ISIS Graduate joins RAL Robot Wars team in battle

Monday 15 August 2016

The RAL team and their robot Sweeney Todd

The RAL team from left to right: Jon Elmer (ISIS), Laurence de Bruxelles (RAL Space), Dominique Anderson (CLF; Robot pilot) and Sean Cleary (Technology; Team Captain) with their robot, Sweeney Todd. Image courtesy of BBC/ Mentorn Scotland.
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ISIS Graduate, Jon Elmer, joined his fellow RAL Graduates to star in BBC2’s Robot Wars last night, in one of 40 teams battling it out to become the show’s 2016 champion. The RAL graduate team, completed by Laurence de Bruxelles (RAL Space), Sean Cleary (Team Captain; Technology) and Dominique Anderson (Robot Pilot; Central Laser Facility), spent four weeks staying late after work to design and build their Robot, Sweeny Todd.

Robot Wars pits purpose-built fighting robots against each other in a 484-square-metre arena, with the added dangers of spikes, flames, the flipper and the Pit of Oblivion. Each episode features eight Robots, and begins with two four-way matches, followed by head-to-head duels to decide who will battle it out in the Grand Final. The RAL graduates faced tough opponents such as Apollo, Kan-Opener, PP3D and Terror Turtle.

The iconic House Robots, Sir Killalot, Matilda, Shunt and Dead Metal are also on patrol, ready to do some damage should any unfortunate robots stray into their path.

The team had no prior experience of building fighting robots, and estimated that Sweeny Todd cost only £500 to build, as they mainly used recycled metal. They were up against some teams with decades of experience in amateur robot fighting, including those who had been on the previous series of Robot Wars and had recently spent thousands of pounds designing and building new robots over several months.

The RAL team and their robot Sweeney Todd

The RAL team with their robot Sweeney Todd in the Robot Wars arena. Image courtesy of BBC/ Mentorn Scotland.
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However, even experienced robot fighters were impressed by Sweeny Todd. In addition to two spinning blade weapons, it was the only robot equipped with special Mecanum wheels, which used a series of rollers that allowed the robot to move not only forwards and backwards, but also sideways. This gave the team an advantage over their opponents, as they could manoeuvre more effectively to evade attacks. Their only other tactic was to “do as much damage as possible” to their opponents.

However, this was not enough to secure the team’s victory as they were immobilised in the group battle. Already suffering from an assault by PP3D’s spinner weapon, their robot was launched “into the lighting rigs” by Apollo’s powerful flipper.

“We were the underdogs there, half the weight, didn’t have many weapons, didn’t really have much power,” said Cleary.

Robots can win by immobilising their opponents, flipping them out of the arena, or by pushing them into the Pit. Should no clear winner be identified after three minutes, the judges will decide the victor. They’ll base their decision on aggression, control and damage, encouraging each team to take the fight to their opponents.

 “When we got the robot back a lot of very dangerous metal pieces were hanging off,” said de Bruxelles. “We removed the most expensive bits in case they wanted to be used again by future teams.”

Since the battle, the team have been asked to do a workshop on their Robot Wars experience at the upcoming Young Engineers and Scientists Conference in November. Sweeny Todd has now been dismantled, but the team hope that in future years more RAL Graduates will take on the challenge of designing and building a fighting robot for the show. For anyone brave enough to take on that challenge, they have some words of advice:

“Spend a bit more time on the planning and the design,” advised Anderson.

“Yeah, make a plan and stick to it,” added de Bruxelles.

Team Sweeny Todd are far from disheartened though, and took a lot away from their experience.

“We weren’t in it to win it, we were just there to be part of it,” said Anderson. “It’s my childhood dream, I just never thought I’d get to live it!”


You can catch Robot Wars on BBC2 at 8pm every Sunday, or watch online on the BBC iPlayer. This week’s episode, which features the RAL team, can be found here.

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