Fight Club


Andrew Oh/Guardian

Demolishing $2,000 worth of electronic equipment isn’t normally a cause for celebration. But for the 25 students on UCSD’s Triton Robotix team — lead by Warren College sophomore Daniel Yan and Sixth college senior Allen Jiang, it’s all in a hard day’s work.

After competing on the television show “Battle Bots” last April, Yang and Jiang, a fourth year from Sixth College, hit the road with 12 other members of Robotix, a 120-pound robot and two three-pound mini robots. They drove to San Mateo, Calif., to compete in this year’s Robogames competition — an annual weekend showdown between robots from Canada, Puerto Rico and Brazil. At the end of the three-day battle, Robotix emerged fifth out of 21 competitors.

“We’re really excited to have been in the top 20 percent internationally,” Jiang said.

The club was started two years back as an outlet for student engineers who wanted practical training at a university that, according to Yang, is predominantly hands-off in its teaching methods.

“We have very few opportunities to try things,” Yang said. “We just study. This gives you a chance to experiment with things you learn; although a majority of it is that we like to engineer things, and we like to engineer things that destroy other things.”

And on the destroying front, Kraken — Triton Robotix’s middle-weight-class robot — has been pretty successful. Between 10 club members, The metal droid took six to eight months to plan and build, spread over 12 in six-hour build sessions.

“We started off with raw material and just built it up,” Yang said. “But not the electrical part, because we’re not electrical engineers. We buy the electrical components, but everything still had to be connected together.”

According to Jiang, a surprisingly large chunk of the $2,000 it took to build Kraken went to spare parts, which the team needs on hand in case of a malfunction.

“The materials have to be strong and robust,” Jiang said. “We have to buy extra motors and batteries in case they fail.”

Going into the competition, Kraken’s battle strategy was to ram other robots into submission and immobilize them. Equipped with four-wheel drive and a linear actuator — a motor that controls the robot’s front shield, which is made out of abrasion-resistant steel — Kraken would be able to lower the shield under its opponents and then lift and immobilize them by running them into a wall.

“If you think of a game of rock, paper, scissors — we’re a rock robot; we’re built really solid,” Yang said. “We’re really tough and hard to destroy. Our goal is to ram them, break their weapon — then lift them and immobilize them.”

The blueprint stages for Kraken began Week Three of Fall Quarter 2009. As the final model was completed a mere day before the April 22 competition, the team had only enough time for a few trial runs before Kraken’s first battle.

“Last year, we tested it at the competition,” Yang laughed. “We’re already doing better than last year.”

Though they finished in the nick of time this year, the team still encountered a roadblock before the competition. For every four players traveling to the arena to participate, there needed to be one robot — or each additional person would have to pay $35. Out of time and money, team members quickly scrapped together two three-pound mini-bots in three weeks. One of them, unfortunately, never made it to the competition, as it was still unfinished on competition day. The other was called Mini Triton.

Andrew Oh/Guardian

“It didn’t do too well in competition, but the fact that it drove was something,” Yang said.

Taking inspiration from UCSD’s marine surroundings, Robotix decided to name all their fighting robots after sea creatures. Last year’s robot took on the moniker of Greek sea god Triton, and this year’s Kraken paid tribute to a large sea monster.

“We’re starting a theme of sea-creature named robots to honor UCSD, because we’re like — the ocean, or something,” Yang said.

The weekend began and finished with bloodshed — specifically Yang’s, as he cut himself twice trying to turn Kraken on and off. The most exciting battle team Robotix fought in was against Dark Cyde — a robot that had a flipper.

After checking to make sure all were safe, and the arena doors were shut securely, the referee began a countdown. Kraken charged at the Dark Cyde, as the latter launched their weapon, missing twice. Robotix’s agile robot prevailed, managing to get underneath the opposing robot to ram them repeatedly into the arena walls, damaging a battery and their frame weapon.

“We would get around them get behind them and throw them into a wall, its really like ramming someone into a solid wall.” Jiang said.

Kraken emerged victorious in two out of the four frays it competed in. There were two ways for a robot to win at the Robogames —the first is to completely destroy your opponent’s machine, and the second is to immobilize it. If neither robot is incapacitated after three minutes, a panel of three judges named the winner.

“We won normally by the judges’ decision,” Yang said. “One judge was [from ‘Mythbusters’] —Grant Imahara — so that was pretty cool.”

Between rounds, competitors are allowed to repair their robots. Fortunately for Robotix, Kraken’s damage remained fairly minimal: isolated to tears on its tires and a sizable dent in its shield from plowing opponents.

“We were lucky we didn’t sustain much damage,” Yang said. “Some robots are other robots’ kryptonite.”

Yang said the team hoped that Kraken would be the Achilles heel for UCLA’s robot. One month before the competition, Robotix challenged the UCLA team to a grudge match before the competition.

“Daniel even drew a little UCLA robot on the top of our robot, and it was on fire, ” Jiang said. “We had designed it to withstand UCLA’s robot, and it never happened. UCLA didn’t bring their robot — it wasn’t finished yet.”

As the last few weeks of Spring Quarter trickle away, the Robotix co-captains are already devising another ferocious robot to smash next year’s competition — this time, with weaponry. Jiang has even pitched a name for the improved bot: Crysomallon Squamiferum, a type of iron-armored sea snail. He said he expects the new machinery to cost more, but that he isn’t worried about finding sponsors thanks to a mix of generous donors, including Expro, SolidWorks, Eplastics, Mutant Robots and

“A lot of people are interested in having a very fast, hardcore spinning weapon,” Jiang said. “I’m all for new ideas. Should be exciting. Each year we’re getting better at getting people and sponsors, so we can afford to take the [offensive].”

Yang said he anticipated a similar upgrade to the Robotix representative in 2011.

“Next year, we’re going to build something really scary and destructive,” Yang said. “At least, that’s my plan.”

Readers can contact Neda Salamat at [email protected].

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