Robots are truly fascinating. They’re an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that combines computer science, mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, and a lot more. One common misconception is that all robots move, but that’s not necessarily true. Mobility is not required, but it can help a robot execute on its task.
For some robot builders, their main task is to annihilate and obliterate other robots. Today we’re speaking to combat robot extraordinaire Ellis Ware about his experience with building cool robots, destroying cool robots, and executing amazing engineering projects at RPD.
M: Ellis, you’re unique in the sense that you are a skilled engineer who never formally studied but is more than qualified based on experience. How did you get into robotics and engineering?
E: Essentially for me, it was like most kids. I watched Robot Wars and loved it. I discovered that combat robot competitions still happened outside of TV as an early teenager, and I found a passion for it as a hobby outside of school. My engineering skills grew as a result of my passion, and now I apply it full-time at RPD – doesn’t really feel like work when you enjoy it so much.
M: What’s your favourite robot you’ve built, and why are you proud of it?
E: Probably Magnetar. It’s the last one I built for BBC’s Robot Wars, and it’s the one I beat Rapid with. I feel like I built something both badass and elegant considering the budgetary and time constraints I had.
M: For those who don’t know, Rapid was Team RPD’s Robot Wars entry. Ellis, there’s an interesting story behind it, right?
E: Our CEO Josh had just offered me a job based on the build I had done for the previous series of Robot Wars. Josh had also said in one of the episodes that if anyone beats his robot he’d hire them. Fortunately, my robot beat his, so I was able to double down on the offer!
M: Robotics is always evolving. What’s the most exciting emerging technology you’ve come across in the space?
E: I think I’m correct in saying that robotics hardware is evolving at a very fast pace, but it’s the evolution of software which is truly incredible. You only have to look at the rate of progress of teams like Boston Dynamics, who 15 years ago had a early-generation robot dog, but now have terrifyingly agile humanoid machines. Well, more agile than myself at least.
M: How do you apply your experience in building robots to other electro-mechanical engineering tasks at RPD?
E: In the prototyping and production side of things, having experience building things with my hands is completely invaluable, and there’s a bunch of crossover in the techniques involved – CNC machining, sheet-metal work, additive manufacturing, and so on. I really enjoy building robots because it’s a constant source of problems to solve, and that certainly applies to the fast-paced product development world we deal with at RPD too. Combat robots tend to weigh over 100kg, with potentially thousands of components, so it’s good practice for any complex engineering projects that come through our door.
M: If you could work on any project at RPD, what would it be?
E: I’d love to work on a heavy-duty industrial robot or something. One of our other electromechanical engineers also has experience in combat robots, so we’re looking forward to the day that something that close to home comes through the door. For me, my bread and butter is transmission systems – I’ve designed about 50 gearboxes in the past few years outside of work, so I’d love to apply that to my day job.