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The Fluid Systems Engineering and Management Blog

by Swagelok Northern California

BattleBots Part 1: Swagelok Answers A Call For Help

by Neil Ide, on 3/22/17 8:30 AM

Our experts put their heads together to get Icewave into fighting condition for season two of BattleBots


Typically a story involving late-night driving and seedy motels is the stuff of political scandal. Fortunately, this tale is safe for work, and really a lot more interesting.

It all started with a phone call

Back in March 2016, Victor Jung, our resident comic book nerd and model-builder extraordinaire, received a call from Marc DeVidts, a co-founder and CTO of Double Robotics. For the commercial market, Double Robotics makes a telepresence robot that enables people working remotely to have a physical avatar back at the office. The robot allows the remote worker to do things like track down that person in accounting who is always screening their calls.

But more importantly for this story, Double Robotics also happens to be the home of Team Icewave on the TV show "BattleBots." For those who haven't watched, "BattleBots" sends remote-controlled machines to battle in an arena elimination tournament. Team Icewave has a bot that uses a gas engine to drive a massive, 47 pound, hardened steel death blade that protects the robot with a 360-degree field of mauling power. If there were ever a zombie apocalypse, Icewave is the machine I’d want to take with me. 

Robot gladiators

"BattleBots" is a combat robot gladiator event suited for the silicon age. Small and large teams of friends and family gather from all over the world in friendship, camaraderie and love of the craft to smash the heck out of one another’s bots. The goal is to disable or destroy the opponent’s bot, or at the very least do more damage to it than it does to your bot. With a weight limit of 250 pounds these armored machines can be built with hammers, high pressure gasses, spikes, saws and even flame throwers…oh yes…flame throwers!

A builder has to do their best to balance weapons, armor, speed, and stability. A successful BattleBot represents years of developmental work. It's heart-wrenching for builders to watch their bot get eviscerated on the arena floor, or even simply knocked out.

That's what happened to Icewave in season one. Icewave was in the ring trading powerful hits with a formidable bot called Ghost Raptor. Though Icewave was thought to be unflippable, the two fought and crashed with such force that Icewave bounced and landed upside down with no way to right itself, giving victory to Ghost Raptor. 


If there were ever a zombie apocalypse, Icewave is the machine I’d want to take with me.


Getting ready for Season 2

In preparation for Season 2, Marc and mechanical designer Angie Bamblet of Team Icewave came to Swagelok Northern California seeking our help to solve this technical challenge. They needed to add a high-pressure actuator system that would allow Icewave to use 2500 PSI of gas to right itself should it ever be wronged again. And they had to fit it in an already crowded engine compartment.

We worked late into the evening. Victor pulled dozens of parts from inventory so we could mix and match until everything fit together just right. We used Swagelok tube adapter fittings, inventory that Swagelok Northern California's president, Rod Fallow, put in stock to cut down on how many fittings it takes to do a simple job. It turned out to be a perfect compact solution for Icewave. Marc generously invited us to come to Los Angeles for the taping of Season 2.


It's robot battle time

The day before taping began, Victor and I finished a relatively normal day at our Fremont office and loaded in his car with junk food, energy drinks and coffee, and hauled it to the city of angels. The next morning we were in line getting ready to go into the studio when we got an emergency text from Marc. Icewave had been slightly modified with a couple of anti-flip spikes on the front and no longer would right itself with the current gas pressure! Marc came out from the builder’s area, thrust sponsor badges into our hands and escorted us to what I can only describe as Robot Valhalla.

The builder’s area was about 60,000 square feet of robot-building madness. In the far corner several monitors lined the wall with couches where the teams could view the fights between emergency repairs, last minute modifications, and the rekindling of old rivalries.

We had to work fast to determine a battlefield solution. How do we get even more thrust out of the existing gas system? We determined that we needed more pressure. But since the system used pre-charged N2 cylinders, we had no way of increasing the pressure.

After a lot of deliberation we determined that we could use the 4500 psi high-pressure gas bottles for charging the bots on-site to put an extra 500 psi in Icewave's gas cylinder. Victor and I grabbed a box of tools and extra fittings and went to work. We added a fill line in the already crowded engine compartment.

Before we overcharged the cylinder though, the onsite safety manager would have to greenlight the modification. We had to ensure that the extra 500 psi wouldn’t be too much for the cylinder. In order to do that, we cut an empty cylinder in half to determine the wall thickness. 

Would the walls be thick enough to handle the pressure?

I'll tell you what we discovered in Part 2, including our chance meeting with Adam Savage.


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