With just 28 days to design, build, and test his robot for the 2018 season of “BattleBots” on the Discovery Channel, Hal Rucker had no time to waste. The tight timeline he had given himself due to other commitments leading up to the tournament drove the majority of his design and theme decisions.
DUCK!, Rucker’s latest BattleBot, is a simple and durable machine designed to survive big hits by powerful kinetic opponents. In the sport of robots, this is referred to as the “break your fist on my face” strategy.
Rucker’s goal was to create his waterfowl-themed bot with a small Bill of Materials (no pun intended) and parts that were duplicated and used in different subassemblies. For example, the drive shafts for the wheels are similar to the drive shafts for the lifter, and all the shafts ride inside the same tapered roller bearing assemblies. To keep things simple while ensuring that the bot would still be strong and durable, DUCK! features a unibody construction with its entire base milled from one solid aluminum block.
Without sufficient time to test and rebuild, Rucker went with a simple lifter rather than a destructive device for the bot’s active weapon. The lifter design is also where the theme for DUCK! was born.
“One night when I was sketching ideas for the lifter, I noticed the fork on the front lifter looked a little like a duck bill,” said Rucker. “So I decided to shape it to look even more like a bill. Again, the schedule dictated the decision making process, but DUCK! turned out to be a very popular name that was easy to leverage in the design of uniforms, t-shirts, stickers, and other team handouts.”
A Family Affair
A highlight of designing, building, and competing bots for Rucker is working with his 13-year-old daughter, Hannah. The two have been building and competing together since Hannah was just 6 years old when they drove identical 60-lbs. lightweight bots called Black and Blue. Hannah turned out to be a good driver, even winning a couple of medals at 7 years old.
From there, Hannah went on to drive heavyweight bot Whoops! before competing alongside her dad driving The Ringmaster in season 2 of BattleBots. This season Hal drives DUCK! and Hannah operates the lifter weapon.
“At this point, I still design our robots, but Hannah participates in the builds and can describe all the components, what they do, and how they work,” said Rucker. “‘BattleBots’ has been an excellent introduction to engineering for her and I think it will spawn an interest in STEM, but Hannah is still young and exploring a range of interests, including sports, theater, and just being a kid who has to get her homework done. Even if she decides not to pursue STEM later in life, she will have a basic understanding of how stuff works, how things are made, and how to use tools properly.”
Quick-turn Manufacturing Allows Time to Build and Test DUCK!
Hal worked with Protolabs on previous bot builds, including last season’s The Ringmaster, and this year was no different. DUCK! was constructed using CNC machining for custom machine keys, motor faces, mountings, and wheel guards, and sheet metal fabrication for brackets to hold electronic speed controllers. The entire machine was modeled in SolidWorks and uploaded online at Protolabs, with Hal receiving parts to his door just a few days later.
“Protolabs is incredibly fast, precise, and reliable,” said Hal. “I’ve been counting on them to deliver CNC [machined], sheet metal, and 3D-printed parts for many years, and they’ve always done a great job. With regard to helping me build DUCK! in just 28 days, I couldn’t have completed the bot in time without their services and fantastic customer support.”
DUCK! made its TV debut during the 2018 season premiere of “BattleBots” on May 11 where it took on Mecha Rampage and Free Shipping. After a brutal three minutes in the ring, DUCK! was declared the winner by a unanimous decision from the judges. Hal compares competing on “BattleBots” to a trip to an amusement park: You wait in line for a long time for an intense short ride; the 3 minutes go by quickly, but key moments are burned into your memory. This season will also be a test to see if a new bot built in a few weeks can be competitive.
“Participating in the show is an opportunity to meet up with some very smart, interesting, and nice builders from all over the world,” said Hal. “It’s insane how the participants get together to destroy each other’s creations, and then sit around afterward talking about how much fun it was.”
Editor’s Note: This article was sponsored by Protolabs.