For the first time in the school’s history, UTD’s robotics team won third place internationally at the 2015 RoboGames in San Mateo California.
The team, known as BattleBots, built a 120-pound robot named The Blender. It’s made of a titanium shell and has large steel teeth. It is specifically designed to spin at more than 120 miles per hour and slice into other robots.
“They end up putting really big gouaches inside other robots and flipping them over and stuff. It’s really impressive to watch,” said Haley Abitz, a mechanical engineering sophomore and project head of the BattleBots, said.
The current team didn’t come up with the design for The Blender. The idea for the combat machine has been passed down for many years.
“The group started at Richardson High School,” Abitz said. “They started with, ‘Oh! Let’s do a spinning robot,’ and that idea has been built upon every year by the following team.”
Jack Doan, a computer engineer sophomore, is currently in the process of designing new motors.
“Because a motor is essentially a short circuit, you can’t just flip it on or off,” he said. “So what you need to do is use a sort of semiconductor to ramp the motor.”
Abitz and Doan agreed that the BattleBots have made a lot of improvements to get to the current design. This year they worked on improving the battery and the motor controller that drives the instrument.
The BattleBots placed third out of all the teams that competed from all over the world. The first and and second place teams have alternated taking first place almost every year.
“One of (the teams) was from a college where basically all they do is combat robotics, and so that’s like their specialty,” Abitz said.
UTD plans to next compete in the RoboGames in 2017. The team, consisting of about seven students, will spend the first year doing research and developing the robot.
The team must find sponsors and ways to fund the project.
“They’ll have to raise money … it’s almost like having a start up company in some sense,” said Matthew Goeckner, the program head of mathematical sciences and the team’s advisor. “They have to raise money in order to build it.”
During the second year, the team builds the machine by ordering the parts, putting the robot together, testing it and competing.
Abitz was involved in robotics since eighth grade and was very interested in robots fighting each other.
“When I heard that UTD had a BattleBots team that was the first thing that I really, really wanted to join,” Abitz said.
Abitz said joining the BattleBots has benefitted the team in a number of ways.
“We learn a lot of … theory in class, but you don’t really get to do much with that outside of a couple of assignments and labs,” Doan said. “Being able to take what’s done in a classroom and build a robot that goes and smashes other robots makes it feel very worthwhile. And those hours you spend in textbooks and equations pay off.”
Over the next two years, the team looks to make a number of improvements on the machine as they prepare for the 2017 RoboGames.
“Even though it’s a well-performing robot, there’s always room for improvement,” Abitz said.
Goeckner said the biggest accomplishment for the team has been working together and communicating well. It has brought the entire team closer together.
“They are a family,” he said. “Having alumni show up to watch and actually to help (is because) they are family.”