BattleBots Season 2 premieres on Thursday, June 23rd, 8/7c on ABC. This spring, as a guest of Team Fast Electric Robots, I got to be part of the Season 2 live audience and experience a behind-the-scenes look during filming.
I arrived at the downtown LA Hanger studios perfectly on time for the VIP behind-the-scenes tour, and my guide, Debbie Vasquez, met me at the security gate with credentials for the day. Debbie is the “RoboMom” on Team Fast Electric Robots.
The Vasquez family is the team behind the 250-lb. heavyweight robot called Splatter. The team members include Dad, Jeff Vasquez (team captain, fabricator, machinist, welder), who is also senior engineering technician at Meggitt (a GoEngineer customer) and his two teenage sons. Jeff built and operated the robots in the “BattleBots” episode “The Big Bang Theory” and even got to sit in “Sheldon’s spot.” Matthew is CAD designer, builder, and driver. Jason is a builder as well, and the secondary weapons operator. Team Fast Electric Robots was an alternate on Season 1 of BattleBots, and is competing in Season 2.
“It seems like we’ve been doing this forever. Matthew was about three years old when he first started going to combat robot competitions with his dad. Jason has pretty much been going since he was born. The boys have grown up surrounded by these amazing, brilliant minds from all over the world, and over the years we’ve all become this big crazy family of sorts” said Debbie.
Matthew and Jason have participated in GoEngineer’s kids’ camp held at our Woodland Hills, CA office. During Kids’ Camp, the boys were introduced to SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD design and Stratasys 3D printing. Knowing future product design is in the hands of our youth, GoEngineer’s kids’ camp gives youth a unique opportunity to discover how they can think beyond limits with cutting-edge technologies for years to come! And, the boys will be doing more advanced CAD training this summer with us.
Matthew and Jason plan on attending about half a dozen other competitions this year, including Robogames, Smashbotz, NTMA, and Robot Throwdown.
I asked the boys a few questions to get their youthful insight into robotics.
Q: What do you like about combat robotics?
A: “It’s fun and I like the atmosphere and other competitors. I like being involved in the field of engineering,” said Jason. “I like the design-and-build process and I like competing and being friends with the other competitors,” said Matthew.
Q: What materials were used to build Splatter?
A: “We used aluminum, titanium, and Kevlar. In addition, there are 4 powerful electric motors in our drive-and-weapon system that total nearly 25 horsepower,” said Matthew. “We also used AR400 steel and UHMW plastic (Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene),” added Jason.
Q: What is unique about Splatter?
A: We’re the only team to use a vertical disc and a lifter on the same weapon. Our goal is to get under the other robot, flip them over, and then hit them with our disc,” said Matthew.
One of the guest celebrity judges was Adam Savage, former co-host of MythBusters and veteran robot competitor (Robot: Blendo).
Blendo was powered by a 5hp lawnmower engine and debuted in the 1995 Robot Wars US tournament. It was an early full-body spinner designed and built by James “Jamie” Hyneman, with Adam Savage in charge of wiring the electronics and control systems. The body was comprised of a salvaged wok surrounded by a sharpened steel ring at the bottom and augmented by two blades.
During our tour, we ran into Pete Lambertson, Senior Vice President of BattleBots and mastermind creator behind the arena. Pete pointed out some of the arena’s many special and unique destructive features designed to add to the excitement during battles but also to keep spectators safe.
For example, the side walls of the arena are created from Lexan – polycarbonate. This material is meant to resist the impact of flying metal and to protect the live audience, team members and crew from debris that slams against the sides of the arena by one of the many powerful robots during battle.
The arena itself has multiple hazards built in, including, spinning side blades referred to as “screws”, “kill saws” that come up out of the arena floor, and huge hammers referred to as “pulverizers” in each corner that can deliver a crushing blow to any robot within reach. Yikes!
Also on set during my visit was Mark Setrakian, a GoEngineer customer, former BattleBots competitor, and creator of “Axis II,” a robotic artwork that artfully displays the BattleBots trophy for Season 2.
Mark 3D Printed “Axis” on a Stratasys Fortus 400.
“Axis II” was made specifically to handle the weight of the BattleBots trophy. Check out this cool video showing the original version “Axis”
One patriotic team came through the tunnel waving the U.S.A. flag while “Born in the USA” by Springsteen blared from the speakers. This really got the crowd going with repeated loud chants of “U.S.A.!” An incredible battle followed between them and their opponents from Australia.
- During competition, sparks fly so much so that each “fire” requires its own type of extinguisher.
- The pit area was the place to see all the competitors in one place making those sometimes critical last-minute adjustments to their robots. Teams came from all over the
U.S., including Alaska, as well as from Brazil, the UK, Canada, and Australia.
- Teams were made up of families, MIT students, and SpaceX team members, all with their unique style. Debbie commented, “during the competition, you might not think they would be, but everyone is very supportive of the other teams and lends a hand when needed.”
- Outside of BattleBots, there is a community of robotics competitors, including the Vasquez family, who go to untelevised competitions. The Vasquez Family competes with robots as small as 150 grams and all the way up to 220-lb heavyweights.
- Matthew and Jason also compete at the NTMA Robotics League Competitions with their 15-lb robot “Overload,” that went undefeated for all three tournaments this year, winning 15 fights in a row, and is the current Regional Grand Champion.
- Robots ranged in size and ability; from small and fast with the advantage of being agile, to large and powerful leveraging the art of intimidation.
- Ending with a win by destruction of the competitor’s robot is the preference for teams because it avoids needing a judge’s decision that often stirs up its own blend of controversy.
- Quotable Moment: When a female team leader competing that day was interviewed and said,“…to any little girls out there, keep doing math and science: This is for you.”
- Hammers, drones, torches (flame throwers)…chasing after competitors’ robots and slamming against each other…oh my! Problems encountered by the robots ranged from lipo (battery) fires, leaking fluids, torque trouble, damage from arena hazards…to name a few.
- Learned a new term: “-crewbot” (the name on the crew t-shirts). The crew proved handy with a crowbar, which I learned is used to unstick the bots when needed so they can continue doing battle to finish out their rounds.
- The massive LA Hanger was packed with bleachers filled with hundreds of pumped up
BattleBots fans ranging from young kids to seniors, some in full fan gear.
- Fans and family members cheered on their favorite teams.
- Free optional ear plugs were available.
- The group in front of me was on a school field trip and had arrived after a two-hour bus ride from the Palm Desert High School Robotics Program. I spoke with Shannon Fix (Botball advisor) whose oldest son was also in the robotics program and loved it.
- The room was filled with high energy and camera crews were everywhere.
- Random quotes overheard from the crowd: “…that one looks so cool!” and “…who do you want to win?” also “so powerful” and “look at how fast that robot is!”
GoEngineer will be 3D printing a limited edition of Splatter (promotional) robot toys this summer for Team Fast Electric Robots and we plan to share the 3D printing process and a look at the end product in a future blog post.