(Source: Courtesy Jonathan Schultz)
Hardware engineer Jonathan Schultz had Mouser Electronics’ entry into the nationally televised BattleBots competition all ready to do battle against other remote-controlled robots back in February. The Discovery Channel had again booked the Long Beach, Calif., warehouse for two weeks of production before hundreds of adoring robotic combat fans.
“Things were pretty tight at the time and pretty close to done,” Schultz says.
Then, concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold. The season was shelved until further notice.
For Schultz and his team, it meant continued work on Huge, sponsored by Mouser and TTI Inc., until the competition’s safety protocols could be worked out. In the downtime, Schultz retreated to his workshop in South Windsor, Conn., and used the opportunity to make Mouser’s ‘bot an even more effective fighting force.
BattleBots and Huge returned to television in December. BattleBots brought combat robotics into the pop-culture discussion with televised tournaments that feature 110kg (250lb) robots battling one-on-one to destroy or disable opponents in violent three-minute bouts. The tournament winner can claim the Giant Nut trophy and bragging rights among robotic designers and engineers.
For the show to go on, BattleBots' creators adapted the latest competition to follow health protocols with regular virus testing and without a live audience. In October, 60 teams of competitors returned to Long Beach for two weeks to tape and complete the competition, a 32-team tournament.
Huge, which sports Mouser and TTI branding on its body, lost its opening match by knockout to Mammoth, a tall, wire-framed bot that flipped Huge and caused one of its oversized wheels to lodge against the BattleBox arena’s Lexan wall. Although Huge lost, it is still in the running for the tournament.
The show airs Thursdays on the Discovery Channel. Because of non-disclosure agreements, the winners won’t be known until mid-January, but here’s a look at how Schultz and Huge’s BattleBots journey continued this year.
Figure 1: Team Huge rolls out Huge for the next match at BattleBots (Source: Courtesy Jonathan Schultz)
Huge has been a staple in the BattleBots tournament for the past four seasons, winning seven of 12 matches and making it to the top 16 last season. Huge featured large ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW) wheels carrying boxed mechanized components and weapon, a spinning AR400 vertical bar, along its axle. At 1M tall, it looms over and pounds opponents with its weapon (Figure 1).
This season, Schultz used the season’s postponement to improve Huge’s power and durability.
“We had a really tough build season because we designed the whole robot around a certain new motor that we were going to swap to,” Schultz says. “We ordered a bunch of them that were listed in stock, and then we kind of went on our merry way.”
But the motors, which were made in China, became suddenly unavailable because of the pandemic, Schultz says.
“So, we’re stuck at the last second going ‘Oh, my god. We need to redesign the entire robot to accommodate these other motors. We basically had to start over.”
The postponement lasted through the summer, enough time for the Huge team to “pull off some new tricks.”
Huge’s wheels, regarded as the bot’s weakness when confronting opponents with horizontal spinning weapons or diamond-edged saws, were crafted from a new thermoplastic composite called Tegris, which is recyclable and durable. A viewer contacted Schultz saying Tegris is a better solution and sent along with some samples.
“Rather than being made of carbon strands that give you splinters and is super strong and super stiff,” Schultz says. “This is a lot less stiff, but it still has that flex that we want out of the wheels. The material is 20 percent lighter than the original material we always use, and it’s six times stronger.”
Schultz tried out the Tegris wheels on smaller versions of Huge that fight in local events, and it was “like, oh my god, it was night and day.”
To test the wheels’ strength, Schultz says Team Huge clamped a wheel to the edge of a table, hit with a hammer, and it flexed back in place after bending 45 degrees, “exactly the performance that we want and need for this to work.”
Other changes were less noticeable. Team Huge went with brushless motors, which Schultz says are 20 percent to 30 percent more efficient and smaller “with less points of failure” and more powerful. Huge’s Fandom website also points out the bot’s enhancements, including metallic wheel hubs and support struts for the back end.
The newly found wheel durability meant other adjustments, such as axle sizes, mount changes, and frame strength. The shifts also allowed more weight to be shifted to vertical weapons, which now can be as heavy as 18.1kg (40lbs) instead of 13.6 kg (30lbs).
Varying Huge’s vertical weapon is important when facing the diverse BattleBot chassis shapes. Schultz says this year’s field includes bots with more horizontal spinners, which “is cool for the sport, but less cool for us because that’s always been our Achille’s heel, for sure.”
To meet safety protocols, BattleBots organizers had to create a different environment for the competition. Instead of hundreds of fans who once surrounded the fighting arena and cheered on their favorites, boxed seating areas were set up for BattleBot competitors to be spectators.
“It was weirder than I thought it would be,” Schultz says. "I didn’t realize how much energy you get from there being a crowd. They’re going nuts. We had some incredible fights this season, absolutely incredible fights, some of the best fights we’ve ever had, it’s just weird how it finishes.”
Being a spectator, however, provides a different perspective for crews of engineers and designers. “I noticed so much more when you’re sitting there in the stands and just see how the robots are operating and how the teams are running their fights and what they’re going for,” Schultz says. “You see what’s going on more. You enjoy the spectacle of it.”
Figure 2: Team Huge consists of Don Doerfler, Peter Lombardo, Jonathan Schultz, Maddie Thumma, and Garrett Santoline, (Source: Courtesy Jonathan Schultz)
In addition to Schultz, this year’s team consists of Garrett Santoline, Don Doerfler, Peter Lombardo, and Maddie Thumma (Figure 2).
Schultz grew up in New Hampshire, moved to Connecticut after college, then got involved with building bots. In 2017, he and Lombardo and Thumma brought three 30-pound bots to the North East Robotics Club competition. They met Santoline and Doerfler, and they helped in Huge’s development.
His father was a TTI salesman and helped his son secure the sponsorship for the 2018 season. Schultz says backing a BattleBot is "expensive as you want it to be."
“To put one robot in the arena is probably about $10,000 (USD) for us,” he says. “Some are more, and I knew a few that are half that and less. It’s definitely not a rich man’s game. It’s a game for people who have the engineering resources and the shop to do it. We’ve been very lucky. The Mouser relationship has been fantastic. There’s no way we’d be able to do all the robots without it.”
Figure 3: Create your own paper version of Huge.
Make your own HUGE papercraft, using the template in Figure 3 and these instructions:
Tommy Cummings is a senior technical content specialist at Mouser Electronics in Mansfield, Texas. Tommy joined Mouser in 2018 after a journalism career that included The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. At one time, he was actually a Heisman Trophy voter. He can be followed on Twitter at @tommycummings or on LinkedIn.
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