As the countdown begins, two hunks of warped plastic and metal look down at each other across the battlefield arena.
The announcer said, “Three, two, one… Activate.”
This isn’t the opening scene of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, it’s a typical Sunday afternoon of Britain’s leading Robot Fighting Ring members.
Once a month, amateur engineers with Bristol Bot Builders (BBBs) gather in city pubs to drink beer and fight home-made robots.
Think “Fight Club” meets “Robot Wars”, the popular BBC show that inspired many group members in the late 90’s and 2010’s.
That’s why Joe Brown, who helps run the BBB, started fiddling with the machine himself almost a decade ago.
“I was a student at the University of Bristol and was helping run an engineering society,” the 29-year-old told Sun.
“We were looking for a way to build practical skills in our students and provide a fun yet social activity.”
Recalling Robot Wars, a show that Joe and his friends loved as a child, they had the bright idea of setting up their own version.
“I realized that Robot Wars was a hobby, not just a TV show, and people were making smaller, cheaper bots at home,” Joe said.
“We combined beer, pizza and little robots for a bit of fun and it’s been going on ever since.”
Robot building has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years thanks to increased availability of suitable tools, parts and know-how.
Many aficionados start building small machines weighing 150 grams that fight inside a dishwasher-sized windproof box.
Over time, they will graduate into larger weight classes, with the best bots coming in at 110 kg, the same size as Robot Wars.
Competitors can immobilize their opponents for two to three minutes or push them into holes in the floor of the playing field called “pits”.
Robots can be equipped with flippers, axes, spinning weapons and more to give you an edge over your enemies.
And while the process undoubtedly has a competitive edge, it’s the eccentricity and camaraderie that draws dozens of entrants to each tournament.
“What I like about it is that people enjoy solving problems with each other,” Joe said.
“Even if your enemy (a robot trying to compete with you) doesn’t work, I’ll help you prepare because you want to fight the best.”
‘We make stupid things’
Joe’s remarks were echoed by competitors at BBB’s most recent event at Bristol’s cider bar last week.
Regular contender Rory Mangles, who appeared in three seasons of Robot Wars, told Sun, “We make stupid things and we fight them.”
“It’s good to create a way to test it with others to see how good your skills are.”
Bristol has become the UK’s hotbed for robot battles, but in recent years groups have popped up in several cities, including Liverpool and York.
Contests are not only a bit of fun, they give you a chance to show off your engineering skills and even get a job.
“We’re running out of engineers,” Joe said. “There are more engineering jobs than people studying.”
“Things like robot battles are a great way to give people a taste of engineering and problem solving.”
Joe says his friend recently got into robotics and was recently offered a role in an engineering firm in a competition.
“Last month a company came to our event and a friend of mine just started chatting and showed me his robot. They hired him on the spot.”
You can learn more about Bristol Bot Builders on our website.
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