Battle of the bots

UTD's Comet Robotics spill oil on the battlefield as their robots crush their enemies on their path to victory

Anish Paudel | Mercury Staff

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Shreya Ravi | Mercury Staff

The UT Designspace where Comet Robotics meets looks like a scene out of Big Hero Six, with people tinkering away at robots of various shapes and sizes, allowing members to experience not just the excitement of combat but develop a deeper understanding of how robotics works.  

Originally dedicated to combat robotics, the club’s reinstatement in 2021 led to many changes to its structure, such as implementing a section of the club focused on competitive robotics and the introduction of plastic antweights, smaller robots that are easier to build and reassemble. Antweights are referred to as ‘plants’ and give members variety in their work. These plants are made through 3D printing and vary from one to three pounds, depending on the weight class the competition — a destructive one-versus-one between robots — calls for. Plants can also be used for other Comet Robotics projects, like chess bots, offering activities that appeal to a wide range of people.  

“Everyone loves combat robotics — kids, older people, everyone,” said Om Davra, computer engineering sophomore and vice president of the club. .  

This isn’t to say that Comet Robotics only focuses on small-scale projects. Some of their competing robots, such as Desserts, weigh up to 15 pounds.  But the crown jewel of Comet Robotics is Blender, the once-great combat robot that weights a whopping 120 pounds. Blender has been out of commission since 2017 as the bot caught on fire after a competition, and there’s no incentive to bring him back.  

The longer time frame for construction and the lack of opportunities to test large-scale bots are what led to Comet Robotics focusing on smaller-scale robots, especially for competitions. The process for preparing a robot to compete is simple: testing your robot’s design until you figure out what works, and then printing spares of your robot — made easy with 3-D printing —to replace broken parts quickly. Easily replaceable parts further enhances the theatrics of combat robotics, and for mechanical engineering junior Jaime Contreras, allows for the real fun: watching robots get torn to pieces.  

 
“The people are really friendly, so they want to see the robots get destroyed. So usually, when it happens, and you’re the one who breaks it, they’ll give the part to use as a trophy,” Contreras said. 

Anyone can get into building fighter robots, members said, so long as you have a passion for building and resources. For instance, the competitive robotics team offers a fast-paced environment for engineers that utilizes hard skills such as construction as well as softer skills, such as communication among team members. This sense of community also extends online, as there are many places like Discord servers where aspiring builders can visit to find tutorials and advice on their builds. Anyone can participate, regardless of their age.  

“Last semester, one of the competitions we went to, there was an 8-year-old fighting against an 80-year-old,” Davra said. 

Shreya Ravi | Mercury Staff

The elaborate set-ups for these competitions, especially for larger events, keep up the fun-loving energy of combat robotics. When Comet Robotics went to South X Southwest (SXSW) on March 10 along with their robot Desserts, they had Battlebots announcer Faruq Tauheed Jenkins — prolific in the world of combat robotics — introduce Desserts with an opening they had written themselves. This competition is unprecedented in the reinstated club’s history, as it was the first time Comet Robotics went to a Battlebots competition in over a decade. 

SXSW also led to Davra’s favorite competition memory , when Desserts managed to flip their opponent, UC Berkeley’s fifteen bot, up in the air, resulting in a victory on their debut battle.   

“That was the first fight, the first time I drove Desserts in a fight,” Davra said. “It was awesome.” 


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