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It was no party for opponents of Bacchus, Lafayette’s entry in the national BattleBots tournament, which racked up four wins, including two by knockout, in advancing to the final 16 in a field of more than 100 entries in the heavyweight class.

The 209-pound Bacchus was created as a senior design project by mechanical engineering students John Fink (York, Pa), Matt Leis (Whitestone, N.Y.), Doug Fish (Londonderry, Vt.), and Chris Therkorn (Milltown, N.J.). The students were advised by Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

All the students received their degrees at Lafayette’s 166th Commencement May 19. Fish graduated summa cum laude with the highest cumulative grade point average in his class, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi, and received numerous honors, including the Eugene P. Chase Phi Beta Kappa Prize, the Mechanical Engineering Faculty Award, the Karl J. Ammerman Prize, and the James F. Bryant ’40 Excellence Award.

Held May 22-28 in San Francisco, Calif., the tournament was videotaped to air in the third series of the national TV program “Comedy Central Sports Presents BattleBots.” It will begin airing July 10 on the Comedy Central network, showing on 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 the preliminary tournament, Bacchus defeated Pyramadroid by a score of 31-14 and License to Kill by knockout. In the standard tournament, which was videotaped for television, Bacchus dispatched Blendo by knockout and overwhelmed Junkyard Offspring by a 39-6 tally. Its tournament run ended when it narrowly lost, 25-20, to Voltronic.

The matchup between Bacchus and Voltronic will air on “Comedy Central Sports Presents BattleBots” four times, at 10 p.m. Tuesday, August 7; 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, August 11; and 10 a.m. Sunday, August 12.

Voltronic, the product of San Francisco carpenter Steve Felk, had taken second place in the heavyweight division in two previous BattleBots tournaments, reported CNET on February 15.

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 competed for more than $45,000 in cash and prizes.

The engineers spent the first semester planning and designing their robot. It operates on two 12-volt batteries typically used in boats. One of the major challenges was building a viable robot within the 210-pound 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,” Leis said before the competition. “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. The students set up chairs in the hallway and navigated the robot around them.

The competition concluded 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