Student-run Robobrawl provides tech experience, camaraderie, leadership opportunities and battling bots

5/2/2022

Laura Schmitt

"Budget Extensions" was one of 20 robots that competed in the 2022 Robobrawl competition April 8-9. Team members are (left to right) Justin Ansell (CompE), Ahmed Baig (above, CEE), Diane Gonzalez (below, MechSE), Aman Penmetcha (MechSE), Mahir Patel (Aero), Riten Mehta (MechSE), Thomas Nguyen (MechSE), Matthew Zhang (MechSE)
"Budget Extensions" was one of 20 robots that competed in the 2022 Robobrawl competition April 8-9. Team members are (left to right) Justin Ansell (CompE), Ahmed Baig (above, CEE), Diane Gonzalez (below, MechSE), Aman Penmetcha (MechSE), Mahir Patel (Aero), Riten Mehta (MechSE), Thomas Nguyen (MechSE), Matthew Zhang (MechSE)

Three, two, one: Robobrawl, the popular student-run combat robotics competition, returned to the Bardeen Quad on April 8-9, 2022, as part of Engineering Open House after a two-year hiatus. Twenty collegiate and alumni teams competed in the double-elimination tournament featuring agile metal robots engaged in exciting battles of destruction. 

Robobrawl is the second-largest competition in the United States for 30-pound [combatants],” said Robobrawl co-coordinator Anudeep Ekhurthi, an electrical engineering senior. “To win, you have to build a robot that can go through multiple matches and not be destroyed. [Some] robots may have steel drums rotating at 11,000 rpm, so they can rip each other apart.”

Short of complete annihilation, a match can be decided by knockout, meaning one of the robots is damaged enough that it’s unable to move for 10 seconds. 

About the size of a low-profile Roomba vacuum, the robots have a metal spinning blade or sharp dagger to attack their opponents. Each match lasts up to three minutes, though most were over in less than that as the combatants lunged, spun, and crashed into each other in a 16-square foot arena surrounded by plexiglass. 

The competition’s winning robot Round House, which was built by a team of Grainger alumni.
The competition’s winning robot Round House, which was built by a team of Grainger alumni.

One of the most eventful rounds pitted Budget Extensions, an overhead bar spinner robot designed and built by a team of University of Illinois sophomores, against Round House, a slick robot with a ground-level spinning blade created by the RoboGym Robotics team which includes Illinois alumni Matthew Birkel (BS Computer Engineering, 2014), Ryan Shulski (BS Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering , 2016), and Dan Tisza (BS Mechanical Engineering, 2016). 

For the record, RoboGym Robotics has competed multiple times in the international BattleBots competition televised on the Discover channel. 

About one minute into the round and after multiple attacks, Round House ripped off Budget Extension’s side panel and flipped it upside down. Within seconds, Budget Extension’s battery began to smoke, causing event organizers to evacuate spectators from underneath the event tent until the smoke cleared. 

“They absolutely demolished us,” said mechanical engineering sophomore and team captain Tommy Nguyen. “It was a good way to go out since [Round House] went on to win the competition. We could say we lost to the champions, though we did inflict some damage to their robot.”

Nguyen encourages other students to get involved either with Robobrawl or iRobotics, another ECE-sponsored student-run organization because they provide opportunities to learn industry-relevant skills like working with water jets, lathes, mills, welding, 3D printing, and of course, electronics. 

“As a mechanical engineer, I wouldn’t have been exposed to electronics had I not done this competition,” he said. “It’s a great environment and I made a good group of friends bonding in the Engineering Student Projects Lab at 4 a.m. trying to get our robot to work.”

Participants aren’t the only ones who benefit from the Robobrawl experience. Event co-coordinator Stephanie Tancs, a senior in computer engineering, said she parlayed her involvement with Robobrawl into a job offer from Intel as an automation integration software engineer. 

“Beyond engineering, you gain a ton of leadership experience,” said Tancs. “I learned how to articulate exactly what you want from someone and exactly when you need it in coordinating Robobrawl [logistics] with the Engineering Open House committee and others.”

Students interested in learning more about Robobrawl can visit the organization’s website or watch matches from this year’s competition. In addition to Robobrawl, students can compete in the Design.Print.Destroy! event featuring one-pound, 3D-printed robots, which was held in late April on campus. 

On behalf of all the Robobrawl organizers, Tancs and Ekhurthi extend their thanks to Milwaukee Tool for sponsoring the competition. The company also attended the event and provided tools that all teams used to repair their robots in between rounds.