Mechanical Mayhem

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

Perhaps you’ve seen them on TV, roaring through an arena, sparks flying through the air, bespectacled men and women guiding them through their places on the sidelines.

Perhaps you’ve read about them in the media- this strange little subculture composed of everyone from the creator of the best-selling computer game of all time to the mechanic next door.

Or perhaps you actually know someone who has become addicted to the fad known as BattleBots and the community surrounding that fad. If so, then you probably have seen the glint in their eye as they describe their latest brand of robotic death and destruction.

Four SDSU students have taken an interest in BattleBots into the arena and constructed their own little metallic warrior, which they entered in a competition in San Francisco.

With the lessons learned there, they are building a newer, better robot, which they hope to enter in another competition this year.

Brad Ruppert, a graduate student at SDSU with a degree in manufacturing engineering, is one of the four team members.

“It was something that just basically three kids in Brown Hall thought up and we went from there,” Ruppert said.

According to team member Travis Thiex, also a manufacturing engineering major, he, Ruppert and friend Brad Holmberger were approached by the SDSU chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers to produce a BattleBot with SME backing.

However, SME backed out eventually.

The three friends then received money from SDSU to continue building their robot.

Eventually, they had to take their robot on the road to get sponsorships.

“We’d have to build a little bit and then we’d get some money and we’d haul it up there and show it off and get some more sponsorships,” Thiex said.

According to Ruppert, many prospective sponsors didn’t know what a BattleBot was, so the team made a video, which cleared up some of the confusion.

In the years since the team first came up with their BattleBot, they have added electrical engineering technology major Jeff Lammoreaux to the team.

In the competition last year, the team competed with their 120 pound robot, which fell into the middleweight category.

They lost in the third round by five points to the BattleBot that eventually placed fourth in the tournament.

According to Ruppert, winning and losing wasn’t as important as learning how to build a better robot.

“We learned more down there in three days than we could have in three years building it,” Ruppert said.

The team learned about better ways to mount an antenna to their robot and about ways to make their robot stronger and faster.

This year, they have constructed a heavyweight robot, which will fall into the 220-pound weight class.

They have not officially registered for a competition yet because Comedy Central, the network which used to carry the television series BattleBots, has cancelled the show.

While BattleBots the TV show scrambles for a new network, Ruppert, Thiex and their friends are biding their time, adjusting their robot so it also qualifies for other battling robot circuits.

The team enjoys building the robot, according to Ruppert.

“(You have to) overcome all the problems you run into. There’s always something you didn’t think of,” Ruppert said.

Ruppert and Thiex both enjoyed their time at the San Francisco competition and the people they met there.

“You go around there and about 85 percent of the people are more than willing to help you and tell you their secrets. … You’ve got your people who are behind a computer all day to the people who work with their hands all day,” Ruppert said.

Ruppert said he met people that ranged from small town mechanics to the creator of the Internet search engine Lycos, from whom he bought an antenna.

Among other illustrious BattleBots devotees is Will Wright, the designer of the popular computer games The Sims and SimCity.

“There’s a lot of really interesting people that made the battlebots and they were fun to be with,” Thiex said of the competition.

In addition to their continuing work on their BattleBot, the team is helping nine high schools build a robot for the U.S. First competition. The team was connected with the high schools through SDSU.

In the U.S. First competition, teams are challenged to create a robot that will knock down a tower of Rubbermaid containers, then reassemble that tower.

However, the four are excited to attend another competition.

“You meet every walk of life down there. It was just very neat to talk to the people and get their ideas and exchange yours with them,” Ruppert said.

Thiex said he believes that such a fervent subculture has sprung up around the odd notion of battling robots because it allows people to express their creativity.

“I think (people are drawn to) the excitement of making something completely original. No one else has done that exact thing before, … but it’s also about being able to legally destroy something,” Thiex said.

#1.887615:1052318302.jpg:thiex.jpg:Travis Thiex works on the BattleBot in the Solberg Hall machine shop, while co-designers Brad Ruppert and Brad Holmberg finish craftings a spare blade locked in a table vice.: