Random Violence Technologies, also known as Team Mortis, was a team which competed in Series 1-4 of Robot Wars. Consisting of members from Cambridge and Nottingham, they entered the main competition in those series with Mortis, one of the most technologically advanced robots to compete in the early series.

The Team[edit | edit source]

"Rob and Chris decided to enter Robot Wars in the Autumn of 1997, after seeing a feature in Bizarre Magazine. As members of the University's Engineering Society, they were able to use the Engineering Department's workshops after obtaining permission."
— Team Mortis website on the formation of the team[1]

Random Violence Technologies with Mortis at BattleBots Season 2.0

Random Violence Technologies was formed by Cambridge University alumni Rob Knight and Chris Sorsby, who first heard about Robot Wars in Bizarre Magazine, and their engineering teacher, Arthur Chilcott, who they persuaded to join the team. They entered the first series with Mortis, which they developed over time for entry into the next three series thereafter. The initial plan was for Mortis to have two ice axes, but this proved impossible to achieve within the weight limit[2], so Chilcott designed the mechanism to drive a single axe, which was patented by the University of Cambridge.

Mortis took three months to build, with the team working seven days a week on the robot, and after Series 1, Mortis was upgraded over three months to get it ready for Series 2[3]. At the same time, Sorsby was replaced by Ben Impey, who in turn was replaced by PhD student Ben Gordon for Series 3. Gordon developed a brushless controller for the machine's upgraded drive and weapon systems, which was used for the robot's remaining appearances thereafter.[4] For Series 4, Paul Ford took Gordon's place as the team's third member.

"When they started to contact Mentorn regularly, it became apparent that they had become the "Cambridge University Team". While this wasn't really a problem to them, it did give the impression that Mortis was an official University entrant. This isn't really fair on the University, since it puts their reputation on the line."
— Mortis Website[5]

Mortis was introduced in Series 1 and 3 as coming from Cambridge University in Series 1, but despite the team members studying or working there and using the workshops, Mortis was not built as a school project, unlike Roadblock and T.R.A.C.I.E.. In Series 2, Mortis was credited as coming from Cambridge, and in Series 4 it was credited as being from "Nottingham and Cambridge".

"We were presented as a well funded Cambridge University team to beat and whilst we did have access to the workshops to build, I called hundreds of companies to blag all the components and materials - Yuasa gave us batteries, Westland Helicopters all the carbon fibre, and DU Glacier endless bearings, bless 'em. People just like robots it seems."
— Rob Knight[6]

Over the course of its appearances, Mortis became notable for its sophisticated technology and reportedly high cost. Despite incorporating many donated parts, it was claimed to have been made from £40,000 worth of raw materials and valued at £250,000 at various points during the original show's run. As a result, Mortis was highly-fancied by the producers to win in earlier series, but only achieved a mixed run of success; reaching the Semi-Finals of Series 2 and winning the Series 4 War of Independence, but being eliminated in the heats in all of its other appearances. Following Mortis' run in Series 4, the original robot was retired from Robot Wars, with Random Violence Technologies commencing work on a new version for Series 5. However, they did not finish the new version of Mortis, and decided not to enter any series after Series 4 due to work and life commitments.[7]

Team Members[edit | edit source]

Rob Knight[edit | edit source]

Rob Knight at the controls of Mortis in Series 1

The team captain, Rob Knight was one of the founder members of the team, and one of only two ever-present members of the team. He came up with the design and built Mortis with his friend Chris Sorsby, and was the team’s chief designer and procurer[8].

"I phoned at least 1000 companies in the beginning, there was this designer, Samuel Leslie... he just used to leave me in his office. It must have really been a pain for him, but I used to just sit in his office for hours, calling everyone I could get my hands on! We got all our batteries sponsored, and the Carbon Fibre, I got Lotus to send me a square metre, and then I finally happened to find some guy in Western Helicopters, and they trucked down, 60, 70 square metres of scrap Carbon Fibre for helicopter blades, and that's what the first set of armour was made from"
— Rob Knight discusses getting materials for Mortis, in 2020[9]

On screen, he was the team's main driver and weapons controller, and the main speaker in the team's introductions and interviews.

Rob Knight lifts the War of Independence trophy

He was well known for appearing very confident.

Philippa Forrester: "I've heard a vicious rumour that says you think no one can beat you."
Rob Knight: "That is just so untrue. I reckon if twelve of them got together at once, we’d have a good chance!"
— Rob Knight jokes about Mortis' perceived invincibility

In Series 3, he admitted after Mortis' defeats to Gravedigger, and later Behemoth in The First World Championship, that he had expected to win. He was also confident enough to take on the House Robots, such as when he battered Matilda in its Series 2 Gauntlet run, after defeating Ming in Round 1 of Series 3, and taking on Sir Killalot in Round 1 of the War of Independence. However, whenever asked about whether he thought they would win, he would usually reply they had "a good chance".

"I don't know, I mean we weren't privy to any of those discussions as to when it was decided we would be portrayed the way we were. I don't know, they must have this ... it's a TV show, so the characters turn up, you see what you get, this guy has a tendency to overact and do this kind of stuff anyway, so we might as well keep pushing in that direction, and we can chuck in a bit of the old "Cambridge versus everybody else" business, and it's a good bit. It makes sense."
— Rob Knight discusses how the team were portrayed, in 2020[10]

Arthur Chilcott[edit | edit source]

"My job is teaching and supervising students in the workshops at Cambridge University Engineering Department. Rob Knight and Chris Sorsby came in to use the machinery so I had to supervise them (they found out about RW in Bizarre Magazine). They asked me to join the team after a couple of days because of my engineering experience, plus my hobby, knife making."
— Arthur Chilcott, interviewed on Tectonic Robot Wars[11]

Arthur and the team in Series 3

The other ever-present member of the team, Arthur Chilcott was a teacher at Cambridge University. Rob Knight and Chris Sorsby asked to join the team because he was an experienced engineer, though in an interview in The Builders Guide, part of The First Great War video, he claimed to know nothing about electronics[12]. He built the silicon-Carbide armour shell for Series 4.

He designed and built the axe, which would take three attempts over the first few series to get right, and also built mechanical components for the robot[13].

Like Rob, he was known for seemingly being very confident about Mortis, such as when he described the axe as “the most awesome weapon on this site” after Mortis’ Series 2 Gauntlet run. After easily defeating Ming, he made a dismissive comment to Andrew Cotterell, which he took offence to, and decided that he would built a much better robot to defeat them.

"We didn't really have a good crack at it, we didn't do very well, to cut a long story short, we lost. Arthur (Chilcott) said to us: "I don't mean to be rude, but I don't know why they put people like you against guys like us" So I thought right, that's it, I'm going to come back and I'm going to show 'em who's the best."
— Andrew Cotterell before Round 2 of the Fourth Wars

He was well known for his large beard, which was a source of mockery throughout the team’s appearances. After the team's Gauntlet run in Series 1, Jeremy Clarkson sarcastically quipped "Nice beard".

Philippa Forrester: "So Cambridge, you got attacked by all three robots, then Jeremy insulted your beard!"
Arthur Chilcott: "Jeremy who?"
— Arthur's comeback in the pits after the Gauntlet run

Jonathan Pearce jokingly suggested the team should use Mortis' axe blade on Arthur's beard in the Series 2 Gauntlet run. In Series 3, Alexander Cotterell put on a fake beard to mock him, and after the final of the War of Independence, Craig Charles compared him to a member of ZZ Top.

Craig Charles: "Don't all the kids take the mickey out of you, and say you're from ZZ Top?"
Arthur Chilcott: "No, they don't know who ZZ Top are, mate! The children aren't that old, are they?"
— After the War of Independence Final

He used his experience in engineering to give advice to many other roboteers in the pits and helped them to repair and improve their robots. Even years after retiring from robot combat, he gave technical advice to many roboteers, including John Findlay of Extreme Robots[14].

Chris Sorsby[edit | edit source]

Chris Sorsby at the controls in Series 1

Despite only being part of the team for one series, Chris Sorsby was a key figure in the creation of Mortis. Mortis began when he read about Robot Wars in Bizarre Magazine. He told his friend Rob Knight about it and together they built Mortis, with the help of Arthur Chilcott. The two of them were housemates who were studying engineering at Cambridge University together[15]. Having obtained permission from the University, they used Cambridge University’s workshops.

Competing with the team in Series 1, Chris drove Mortis during the British Bulldog Trial, and the Heat Final against Recyclopse. He was bitterly unhappy about the decision going against Mortis.

Ben Impey[edit | edit source]

Ben Impey takes over the controls of Mortis

Only part of the team in Series 2, Ben Impey had a hobby in Model Making, and worked on the CNC machining of mechanical components for Mortis[16].

He also briefly drove Mortis in the Semi-Finals of that series, piloting Mortis in its re-run Trial and the battle with Panic Attack. This decision was made after Rob Knight refused to drive Mortis in its second attempt at the Trial, despite production crew encouraging the team to take another run after Mortis was immobilised by an arena spike in a way that production deemed unfair during the Pinball, even though Knight himself believed he had been made aware of the hazard.

Ben Gordon[edit | edit source]

Ben Gordon at BattleBots

"...he is an absolute genius with electronics, as anybody who knows anything about the electronic side of Robot Wars will tell you."
— Arthur Chilcott in 2020[17]

Joining the team for Series 3, Ben Gordon designed electric parts for Mortis, and also built a custom three-channel brushless motor[18]. He was a PhD student at the Department of Electronic Engineering, and his PhD was on "The long-term economic viability of brushless drives". He built the 120 amp, triple channel, three-phase, brushless drive system from scratch in less than six months, including all the design and soldering. The system was the first of its kind.

He also competed with the team when they entered BattleBots.

Paul Ford[edit | edit source]

Paul Ford in the pits

"…our new token blonde!"
— Rob Knight introduces Paul Ford in Series 4

The final member of the team, Paul Ford was part of the team for Series 4. His role in the team is unknown, but he was shown working on parts after Round 2.

He was not present for most of the teams appearances in the War of Independence, only appearing in the control pod during Round 1.

Other[edit | edit source]

There was another member of the team, who did not compete on television with Mortis. Little is known about him, other than that his first name was Ed. He was assigned by the team to produce lighter drive systems for Mortis, and developed a hydraulically-based system incorporating lawnmower-type units and a Briggs and Stratton engine. However, this system could not be fitted inside Mortis' chassis without requiring a total rebuild, resulting in him leaving Random Violence Technologies and entering the robot, Minotaur into Series 2 under his own team, where it competed in the Super Heavyweight Championship.

"We recruited an electronics grad to build lighter drive electronics - at the time everyone was using wheelchair stuff which whilst reliable is very heavy. He had the idea of using hydraulic units as found on industrial lawnmowers and we actually managed to blag a pair and a Briggs and Stratton engine to power them. Unfortunately they wouldn't fit inside the Mortis chassis without cutting it to pieces and rewarding [rewelding] which i didn't want to do. As he had not actually manage to produce any new electronics we had a putting of ways at this point and went on to enter his own team in the Super Heavyweight class."
— Rob Knight[19]

Popularity[edit | edit source]

"The trouble is, we went into Robot Wars thinking it was serious, when in fact it was just a TV show!"
— Arthur Chilcott in 2020[20]

Especially in earlier series, Random Violence Technologies became notable for their reportedly competitive spirit, as well as their confidence in Mortis' weapons and winning potential. While these were often countered by the team's awareness of their robot's unreliability, and their willingness to attack the House Robots following combat victories and successful Gauntlet/Trial runs, the former aspects affected their perceived popularity during Mortis' televised appearances. The team - and Mortis itself - would also become involved some of the most controversial moments from the earliest series of Robot Wars.

Philippa Forrester: "How seriously are you guys taking this?"
Rob Knight: "Err... probably a bit too seriously!"
Philippa Forrester: "A bit too seriously? Describe what you've done to this robot."
Rob Knight: "Erm, I think everything! We've got aerospace materials off as many people as we could, it's all aerospace aluminium, titanium, carbon fibre, Kevlar, really top-grade stuff!"
Philippa Forrester: "Do you think you can win?"
Rob Knight: "I think we may have a chance, yeah."
— Rob Knight expresses confidence about Mortis' chances of winning Series 1

In Series 1, Mortis lost its Heat Final against Recyclopse on a Judges' decision; its loss was met with applause from other roboteers in The Pits in support of Rex Garrod's machine. However, despite Mortis immobilising itself on the side bars and Recyclopse attempting to drive off it in the closing seconds, Random Violence Technologies vocally disagreed with the decision, believing that Mortis was more aggressive and mobile throughout the battle.

Chris Sorsby: "They're not working – we're working. We pushed them out, so we had all of the attacks, and we think we should have won."
Rob Knight: "We'll have a rematch. Rematch is fine by me."
— Random Violence Technologies voice their disagreement against Mortis' elimination from Series 1

While Mortis would eventually achieve vengeance against Recyclopse's successor, Cassius in the end-of-series special, Series 2 The Grudge Matches, Random Violence Technologies would become embroiled in more controversy in the main competition of their next series.

Seeded second in Series 2 and fancied to win the championship outright, Mortis won its Heat to reach the Semi-Finals in that series. However, its first Pinball run there ended prematurely when one of its tracks became damaged by an arena spike, leaving it immobilised on one side and unable to score any points. Subsequently, the producers decided to give Mortis a second run to compensate, allegedly because the arena spikes were not intended to be used for the Pinball Trial. Accepting that the spikes were an active hazard, and highlighted a weakness in Mortis's tracks[6], Knight objected to the producers' decision, insisting that a re-run would be unfair to the other competitors.

"Clearly it wasn't fair to be given another run so I refused to drive which caused a bit of a problem for the producers. Eventually we agreed to let Ben take the controls for pretty much the first time ever which is why Arfa and myself had a bit of a chuckle when he pitted out."
— Rob Knight[21]

Knight subsequently refused to drive Mortis for its Pinball re-run, handing the robot's controls over to Ben Impey. Under Impey's controls, Mortis qualified for the Semi-Final Arena stage at the expense of Napalm, allowing it to fight eventual Series 2 champion Panic Attack. In the end-of-series special, The Grudge Matches, Mortis' Pinball re-run was later implied to have been requested by Random Violence Technologies themselves, not the producers, resulting in the team and Mortis being somewhat disliked in later series.

"Mortis suffered damage, was given a second chance in the Trials by the adjudicators, and because of their decision and deliberation, Mortis went through..."
Jonathan Pearce's recap of Mortis' aborted Series 2 Pinball run

Alexander Cotterell (below) imitates the likeness of Arthur Chilcott prior to Mortis' battle against Ming

Throughout their appearances in Series 3, Mortis and Random Violence Technologies were jokingly booed by the audience and fellow roboteers, with Jonathan Pearce referring to the team as 'the students who fumed when eliminated controversially' while introducing Mortis in its Heat. Additionally, Andrew and Alexander Cotterell of Team Ming - Mortis' first-round opponents - parodied the team by respectively wearing a replica of Rob Knight's Hands-Free Operating System (see below) and a long white beard imitating that of Arthur Chilcott. Even after Mortis defeated Ming by turning it over, both Pearce and the audience enthusiastically cheered for the House Robots to pit it when it started fighting them.

"The audience want the end of Mortis... the audience loving this, the Pits loving this, and-and-and... I'm loving it too, Mortis, to be honest!"
— Jonathan Pearce as Mortis is attacked by the House Robots following its Series 3 victory against Ming

During Mortis' second-round battle in the same heat, numerous roboteers - including Chilcott - were also seen to cheer Gravedigger on as it fought - and eliminated - the latter.

Hands-Free Operating System[edit | edit source]

Rob Knight demonstrates his Hands-Free Operating System in Series 3

"Is that over the top enough for you?"
— Arthur Chilcott as Random Violence Technologies demonstrate their Hands-Free Operating System to Philippa Forrester

For Series 3, Random Violence Technologies developed a Hands-Free Operating System, which Rob Knight used to control Mortis for the remainder of its appearances. The device was intended to save roboteers from having to hold their transmitters in their hands during battles, and was relatively simple in design and function.

"Paul gave us that radio gear, ... We decided "Oh, this is a bit heavy!", we need something to hold it, let's make something ridiculously over-the-top!"
— Rob Knight on the Hands-Free Operating System, in 2020[22]

The Hands-Free Operating System is designed like a parachute, with two metal rods in place of a chute, each mounted in parallel. The rods open and close through the use of a pullcord; when fully opened, they are positioned either side of and pointing forwards relative to the wearer. The robot's transmitter is fitted to a tray-like structure, which can slide and lock onto the ends of both rods, providing a flat and stable surface in front of the operator in which the transmitter and tray can be rested upon. Since the operator no longer has to hold the transmitter in his/her hands, his/her forefingers and thumbs can be used to grasp and move the analogue sticks, as opposed to just pushing them around with his/her thumbs.

Rob Knight: "It's basically hands-free, so once it's clipped in, you can just drive it, "
Julia Reed: "Does it help?"
Rob Knight: "Yeah, I'd say it probably does actually, because it's quite a heavy controller, it just takes... well, probably not actually!"
Julia Reed: "Are the other drivers jealous of you?"
Rob Knight: "I don't think jealous is the right word!"
— Discussing the Hands-Free Operating System before the Round 2 battle with Crusader 2 in Series 4

One possible benefit of this setup is relief from "Roboteer's Thumb," a painful sensation in the thumb's distal phalanx, caused by pushing the sticks with one's thumbs. In theory, the Hands-Free Operating System also allows roboteers greater precision and control over their robots' movements; however, it is unknown whether the device had any effect on Mortis' performances in Series 3-4. Nevertheless, the device demonstrated Random Violence Technologies' ingenuity, as well as Robot Wars' role in pioneering and developing new technologies.

Robots[edit | edit source]

Name Weight Class Series
Mortis Heavyweight Series 1-4

Wins/Losses[edit | edit source]

  • Wins: 13
  • Losses: 5

Series Record[edit | edit source]

Series Random Violence Technologies Series Record
The First Wars Heat Final with Mortis
The Second Wars Semi-Finals, Arena with Mortis
The Third Wars Heat, Round 2 with Mortis
The Fourth Wars Heat Final with Mortis
The Fifth Wars Did not enter
The Sixth Wars Did not enter
The Seventh Wars Did not enter
Series 8 Did not enter
Series 9 Did not enter
Series 10 Did not enter

Outside Robot Wars[edit | edit source]

Random Violence Technologies also entered Mortis into two events from the original BattleBots - the 1999 Las Vegas event and Season 2.0 - reaching the quarter-finals and receiving the 'Most Aggressive Robot' award across the robot's appearances. They later planned to enter a future season with a new machine, Maelstrom, although they would ultimately not do so due to various commitments outside of robot combat. At least two versions of Maelstrom were known to be considered; a full-body spinner with translational drift capabilities[23], and a variant of the unfinished Series 5 Mortis with different armour and axes.[24]

Both variants of Mortis, along with Minotaur, were sold to Team Bud in 2009, with the unfinished Series 5 version subsequently being renamed Rigormortis. Presently, Mortis and Rigormortis are owned by Team Make Robotics, who reused the latter's weapons pod for their ABC BattleBots Season 1 entry, Radioactive.[25]

In 2016, Rob Knight returned to robotic combat when he and his team entered Season 2 of ABC's BattleBots with humanoid robot The Obwalden Overlord. Featuring a pair of articulated arms that would replicate Rob Knight's movements outside the BattleBox, The Obwalden Overlord was defeated in its first battle after getting crushed, set alight and toppled over by Team Razer's Warhead.

Team members Arthur Chilcott and Rob Knight have moved to and presently live in their own places in France. Arthur Chilcott is retired from engineering but is happy to give advice to roboteers and also made an appearance at the 2013 European Championships where he was judging the event alongside Stuart Barnwell and Andrew Marchant. Rob Knight now runs The Robot Studio, a robotics-orientated business that supplies robotic systems created for entertainment and research purposes.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

Honours[edit | edit source]


References[edit | edit source]

  1. Team Mortis website - FAQ (Archived)
  2. Private correspondence between User:VulcansHowl and Arthur Chilcott on Facebook, 30th August 2017
  3. Tectonic Robot Wars - Interviews, Mortis (archived)
  4. Correspondence between Rob Knight and User:VulcansHowl, 23rd February 2019.
  5. Team Mortis website - FAQ
  6. 6.0 6.1 Correspondence with User:VulcansHowl, 21st February 2019.
  7. Private correspondence between User:VulcansHowl and Arthur Chilcott's Facebook page, 30th August 2017
  8. Team Mortis website - Team Members, Rob Knight (archived)
  9. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  10. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  11. Tectonic Robot Wars - Interviews
  12. Robot Wars : The Builder's Guide (1999) on YouTube
  13. Team Mortis website - Team Members, Rob Knight (archived)
  14. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  15. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  16. Team Mortis website - Ben Impey
  17. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  18. Team Mortis website - Ben Gordon
  19. Correspondence with User:VulcansHowl, 22nd February 2019.
  20. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  21. Correspondence with User:VulcansHowl, 20th February 2019.
  22. RoboNerd TV: World of Woodrow - Team Mortis Interview
  23. Correspondence between User:VulcansHowl and Rob Knight, 28th February 2019.
  24. Private correspondence between User:VulcansHowl and Arthur Chilcott's Facebook page, 30th August 2017
  25. Private correspondence between User:VulcansHowl and Arthur Chilcott's Facebook page, 30th August 2017
  26. http://runamok.tech/hall_of_fame.html

External Links[edit | edit source]


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