What does it take to be a Robot Wars driver? Inside information from Tim Bence

July 28, 2016
What does it take to be a Robot Wars driver? Inside information from Tim Bence

Any sport involving human – machine interaction begs the question, “which element contributes the most to success, the person doing the driving or the technology that’s being driven?”. We hear this regularly when Lewis Hamilton dominates Formula 1 and a similar argument for NASCAR in the US. A rational argument would suggest it requires supreme driving skill and ground-breaking technological innovation in equal measures.

With the return of Robot Wars to our screens, the question returns. To be successful, you’ll need a robot that has the power, strength and agility to dominate any opponent, though without the precise control of such a machine, being able to get the most out of each of its attributes, where would you be? Well, we caught up with Tim Bence, Robot Wars World Champion and driver of Storm 2 from the current series, to find out what it takes to be one of the best Robot Wars drivers in the world.

After a 12 and half year gap in the televised series, Tim returns with Team Storm 2 after previous success with Team Storm. However, Tim has still been ‘behind the controller’ of his robot in live shows and other competitions around the world. Tim is joined in the team by his wife, Meral Bence, and friend and VMware Business Solution Strategist, Ed Hoppitt. As well as driving Storm 2, Tim is involved in the fearless innovation of their robot and the regular maintenance and preparation that it needs.

Tim’s Robot Wars journey started with a combined love for the TV show of the early 2000s and all things tech. Tim explains how he has always enjoyed video games and remote control cars and when he and Ed first discussed the idea of entering Robot Wars, it was a dream come true. Despite now having one of the leading robots, it has been a journey of constant improvements, always focusing on the weakest aspect and making adjustments where the main tool is a fantastic imagination and knowledge of a vast range of materials.

But, come battle day, its full focus on the job at hand – destruction. Tim believes the primary skill that allows him to take on and defeat the best robots in the world is quick-thinking and the ability to act fast. Many of us have experienced driving a remote control car and that mirrored feeling and inverted controlling when it is now speeding towards you. But have you ever had to do that with a 100kg robot, in the middle of a battle, with Sir Killalot breathing down your neck? Not only that, but you have weaponry to control, obstacles to negotiate, and Storm 2’s ability to drive upside down adds another layer of controlling complexity.

Tim believes video games and driving remote controlled cars and robots for many years has assisted this, however he does no specific training for the events on a regular basis. Tim describes how every robot feels different and he simply gets a good grasp of these sensations on the day. If the opportunity ever arises, Tim always enjoys having a quick spin with an opponent’s robot and feeling the vast differences between each. Though the ultimate experience would be to drive a house robot.

House robots, such as the infamous Sir Killalot, have no weight restrictions and are built to be able to obliterate any challenger that thinks they’re tough enough. However, ironically, Tim mentions they actually have a safety benefit. It’s not uncommon to see a robot that hasn’t had the appropriate pre-battle checks, such as those done by Tim and the team, which then leads to a robot becoming out of control. No human would want to intervene with an out of control killing machine, so that’s a job for the house robots. Safety first, eh?

Parallels with F1 are not uncommon, the more you learn about Team Storm 2. Blowers and dry ice to cool the machine, on-board telemetry giving Tim the feedback he needs, and constant tinkering and adjustments for the job at hand. Upon weighing up the opponent, Tim can adjust how the robot handles for his style of driving and his initial plan of attack. Lower the grabbing arm for shorter robots, activate the flipper for taller opponents, and, if there’s a risk of being flipped, attach the self-righting weapon.

With so much experience and so many years behind a robot, what is it that Tim enjoys the most? What is the perfect battle? Well, that would be domination. Tim recalls his favourite fight, back in series 7. The outcome was a battle that lasted the full course and an opponent that was completely bent by the end. Complete control. Demolition with precision.

It is clear from talking to Tim that passion and enjoyment in what you’re doing is one of the key ingredients for success. Many years developing a robot and driving it to victory and Tim still loves what he does. From the tech to the telemetry. From the competition to the creativity.

Make sure you check out our regular feature blogs on the fearless innovation used to create Storm 2 here: Anatomy of a robot

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