Combat Bots hosted at Pittsburgh Technical College
Boom. Slam. Bang. Crash. Ewww. Ahh. Oh my.
The battle is on.
The combatants enter the 5’ by 5’ pit, take their positions on opposite sides, and anxiously await for the starting command from the pit judge.
3 – 2 – 1 – Go.
And in less than 3 minutes one combatant’s design and dreams flip into failure while another lives to fight in the next round.
It’s the eighth annual Combat Bots, this year hosted at Pittsburgh Technical College. More than 160 students from 10 participating high schools compete for the traveling trophy won last year by the team from Springdale High School.
Working with their instructor, often staying after school, and sometimes perfecting their robot design all year long, technical education students build four-pound robots from scratch getting ready for the double elimination competition.
“Last year it was troubling trying to find a design that we felt could win. It was my first year. My partner had done it the year before,” said Austin Toney, a senior at Springdale High School. “Surprisingly, we pulled off victory.”
Toney shared what happened after last year’s event.
“We tried to improve our design. We put more holes in the body and in the top plate to make it lighter, then added a stronger motor. We put more weight in the weapon which is two beater bars.”
Between rounds the teams huddled with their instructors to repair bots that were advancing to the next round or to discuss the pitfalls they encountered in elimination.
“We do this for the students,” said Kenneth Grimm, robotics instructor from Fox Chapel High School. “It is all about them and learning.”
He continued, “While preparing for competition, the students learn wiring and electronics, use engineering skills, become more familiar with machining and manufacturing, and better understand assembly processes.”
Students also use Inventor for their CAD designs and must depend on their troubleshooting and decision making skills in the heat of competition. As teams complete one round and prepare for the next, repairs are necessary.
“Some of that is happening right here in the Gallery,” explained Vince Gratteri, director of PTC’s high school relations team. “But, the soldering goes on in room 509.”
“Look around you. You can see and feel and share in the energy and excitement during each battle round. But don’t miss the action at the tables, the intense conversations, the urgent attempts to fix weapons, the testing and the adjustments, the last-minute fixes and changes. This is teamwork and troubleshooting in hyperdrive.”
Round after round, all day long the teams competed. Some advanced. Others didn’t. In the end, Arsenal, the team from Springdale High School, is the last team standing at 4:30 pm when the competition concluded with a hard fought match against Krispy Kreme from Fox Chapel.
The students from Springdale have the honor of displaying the traveling trophy until the 2019 Combat Bot competition.
Alex Shaginaw, the team’s designer, modeled this year’s winning combat bot after Tombstone, from the TV show Battle Bots. “I am so happy,” he said as students from other teams offered their congratulations.
Team driver, Matt Schlessman, echoed his feelings. “I am happy, excited,” then he explained his driving strategy. “My plan was to hit him with a swing, then dive bomb face to face.”
In the end it was a judges’ decision that determined the outcome.
And it was truly satisfying for John McDermott, Springdale technical education instructor, who exclaimed, “Back to back baby! I am so proud of our students.”
“We used CAD drawings so we knew the parts would fit, then built it from the chassis up. We designed the weapon and the drive system. We would break it, fix it, break it, fix it all in preparation for today,” he said.
“This is all about using tools in different ways to stay up with technology.”
No doubt this year’s teams will be rethinking their designs, evaluating their bot’s performance, and making adjustments so they can return to the pit next year.
Congratulations to all the participating students and teams.
High schools with teams competing include Avonworth High School, Bedford High School, Connellsville High School, Frazier High School, Fox Chapel High School, Laurel High School, Pine Richland High School, Sharpsville High School, South Fayette High School, and Springdale High School.