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SozBots: Battling with Mini Bots

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If you've ever thought about building your own combat robot but hesitated because of the cost and time involved, this article is for you. Learn how both new and experienced robot enthusiasts are investigating the basics of robot design by building smaller robots called SozBots. These bots may be small, but the amount of fun you can have with them is huge.
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SozBots! They're small. They're mighty. They're Sixteen OZ roBOTS, ready to battle with all the gusto of the bigger, more expensive robots.

During a recent Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco, one of the attractions was the SozBot ProAm, featuring small-scale robots scurrying around a specially built arena. SozBots are gaining in popularity as people strive to learn the basics of robot design and battle strategy in a simpler, less expensive way.

Robot enthusiasts created SozBot competitions several years ago after discovering tiny robots in the United Kingdom called Antweights. These robots weighed 150 grams, but competitors in the United States adopted a limit of 1 pound.

"These smaller robots have caught on because you can build the robots and the arena a lot cheaper," says Mike Herbst, robot builder and webmaster of http://www.puppetmaster-robotics.com. "Yet they still have a lot of the same visceral appeal that the larger robots do."

With SozBot names such as Complete RipOff and Lame-O Inferno, the competitors at these events don't take themselves too seriously as they compete with their custom-made bots. Even so, the reality of the sport is that a carefully constructed creation might get destroyed in just a few minutes of frantic bashing.

But if SozBots sound like too much fun to pass up, here are a few tips to help get your SozBot built and ready to rumble.

Plan of Attack

First, talk with other hobbyists. Find out if there is a local robotics club in your area, or check out the events hosted by http://www.sozbots.com. The SozBots organization transports a portable arena to different cities throughout the country, dispensing advice, encouraging camaraderie, and selling parts for emergency repair during battles.

By watching a competition and examining other robots, you can get a sense of scale that will help you design your own creation. If you can't see an event in person, sites such as http://www.botbash.com provide videotaped replays of battles and photos of competing sozbots.

Next, read the rules concerning weight, weapons, and safety. Most competitions follow the official Robot Fighting League rules, available at http://www.botleague.com. The rules are long and detailed, but it's no fun to be disqualified because your robot didn't pass the weight and safety inspections. Be cautious with weapons. A flame-thrower might seem like a great idea, but RFL rules don't allow them.

Finally, put your robot on a diet. It can be tough to stay within the 16-ounce weight limit. Personal preference plays a part in the design process regarding weight considerations. Do you want a "pushy bot" that will push your opponent around without a weapon? If so, most of the weight will be taken up by the motor and batteries. Or do you want a more destructive robot with a weapon? In that case, the weapon will take up much of your weight.

"Ask a lot of questions before you buy any parts," advises Herbst. "When I first started, I found that I bought a lot of stuff I didn't need, which is still sitting on a shelf."

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