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In 2001, a team of four mechanical engineering seniors combined their design savvy to create a 209-pound robot for entry in the nationally broadcast Comedy Central program BattleBots. Named Bacchus, the “bot” racked up four wins, including two by knockout, prior to its elimination in the final rounds of competition. It advanced to the final 16 in a field of more than 100 entries in the heavyweight class and is ranked 12th in the heavyweight division, according to the BattleBot web site.

Two years later, Bacchus’ legacy lives on, and a new team is improving the robot’s design in hopes of sweeping the tournament. Mechanical engineering majors Melissa Jackson (Clifton Park, N.Y.), Kelly Martin (Farmington, Conn.), Krista Moody (Woodbury, Conn.), John Ritter (West Chester, Pa.), and Fran Schadler (Bethlehem, Pa.) are tackling this challenge as their senior design project.

The group is working under the guidance of Leonard Van Gulick, Matthew Baird Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

BattleBots, which airs each Saturday at 8 p.m., pits robots equipped with armor, knives, claws, and spinning blades against one another. The bots vie for supremacy in the Battlebox arena. “Engineered for maximum safety on the outside and supreme torture on the inside,” the Battlebox presents challenges independent of rival bots’ weaponry. These obstacles include kill saws, ram rods, spikes, a vortex, and other impediments.

The battles are set for three or five minutes and end when one robot is immobilized or the time has elapsed.

The students say they selected the Bacchus design over Thor, last year’s robot, because it was successful in competition, lightweight, and affordable to repair. The bot features flat armor and a low center of gravity. Its primary weapon is a flipping arm, which overturns opponents.

“Since we are modifying a BattleBot that competed previously, we must go through the notes kept by the initial design group,” says Martin. “This is challenging because we have to understand their drawings and why they made certain design decisions.”

“We are learning a lot about industry and how things function outside the classroom,” says Moody. “Our components need to be outsourced, so we are learning to deal with vendors and how to piece things together.”

Martin says the project is providing first-hand design experience and serves as a great lesson in teamwork.

“This project is not as structured as a course,” Martin explains. “We have to do a lot of work on our own. It is helping us learn what engineers typically do.”

“We are applying the engineering principles and baseline knowledge we learned in our classes,” adds Moody. “This project is helpful because it is showing us how to apply the skills we learned in class in real-world situations. There are also many good faculty members who are always willing to help.”

Since the Bacchus frame endured a significant amount of damage during the 2001 competition, the students removed damaged pieces using a handsaw, produced replacements in the shop, and then welded the new parts into position. A total of six pieces were replaced.

A new six-channel controller will direct the bot and its various components. The group also purchased a motor that is lighter and more compact than its predecessor. They plan to reduce ground clearance by altering the bearing blocks and will add surface area to the flipping arm, giving the device greater potential to upset opponents.

The updated Bacchus will be painted bright red, and the group will decide on its name later this semester. The bot will compete this summer.

Martin says the mechanical engineering faculty has been very supportive during the course of this project. “They are always available and willing to help,” she explains.

Martin completed several externships with Otis Elevator in Farmington, Conn. She worked on a new prototype for elevator ropes, created a fixture to test sensors in a temperature humidity chamber, and designed a new component. She will join the company after graduation.

A peer counselor, Martin is president of American Society of Mechanical Engineers and vice president of Society of Women Engineers. She is a member of Student Alumni Association, the Senior Class Fund Drive, and Alpha Phi sorority.

Moody belongs to American Society of Mechanical Engineering and is a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority.

Bacchus was created as a senior design project in 2001 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.

Categorized in: Academic News