surfaces, because they will get hung up on groove & bumps

Make sure to use washable markers if you care about your floors, your countertops, your furniture, etc.

Cover slide for my engineering/BattleBots presentation for the transitional kindergarteners

2 months before the event at transitional kindergarten, I gave a similar presentation to the school's on-site child care facility

One of the fun parts of sending your kids to a co-op preschool is work days, getting to know the students, teachers, & other parents. And they get to know you.
"Hey, Jason! You build robots! Can you lead a robot project for the kids?"
And thus was born Drawbots: vibration motors & washable markers glued to decorated cans or bottles buzz across the floor, leaving colorful trails in their wakes.

I tested several cans & bottles to see what worked best (most active & robust). My favorite was Nyquil bottles, because their triangular shape ensured equispaced legs for outstanding stability

Get the students to gather cans, bottles, etc.

Get a whole bunch of battery packs that hold 2 AA batteries & that have on/off switches

Trim the wires & stuff in the batteries

Add some adhesive-back foam to make sure that the batteries don't rattle loose (not necessary--I omitted the foam on later revisions)

Prep the battery packs & motors for bonding: light abrasion & alcohol wipe

Hot glue gun & soldering to complete the assembly--glob on some more glue for strain relief when the wires inevitably get yanked in the line of duty

Testing the very first prototype--success!

The testing area at the preschool at the inaugural Drawbots event

Assembly line step 1: gather build materials

Assembly line step 2: duct tape the legs to the body

Assembly line step 3: hot glue the vibration assembly to the body (in later builds, I put the heavy assembly on the botom of the bot to improve stability)

Assembly line step 4: decorate!!!

More decorations

Get a bunch of kids to turn on their Drawbots at the same time: cacophony & chaos!

This is the best part--kids just love their Drawbots that they designed & helped build!

Now as a father of 2 small kids, I shifted my focus away from competing in robotics & towards sharing robotics with my young kids, their schools, etc. I started with my son's 2 preschools.

I gave a demo of Dr. Inferno ]|[ at our local preschool. Kids are safe on the grass--little bots get stuck on grass! This is why I made a separate power switch for the weapons! :]

Dr. Inferno ]|[ also made an appearance at my son's other preschool, cruising around the campus.

"Raise your hand if you're a robot."
"Robots on the concrete, non-robots on the grass!"

After moving to Orange County, a nice guy whom I met at a local retro video game event turned out to work at the Orange Library. He suggested that I give a robotics talk at their STEAM series. I jumped at the opportunity. Twice. Jump! Jump!

In 2014, before BattleBots came back on the air, I gave a presentation that focused mostly on my engineering career (plus robots)

Cover slide from my presentation

In 2016, shortly after I'd competed with The Disk o' Inferno on BattleBots, the presentation that I gave focused more on BattleBots design

Cover slide from my presentation--I swear I updated the contents since the 2014 version, though you wouldn't know it from looking at this cover slide!

When I was working in Pasadena, some of my coworkers started mentoring a FIRST Robotics team at the high school down the street. I chipped in on a few evenings & also gave the team a presentation and Q&A session on BattleBots, as well as some highlights from my engineering career.

Recognize that website on the screen? Rather than makde a slide deck, I gave a tour of my website's local copy on my laptop to tell the story of design & iteration.

When I learned of FIRST Robotics, I volunteered to be a judge at the local regionals competition. My most vivid takeaway from the event was how utterly impressed I was with the maturity, patience, expressiveness, & professionalism that these youth showed. Corny as it may sound, I walked away feeling that our future would be in good hands with these kids (seriously).

In addition to making bots, the teams learned marketing, advertising, budgeting, scheduling, fundraising, etc. Button & hat handouts were part of the entire experience.

The judges deliberated in one of the locker rooms in the sports arena

The grade school repeated their robotics program the next year & came to UCSB for their competition finals again. I brought the same old robots one more time.

The administration kicked in some great LEGO prizes, & I added some BattleBots goodies to the prize pool

Longneck robot chassis doubles as a convenient handle for transport purposes

2 similar designs--theirs is winning, drawing Longneck toward the line!

More tug o' warring action

Later in the school year, there was a finals competition in line following, sumo, & the ever popular tug o' war. I brought back Longneck & The Infernal Brick of Despair for another go at it against the students.

Tug o' war drew a large crowd.

I was pleased to see that some of the students picked up on the physics principles that I'd demonstrated at the previous event, & their new robot designs reflected this new knowledge

It was a pleasure to compete against the students

Some students came up with a novel idea: plant the robot on the ground with sticky rubber feet instead of supporting it on motorized wheels, reign in the other bot with a torquey winch!

They beat me! The kids went wild! I've never been so happy to lose in my life. It was great!

While a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, when BattleBots on Comedy Central was popular, the mechanical engineering department teamed up with a local school to aid in their extracurricular robotics enrichment programs. This was my first opportunity to share my positive BattleBots & engineering experiences with young students, in an effort to inspire them to pursue technical studies & then careers in science or engineering. I was involved off & on for a few years with this school, giving talks and/or demos at their events. I am very grateful that I was given this first opportunity to share my passion for mechanical engineering.

PowerPoint presentation to the students, sharing some robotics & other engineering experiences

It's not a presentation without grandiose hand gestures

Demos of Itchy & Scratchy, wireless RC bots that I built for Mindstorms Mayhem in the LEGO booth at the E3 trade show

The highlight of the day was the tug o' war competition. I built 2 robots to demonstrate 3 principles for success:

1. Use the highest mass permitted to provide the highest friction force, 2. gear down for high torque & slow speed, 3. have a high anchor point to pull up on the opponent & rob them of some of their normal force (& friction force)

Afterwards, I broke out Dr. Inferno Jr. for a demo

Students drove Radio Shack RC cars...

...and those kids were good drivers--they got away...

...but that didn't stop the Dr. from trying

Concrete berms make for excellent safety barriers

Also on display was Hell on Wheels

One of the best ways to have your robot connect with kids is to stick eyes on it

Page 1 of the flyer for the RoboChallenge BattleBots & Robotics Seminar

Page 2 of the flyer for the RoboChallenge BattleBots & Robotics Seminar

Cover slide of the UCSB Mechanical Engineering presentation for the RoboChallenge BattleBots & Robotics Seminar

My introduction slide of the UCSB Mechanical Engineering presentation for the RoboChallenge BattleBots & Robotics Seminar
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