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Four Lafayette mechanical engineering students have built a robot that they hope will eliminate the competition in a BattleBots tournament May 22-28 in San Francisco, Calif.

The robot was created as a senior design project by John Fink (York, Pa), Matt Leis (Whitestone, N.Y.), Doug Fish (Londonderry, Vt.), and Chris Therkorn (Milltown, N.J.). They were advised by Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The tournament’s robotic clashes will be videotaped to air in the third series of the national TV program “Comedy Central Sports Presents BattleBots.” The program airs on the Comedy Central network Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern Time, with shows repeated Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. It also airs in Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

In BattleBots, contestants build and control robots to incapacitate those of their competitors. The contest takes place in the BattleBox, a 48-foot square ring raised two feet from the ground. The BattleBox employs a number of hazards and obstacles that can damage and/or disable a BattleBot. If neither robot is incapacitated within the three-minute duel, points are awarded according to which was more aggressive, caused more damage, and executed the best strategy.

“It’s a no-holds-barred competition where robots beat each other until they can’t move anymore,” Fink explains. Contestants in the San Francisco tournament will vie for more than $45,000 in cash and prizes.

The engineers spent the first semester planning and designing their robot, which they named Bacchus. It operates on two 12-volt batteries typically used in boats. One of the major challenges was building a viable robot within the 210-lb limit of the team’s heavyweight class. “We wanted it to be as heavy as possible without exceeding the weight limit,” Leis explains. Bacchus weighs in at 209 lbs., giving it a one-lb. cushion to be safe.

The students worked with staff from the engineering shop to build their creation. “They would do some of the harder things and explain them to us,” says Fink. “As we got more experienced, they’d stand by and let us take on something more difficult.”

“Until the day we put it together, the robot was all in pieces,” adds Leis. “It really was neat to see what was in our minds all come together at once.”

Bacchus was designed with as many sides as possible to make clean attacks on it more difficult. For offense, rather than attempting to smash or saw through opponents’ robots, the team chose a more subtle approach. “We’re using a flipping arm,” says Leis. “It goes underneath a robot to take it off its drive wheels. If it’s incapacitated for 30 seconds, we win that round.”

The remote control for the robot was modified from one used for model airplanes. “From looking at the competition on TV, I noticed that one of the key aspects is control of the robot,” says Fink. “We’ve been out in the hallway setting up chairs for it to drive around.”

The competition will conclude what the engineering students consider an excellent education at Lafayette.

“I’ve learned a great amount,” notes Fink. “It’s made me confident that I can find a good job as an engineer.”

“I’ve talked to another person hired at the company where I’ll be working,” says Leis. “He’s 26 and has a year of grad school, but I’ve done more things that are relevant than he has.”

Categorized in: Academic News