Combat Robotics Starter's Guide
You've probably seen combat robots on TV (or more likely, the YouTube highlights of the TV show), and want to try it yourself. Great! Combat robotics is a very exciting hobby with a great community. You'll get to flex your engineering and manufacturing muscles, while also having fun!
Combat Robotics, in the broadest of terms, is the hobby of building robots that then fight each other in fighting tournaments. The rules between tournaments vary somewhat, but in general the goal is to disable or destroy the enemy bot to move on in the competition. On this page we will generally be talking in terms of the rules and regulations of NHRL.
In addition to the information on this page, I highly suggest checking out The Combat Robot Design Handbook, which includes tons of good tips and tricks for getting started in robot combat, as well as some resources that many bot builders use.
While the bots you watch on TV are exciting, they are also extremely heavy and expensive. These bots, weighing in around 250 pounds, are known as the "heavyweight" class. It is much more common to start out in one of the three categories that NHRL offers; 3 pounds, 12 pounds, or 30 pounds.
3 Pound Robots
3lb bots are the largest group at NHRL and one of the easiest to get started in. As the name implies, 3lb robots are usually limited to weighing 3 pounds or less, with some special weight bonuses offered for certain bot designs. You can read all about the specific weight bonuses and rules for them in the 3lb robots section of the rules.
At the 3 pound level, bots are often made primarily of 3D printed plastics, with added metal reinforcements as armor. Don't worry if you don't have a CNC machine for making metal parts, many 3lb robots use very little metal in their armor and will opt to get it manufactured by a 3rd party service, like Send Cut Send. 3lb bots use common off-the-shelf RC car and drone motors for movement and their weapons. allowing a capable 3lb robot to be built for around $400. However, many of the top bots can cost up into the thousands of dollars. Don't let this discourage you though, you can still have plenty of fun and win some fights with a basic, well-designed bot. Plus, you'll learn a lot more losing than by winning.
3lb is also a great weight class to have some fun and make exciting/unique robots. Want to strap a rocket motor to an RC car and see how it fares? Go for it! One of the nice things about NHRL is that since there is no entry fee, you can bring some fun robots that you do not expect to win, and just have a good time getting it destroyed and putting on a bit of a show.
If you are very new to combat robotics and maybe not too experienced with manufacturing and design, there are also kit bots. Kit bots are combat robots you buy either fully or mostly assembled, so the amount of work you have to do is minimal. These can be a great way to get started in robot combat, but keep in mind that these kits are not going to be winning any tournaments and probably end up being more expensive than if you designed your bot yourself.
Even though 3lb robots can often fit in the palm of your hand, they can still pack a major punch! Make sure to test far away from people, animals, and anything that can be damaged, and only fight bots in a fighting cage.
12 Pound Robots
12lb robots are a much smaller bracket size than 3lb bots, but can still be a viable option for new competitors. Just like the 3lb bots, in the 12lb weight class there are a number of weight bonuses you can achieve to make your bot heavier, read all about them in the 12lb robot rules section.
12lb bots are primarily made of aluminum or machined plastic, with steel and 3D printed plastic components making up the internals. The motors and electronics used are still general RC components most of the time, helping to keep costs relatively reasonable. A fairly competitive 12lb bot can be had for less than $1000.
While building a 12lb bot may sound a bit more intimidating than a 3lb bot, it may actually be a better option for some new builders. Having up to 12lbs gives you a lot more breathing room, whereas at the 3lb weight limit it is a struggle to fit everything and not weigh too much. Also, since 12lb is a smaller bracket, you'll have fewer fights to get through and can get further in the bracket. We've had brackets so small in the past that every bot competing qualified for the finals!
As with any combat robot, make sure that you test your bot safely, far away from people or animals, and that you wear proper safety gear.
30 Pound Robots
30lb is the biggest weight class fought at NHRL, and is not recommended for new competitors. At 30lbs, there is a lot of kinetic energy flying around, and it can get very dangerous if you do not know what you are doing.