California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Engineering Students Demonstrate Prowess at BattleBots Tournament

Published: May 15, 2009

Armed for battle with metal-ripping circular blades and a proven wedge chassis design, a team of five engineering technology students from CSULB recenlty competed in the collegiate division during the BattleBots robot fighting tournament in Vallejo.

The results will be announced on television when the CBS College Sports Network airs the battles in early August.

BattleBots is a gladiator-style, fight-to-the-death competition that pits remote controlled robots and the teams that create them against one another as they try to tear each other’s robots to pieces in a cage-style arena. Expectedly, the machines with the best engineering, construction, remote drivers and number of weapons are usually victorious.

CSULB’s team includes electronics engineering technology majors Richard Ramirez, Justin Lanza, Edgardo Miguel, Adam Reyes and Misael Espinoza supervised by project adviser and CSULB engineering lecturer Walter Martinez.

“I’ve been doing BattleBots and different robotics competitions for a long time and this was the best team of students that I’ve ever worked with. They were very efficient, knowledgeable and at the same time they had a lot of fun. I actually learned quite a bit from them,” said Martinez, who is also a lead information systems analyst in CSULB’s Physical Planning and Facilities Management Department. “They really worked well as a team and we had the perfect combination of expertise and personalities. I believe we represented The Beach very well.

“For me,” added Martinez, “one of the greatest moments was to know that one of the students [on the team] enrolled at CSULB because he heard that we build BattleBots and the other was to hear another student say he got an internship because he wrote on his resume that he worked on a BattleBots project at CSULB.”

The collegiate division at BattleBots is open to all college, university and post-secondary student teams. The competition also features professional and high school-level matches.

SharkTooth, CSULB’s robot entry, featured five 10-inch diamond-plated circular saw blades on top and a row of mill-cutting blades in the rear. Powered by a custom-built three-horsepower motors, the robot’s top blades were designed to expel any robot that hangs over or ends up on top of its chassis. During one win, SharkTooths’ blades successfully cut the tires of its opponent and disabled its drive mechanism. To improve stamina, SharkTooth also featured new nickel/metal hydride battery technology, which is commonly used in laptop computers.

Typically, the low-profile wedge robot designs like SharkTooth’s literally have the edge during competition, enabling them to get under or ram their competitors and lift them into the air or turn them upside down making them vulnerable to attack or inoperable. To even the playing field, wedge robots now must feature one movable active weapon that delivers such attack capabilities as picking up, cutting and/or pounding their competitors.

Weighing in as a middleweight at 120 pounds, SharkTooth was built by students from the campus’ International Society of Automation (ISA), its chassis refurbished from a robot called “Stingray,” which CSULB used in a Battlebots’ competition in Minnesota.

Battle Bots
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Students working on the BattleBots robot “”SharkTooth” were (l-r) Justin Lanza, Richard Ramirez, instructor Walter Martinez, Edgardo Miguel, Samuel Tolentino, Adam Reyes and Misael Espinoza.

The BattleBots arena featured circular saws that shot up from the floor, which the CSULB team used strategically to launch its robot toward its competitors, according to Martinez.

CBS will air the BattleBots Collegiate Championship episodes during their primetime lineup. The cameras “loved” CSULB’s “very animated” team, according to Martinez, and followed them extensively during the competition.

“It’s true that the wedges are best. I’ve seen a lot of designs, one that was just one giant saw blade, but as soon as it was hit by its opponent it went flying into pieces. So we felt good going in having a wedge and a row of five saw blades on top,” said Lanza, who is president of the CSULB’s ISA chapter. “Overall, it’s all about the learning process. I’ve learned a lot about the way the fields of engineering may come together to build a project and the project management side of it.”

The team spent nearly $5,500 on SharkTooth. The Los Angeles County chapter of the ISA donated $1,250 to build the robot, while the Orange County chapter donated $1,000. Associated Students Inc. at CSULB donated $1,200 for travel expenses. The ISA is a non-profit technical society for engineers, technicians, businesspeople, educators and students who work and study in the fields of industrial automation.

During the competition, CSULB was invited by Cal Poly Pomona to display SharkTooth during student project night at the campus. Both CSU campuses plan to combine their work on BattleBots entries in the future and possibly develop their own robot competition. Martinez is also currently working on an autonomous GPS guided robot with another group of students and plans to enter it in the Robo-Magellan competition next year.

During the 2004 BattleBots competition in Minnesota, CSULB defeated such renowned engineering universities as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Florida, before being taken out by CalTech. Travel expenses during that competition were paid for by BattleBots creator and CEO Trey Roski, who graduated from CSULB in 1991 with a degree in finance.

Ramirez says the team was able to incorporate a lot of what was learned in 2004 into the design of SharkTooth and hopes future BattleBots teams learn from their success and continue to carry the torch.

“BattleBots is about learning, as well as just watching robots beat the heck out of each other,” said Ramirez. “However, the beautiful thing about this project is that we need every type of student to prepare the robot. We need manufacturers, accountants and even English majors for documentation. So it’s not just about engineering.”

He continued, “Overall, we want to leave behind some kind of legacy. Our hope is future student engineers here on campus will look back and think, ‘Here’s what they did, now let’s do even better.’ Hopefully, in the future students will get started earlier. We are seniors now, but I wish we were doing stuff like this when we were freshmen.”