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Robot Wars UK

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Robot Wars is a mechanical robot game show, shown in the UK on BBC2 television. It airs early on a weekday evening, often with a repeat on Sundays. The show used to be presented by Phillipa Forrester1 and Craig Charles2. The first series featured Jeremy Clarkson, formerly of the motoring programme Top Gear, instead of Craig Charles.

What's it all About?

Robot Wars is a clever idea which brings together three fundamentals of human psychology:

  • People, and especially the young males at whom the programme is mainly aimed, like high-tech gadgets.

  • People, and again especially young males, like to watch a good fight with vicious-looking weapons.

  • People don't like getting badly hurt by said weapons, and former pastimes with proxy fighters, such as cock-fighting and bear-baiting, are now generally held to be socially unacceptable.

Thus Robot Wars was created, and its concept is simple: you build a robot, your robot fights someone else's, and hopefully it wins. To go into slightly more detail, you spend at least two months building a remote controlled robot, then enter it into some knockout heats. If you survive those, you go on to the National Robot Wars finals stage and get your face on the telly.

Early series of the programme set certain tests for the robots, such as the timed negotiation of an obstacle course, but the format has now been simplified to head-to-head fights between the robots. The eight starters are reduced to four and then two, and the winner of that week's final goes through to the next stage. Heats and then a semi-final lead to the grand final where one machine will be crowned 'UK Robot Wars Champion'. Do not fret if you don't get that far: you could always sell the charred scrap metal remains and maybe it will be made into a Shopping Trolley with your name on.

The Contest

Fighting is what Robot Wars is all about, so it would be helpful to know how to win, and (of course) how to lose.

The Pit - if you push your opponent into a square hole in the floor of the arena then you have won, unless they can climb out again. To accomplish this you must have more force, speed and/or wheel grip. For lighter robots, slamming into your opponent at high velocity is a good tactic - but drive carefully, and be prepared to brake suddenly; if the other driver has fast enough reflexes, they can move away and let you go crashing into the pit yourself. Pushing can be aided by a ramming spike or other weapon that holds your opponent, allowing them to be more easily manoeuvred.

Immobilisation - this is when one robot has a mechanical failure and ceases to move. Sometimes with a very complex robot, engines can fail or batteries can blow. Some robots have tank-tracks instead of wheels, and if one of these is cut the robot ceases to move. At this point the house robots (see below) will come and demolish the failing machine.

Disqualification - if at the end of the fight the judges find that one robot has broken one of the many rules of Robot Wars, then the robot is disqualified from play. For instance, certain weapons, such as a rigid circular saw, are banned for the safety of spectators. Having one of these fitted would lead to disqualification.

Judge's Decision - if a match reaches its time limit with no clear winner, the three judges intervene. Robots are scored on measures such as aggression and damage (both inflicted and sustained), to determine who goes forward to the next round.

House Robots

The House Robots are a set of very powerful robots designed and built by the Robot Wars team themselves, who can intervene in battles under certain circumstances. They cannot win for themselves; their purpose is to provide a good show for the audience and to patrol the arena as an obstacle. They begin in the marked areas called the Corner Patrol Zones (CPZs), and have the right to destroy any robot which enters these areas. They are:

Matilda - a rhinoceros-inspired robot with two tusks designed to flip an opponent.

Sergeant Bash - armed with a flame-thrower which can turn through 360°, and a pincer weapon on its nose.

Dead Metal - a robot with a moveable circular saw for light destruction.

Shunt - Armed with a powerful axe to inflict large amounts of damage.

Sir Killalot - a relative newcomer, this robot was introduced in the second series. It is the most powerful house robot, with a lance and a pincer weapon, capable of picking immobilised robots up to kill.

All house robots are also fitted with special cameras so that the TV audience can see the view from onboard during the battle.


Use of the house robots - If you can push your opponent into one of the CPZs, then the particular house robot guarding that zone has the right to trash the unfortunate intruder. Because the house robots are bigger and stronger than the contestants, this often results in a swift demise.

Flipping - this humorous phenomenon occurs when a robot is turned upside down, preventing it from propelling itself. Some Robots are built to cope with this, having wheels on both top and bottom. If they are flipped, they simply carry on with the other wheels, though this technique can be disorientating for the driver. Other robots have special self-righting mechanisms, which enable them to flip themselves back over if they are inverted.


Virtually all robots have some sort of weapon: without one, your robot is as good as a saturated cardboard box. Here is a list of robotic weapons:

Circular Saw - the circular saw is one of the most commonly-used weapons. It inflicts light gashes and scratches to a moderately armoured robot. Not a very destructive weapon, it is usually used as a back up to the main armoury. Robots that make good use of this include the house robot Dead Metal and the winner of the first Robot Wars, 'Roadblock'. In the third series, some circular saws have either shattered or had to be removed: if they shatter during a match, the offending robot is likely to be disqualified.

Axes - axes can be used effectively as a main weapon. The robot's axe is either a massive slow pickaxe which shifts from one side to the other, as used by 'Killertron', or a small axe which rapidly hits the target at about 60 chops per minute, as used by 'Mortis'. The large axes make large dents, while the smaller ones inflict many small gashes and dents very rapidly. Other robots to make good use of this technique include 'Killerhurtz' and the house robot Shunt.

Flippers and Wedges - some robots are specially designed to get underneath their adversary with a wedge shape. Additionally, a flipper may be used to lift the opponent off the ground and flip them over. 'Roadblock' was a simple wedge: due to its lack of speed, it relied on its opponent driving up its slope and falling over, demonstrating that of all the potential advantages in a fight, common sense is on of the most useful and one of the rarest. The first effective wedge/flipper combination was 'Cassius', a fast, wedge-shaped robot with a pneumatic flipper which reached the second series final. This weapon spectacularly demonstrated its versatility when Cassius itself was turn upside down: it used the flipper to throw itself back upright. This design was copied widely in the third series.

Razers - this weapon has only ever been used once in UK Robot Wars, by the eponymous 'razer'. It is surprising that no-one else copied this design, because it demonstrated great potential. A huge and immensely powerful pneumatic razer caused devastating damage to the bodywork of its opponents, only failing to reach the semi-final when mechanical failures stopped it on both its appearances. The best of this weapon may yet be to come.

Flails - rapidly spun chains, sometimes with pointed lumps attached to the ends, are generally weak, providing little or no damage to the opponent robot. The nearest thing to a flail-based weapon which has been used to significant effect was the rotating disc on 'Hypnodisc'. On its first match, the weapon was so powerful it actually battered one of Matilda's tusks off, and 'Hypnodisc' reached the series semi-final.

1Who also presents the popular science and technology show Tomorrow's World.2Best known for his role as Lister in Red Dwarf.

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