"We may only be 'a box driven by a bunch of school kids' but we are a hard box, just look at the size of our axe! That'll put the fear of God into our opponents for sure."
— Team Variabot website

Cataclysmic Variabot, later shortened to CV, was a robot from Milton Keynes, that fought in both series of Robot Wars Extreme. Having fought and lost in a Mayhem in its first appearance, it represented the Open University in Extreme Series 2 by taking part in the University Challenge, ultimately losing to Tiberius 3 in the second round.

Team Variabot also entered the Featherweight Championship of Robot Wars Extreme: Series 2, using their featherweight version of CV, AM CVn. They later entered the Series 7 Featherweight championship with Cygnus X3.

Design[edit | edit source]

"Cataclysmic Variabot is designed using new interchangeable weapons technology to give the best performance in most situations."
— Cataclysmic Variabot website

Cataclysmic Variabot in Extreme 1

Cataclysmic Variabot was a purple box-shaped robot that was two-wheel driven. It had strong armour, but suffered from a low top speed, particularly in Extreme 1, where its top speed was below 8mph. It was notable for incorporating various interchangeable weapon pods, comparable to Plunderbird 1.

"The weapons consist of; Pneumatic flipper with a single 2" dia cylinder developing just over 0.25 ton lift at 200psi, also doubles as a self righting mechanism. Pneumatically driven pickaxe delivering devastating blows deep inside the opponents defences. Uses constant acceleration mechanism to deliver greatest destruction, also doubles as a self righting mechanism. 18" high pressure spike to pierce the shells and vital systems of the opponent, robot will run both ways up in this mode. There is also a 9" cutting disc that can be mounted to the rear of the unit."
— Cataclysmic Variabot website

The internals of Cataclysmic Variabot

Across Cataclysmic Variabot's three battles, only one weapon was ever used, this being its pneumatic pickaxe, which used a constant acceleration system. The axe was intended to function as a srimech, but it failed to right the robot when it was overturned. CV could also be equipped with a 200psi pneumatic flipping arm, and an 18" high pressure spike. If CV was equipped with the spike, it became invertible. A 9" cutting disc could also be attached to the rear of Cataclysmic Variabot.

In Extreme 1, Cataclysmic Variabot featured a lower and wider design, but it became taller and thinner for Extreme 2, along with internal upgrades.

"The main aim of the upgrades to the robot for 2002 is to kick some metal butt, this should be done as follows. Increase the speed of the unit to around 8 mph by over running the motors at 36 volt instead of the original 24 volts. Improve the handling of the robot by the introduction of a Piezo gyro this works a treat the unit is great to drive with this mod (It will go in a straight line !!!!). Improve the performance and power of the weapons. New high pressure large bore front penetrating spike (this will be interchangeable with the new unit Nova)."
— Cataclysmic Variabot website (edited)

Etymology[edit | edit source]

"Cataclysmic Variabot, thanks for that one!"
Craig Charles commenting on the difficult-to-pronounce name in Extreme 1

The name Cataclysmic Variabot was a pun on "Cataclysmic Variable", a type of binary star system containing a white dwarf[1]. This was the field of study for university student and team captain John Barker at the time of Robot Wars[2]. The "Variabot" aspect of the name also refers to the robot's interchangeable weaponry.

"The name, once again, was due to the team being made up of astronomers and astrophysicists. CV got its name (Cataclysmic Variabot) from the variability of the weapons and the link to Cataclysmic Variable (my area of research at the time) these are binary star systems containing a white dwarf."
— John Barker in 2019[3]

The name was shortened to simply CV in the second series of Extreme (written on the statistics board as C.V.), after Robot Wars staff told the team that Cataclysmic Variabot was too long and hard to pronounce. This was no problem to the team, as cataclysmic variables are commonly shortened to 'CV' in their native field of research.

"The staff at the events complained about the length and unpronounceable name. Hence we shortened it from Cataclysmic Variabot to CV. (Please note the original name was related to the star systems I was doing my Ph. D. on which are called Cataclysmic variables also known as CVs so we were happy with the change)"
— John Barker in 2020[4]

The Team[edit | edit source]

Cataclysmic Variabot was entered by a team of five students from the Open University, who built the robot with a lot of support from the university.

"The team wishes to acknowledge: The Open University Science Marketing department for the major funding in this project. The physics and astronomy workshop technicians Roger and Martin for their help and use of equipment. The physics and astronomy laboratory manager Alexandra (Sandra) Mills for ordering of components and arranging for use the of the workshops. All the members of the Open university electronics department especilly Fraser Robertson for the manufacture of PCBs and helpful advice. The Open university science department main workshop manager Ron Hussey for the use of equipment. The Open university steel store manager Barry Hussey for purchase and supply of the steel for the robot."
— Team Variabot website

As only three team members could appear on the show, Chris Brockwell and Lisa Blake joined team captain John Barker for Extreme 1, whilst David Lott and Andrew Conway appeared in Extreme 2.

Throughout their appearances, the team members dyed purple highlights in their hair to match their robot. The team disbanded shortly after Extreme 2 as most of the students had graduated at this stage, although John Barker would still create a featherweight robot for the Seventh Wars in his own right.

Qualification[edit | edit source]

Cataclysmic Variabot fighting Toe-Cutter 2 in the Series 5 qualifiers

Cataclysmic Variabot never appeared in a main series of Robot Wars, although it attempted to qualify for the Fifth Wars, where it defeated Toe-Cutter 2 in its qualifier, despite the axe not working. Despite winning the battle, Cataclysmic Variabot was not given a place for Series 5, meaning it failed to qualify, only appearing in Extreme instead.

"John and Chris look desperate as they try last minute alterations to get the axe working, they fail due to a loose pipe that was not found until the return to the O.U."
— Cataclysmic Variabot website

Cataclysmic Variabot, now under the name CV, also attempted to enter Series 6, fighting G-Man, Inshredable and Lazerus in the qualifiers. Inshredable won the battle, and CV did not receive a discretionary place, meaning it failed to qualify again[5], although it still appeared in the second series of Extreme, filmed later that same year.

The team did not enter Series 7, as by that time most of the students finished studying and moved on from university, so the team disbanded, though captain John Barker would enter the featherweight Cygnus X3 into the featherweight competition[6].

Robot History[edit | edit source]

Extreme 1[edit | edit source]

X-Terminator, Panzer Wraith and Cataclysmic Variabot in the pits, ready for their Mayhem battle

Cataclysmic Variabot made its first appearance on Robot Wars in a Mayhem battle in Episode 6 of Extreme Series 1, being brought in as a reserve after another robot was forced to withdraw. There, it fought the experienced X-Terminator, as well as Panzer Wraith, another veteran.

"Two wheels, two casters, will they be strong enough? Two wheelchair motors, two hopes, according to its opponents; Bob Hope and no hope!"
— Jonathan Pearce introduces Cataclysmic Variabot

Cataclysmic Variabot is attacked by X-Terminator and Panzer Wraith

Cataclysmic Variabot started by driving towards X-Terminator, which also started by driving at Cataclysmic Variabot, but Cataclysmic Variabot fired the axe too early and missed X-Terminator. After this, X-Terminator got at the side of Cataclysmic Variabot and axed it, pinning it down. Panzer Wraith came over and attacked the front of Cataclysmic Variabot with its saw, and X-Terminator rammed Cataclysmic Variabot into Shunt's CPZ. X-Terminator left its opponent for the House Robot, but Shunt missed with his axe. This allowed Cataclysmic Variabot to escape, despite Panzer Wraith briefly driving onto it and cutting into its side with its disc cutter.

"...look at the damage already caused to Cataclysmic Variabot there, can you see? The metal is just ripped on the top corner."
— Jonathan Pearce notes the damage to Cataclysmic Variabot

As Refbot counts Cataclysmic Variabot out, Shunt puts it onto the floor flipper

X-Terminator closed in on Cataclysmic Variabot, and when Cataclysmic Variabot tried to turn to attack, it turned too far and missed with its axe. X-Terminator axed the Open University's machine, hitting the top just by one of the wheels and pulling it back before letting go. X-Terminator quickly came back and axed Cataclysmic Variabot again. X-Terminator reversed, and Panzer Wraith continued to attack the side of Cataclysmic Variabot with its saw. Cataclysmic Variabot fired its axe at thin air and X-Terminator slammed into the axe. Cataclysmic Variabot turned and drove at X-Terminator, but narrowly missed with its axe. X-Terminator's axe punctured the top of Cataclysmic Variabot, and Cataclysmic Variabot began pushing X-Terminator, but X-Terminator pulled back the axe. Meanwhile, Panzer Wraith was attacking the back of Cataclysmic Variabot, driving on top of it a couple of times. X-Terminator left Cataclysmic Variabot, and Panzer Wraith pushed it, cutting into the side with its saw, and slicing through its removable link. Cataclysmic Variabot instantly stopped moving as a result, and Panzer Wraith left it to attack X-Terminator.

"What is the Variabot doing at this moment in time? Standing idle, or standing immobile? That's the big question, I think they've gone!"
— Jonathan Pearce as Cataclysmic Variabot lies immobile

Cataclysmic Variabot is axed by Shunt and X-Terminator

As Refbot counted Cataclysmic Variabot out, Shunt pushed it onto the floor flipper. X-Terminator pitted Panzer Wraith, then Cataclysmic Variabot was thrown by the floor flipper. Shunt and X-Terminator axed Cataclysmic Variabot, and pushed it into the pit together. As a result, it resoundingly lost the Mayhem to X-Terminator.

After the battle had concluded, the Cataclysmic Variabot team offered their removable link to the team behind Panzer Wraith, as their reward for immobilising it during the battle.

Extreme 2[edit | edit source]

"The axe, flipper or spike interchangeable weaponry is hidden in the central bay. Two wheel driven. Two casters at the rear. Good armour, but poor speed really."
— Jonathan Pearce

Cataclysmic Variabot, now renamed CV, represented the Open University for the University Challenge. In the first round, it went up against Infernal Contraption and favourites to win the competition, Behemoth.

Philippa Forrester: "You're up against some big universities here, who would you most like to see out first?"
John Barker: "Erm. We'd like to see Infernal Contraption out first, because it's probably the one that's going to inflict the most damage on our little bot!"
— Pre-battle interview

CV is flipped by Behemoth

CV's axe finds a gap in Behemoth

CV started by turning away from its opponents as Behemoth charged at Infernal Contraption, Behemoth pushed against Infernal Contraption, trying to get the scoop under it and flip it. CV got behind Infernal Contraption and pinned it against Behemoth, allowing Behemoth to flip it. Having flipped Infernal Contraption, Behemoth pushed CV, which tried to axe Behemoth but missed. Behemoth drove around CV, and although CV tried to reverse away before Behemoth could flip, Infernal Contraption blocked it. Behemoth got under the side of CV and flipped it over, and CV appeared to be unable to right itself, due to the axe not being powerful enough. Fortunately for CV, Behemoth sportingly righted the struggling machine. As soon as it was righted, CV tried to axe Behemoth but Behemoth dodged. The much quicker Behemoth drove around CV, with CV firing its axe a couple of times, missing the first blow but hitting the scoop with the second. This did not affect Behemoth, who rammed CV into the CPZ.

"CV's axe doesn't seem to be able to cause any sort of damage at all! They're driven into the CPZ and Behemoth look very, very strong here!"
— Jonathan Pearce as CV is rammed into the CPZ

Infernal Contraption attacks CV in celebration

As it was pushed into the corner, CV fired the axe, which got caught behind Behemoth's scoop, and CV was actually able to hold Behemoth back as it tried to escape the CPZ as Sir Killalot came in. However, after a push from Sir Killalot, CV pulled back the axe, allowing Behemoth to escape. CV fired its axe at Sir Killalot, hitting one of the House Robot's arms, but Sir Killalot merely turned, shrugging off the axe, helped by Behemoth ramming into CV. Suddenly, Behemoth broke down, and Infernal Contraption and CV attacked the favourite. CV's axe was caught in Behemoth as Refbot began counting it out, but it managed to get the axe out as the counter hit 10. Whilst Sir Killalot attacked Behemoth, Infernal Contraption continued to fight CV, hitting it with its drum and flipping it upwards. Both robots were through to Round 2.

"Now the thing that was probably most poignant about that battle was if you hadn't turned CV back over, you probably would have won, as they would have been unmovable before."
— Post-battle interview with the Behemoth team

CV then faced the crushing beak of Tiberius 3 in the second round.

Philippa Forrester: "What are you going to use?"
John Barker: "We're going to stick with the axe. WE thought [about] putting the flipper on, but we definitely feel the axe is..."
Philippa Forrester: "Is it powerful enough to do any real damage?"
John Barker: "Erm, ... we'll find out."
Philippa Forrester: "[Laughs] I like an optimist!"
— Pre-battle interview

CV finds a weak spot in Tiberius 3

Tiberius 3 started the quicker, driving towards CV and dodging its axe blow. Tiberius 3 pushed against the side of CV, trying to get underneath, but instead just pushed it against the top arena wall as it couldn't get its wedge underneath. The two robots turned around to face each other, and CV fired its axe, but the axe merely slid off the side. CV tried firing the axe again, but missed. Tiberius 3 pushed against the front, but still couldn't get its wedge underneath. CV hit the top of Tiberius 3, but the axe failed to puncture. Tiberius 3 reversed and turned around for another attack. After driving around CV, Tiberius 3 pushed it towards the CPZ, but then backed off. CV charged at Tiberius 3 and fired the axe, which merely slid down the back, and Tiberius 3 turned around, dodging CV's next axe blow. Tiberius 3 tried to get under the side of CV, but CV turned and fired the axe, which punctured the top of Tiberius 3.

"...CV have got to grips with Tiberius 3! They've grappled at close quarters. Now, which is the stronger machine?"
— Jonathan Pearce

Tiberius 3 grapples with CV

CV is levered towards the pit

Tiberius 3 drove down the arena, dragging CV with it, then turned around and brought its crusher down on the top of CV. However, the crusher did not pierce, as the wedge was not underneath CV to provide leverage. CV retracted its axe, and Tiberius 3 got at the side of CV, pushing the Open University representative down the arena, towards the pit release button. As the two robots got close, CV reversed into the button, but this allowed Tiberius 3 to get its wedge under it. The Loughborough University representative grabbed CV and pulled it back, before turning it towards the pit and pushing it down.

Craig Charles: "What was the game plan?"
John Barker: "Err, survive!"
Craig Charles: "[Laughs] Keep out of the way? It's got quite a nasty little pincer, hasn't he?"
John Barker: "He has, it's pretty vicious."
— Post-battle interview

Tiberius 3 went through to the final, and CV was eliminated. This was CV's last appearance on Robot Wars.

"CV, pleased to have got that far, I think."
— Jonathan Pearce afterwards

Results[edit | edit source]

CATACLYSMIC VARIABOT - RESULTS
Extreme Series 1
Mayhem
Mayhem vs. Panzer Wraith, X-Terminator Lost
CV - RESULTS
Extreme Series 2
University Challenge
Round 2
Round 1 vs. Behemoth, Infernal Contraption Qualified
Round 2 vs. Tiberius 3 Lost

Wins/Losses[edit | edit source]

  • Wins: 1
  • Losses: 2

Series Record[edit | edit source]

Main Series Cataclysmic Variabot Series Record
The First Wars Did not enter
The Second Wars Did not enter
The Third Wars Did not enter
The Fourth Wars Did not enter
The Fifth Wars Failed to qualify
The Sixth Wars Failed to qualify
The Seventh Wars Featherweight Championship with Cygnus X3
Series 8 Did not enter
Series 9 Did not enter
Series 10 Did not enter
Robot Wars Extreme Appearances
Series 1 Entered
Series 2 Entered
Featherweight Championship with AM CVn

Outside Robot Wars[edit | edit source]

The team also entered the 2003 series of Techno Games, with two robots. The first was Son of Variabot, a pneumatically powered rope climbing robot, and the second was Squeeky, a robotic mouse that would navigate mazes. Son of Variabot competed in the Natural Rope Climb, but lost in the first round to RC-1, taking 53.85 seconds compared to its opponent's world record-breaking 8.06 seconds[7]. Despite this, the time was good enough to reach the Semi-Finals, only to lose again, with Climb-actic winning in a world record breaking 3.72 seconds, whilst Son of Variabot took 1 minute, 12.54 seconds[8]. In the Micro Mouse Wall Following event, Squeeky failed to reach the final, so was not seen on television[9].

CV in December 2019

In January 2020, CV was sold on eBay for £350[10]. However, the winning bidder later revealed they could not collect the robot, so John Barker instead decided to keep CV and restore it to fighting condition[11].

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Cataclysmic Variabot is the only robot to appear in both series of Robot Wars Extreme, but not appear in any main championship, UK or otherwise.
  • Cataclysmic Variabot and Killertron are the only axebots to defeat Behemoth, who would triumph over at least five in its career.
  • In Extreme Series 2, CV was labelled as a newcomer despite appearing in the first series of Extreme.
  • Both of Cataclysmic Varabot's three way melees were against a former semi-finalist and an invertible robot with a spinning weapon.
  • Both of Cataclysmic Variabot's appearances were in the same episode as Behemoth.

References[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

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