Engineering Students Design, Clash for Class

Engineering Students Design, Clash for Class
Associate professor Dr. Kevin R. Anderson videotapes the inner workings of Team Cordless during Polybot wars at Cal Poly Pomona.
Beatle and Swinger fight for first place with the robots they designed and built.
Members of Team Swinger, from left Ryan Padilla, Carl Jappert and Rami Wehbe, check on damage to their ax-wielding robot.

They came seeking neither fame nor glory. Their goals were to survive and advance, academically, while putting theory to the test in what proved to be a no-holds-barred heavy metal competition.

In the end, all made the grade but only one could claim the title of champion during the inaugural PolyBots competition on Wednesday, Aug. 28, in front of the Engineering Laboratory Complex (Building 17).

In an event where pop culture collided with higher education, teams of Cal Poly Pomona mechanical engineering students from associate professor Kevin Anderson?s Machine Design Lab (ME 325L) put their summer quarter class assignments into head-to-head competition. Divided into three groups, the students were required to analyze, engineer, fabricate and demonstrate a working PolyBot, a variant of the lightweight division combatant from the cable television series ?BattleBots.?

The idea was a creative change from the previous summer, when Anderson required his students to design and build trebuchets (medieval gravity-powered catapults).

?The PolyBots are far more complex. They require the students to learn about electrical controls and a number of other systems,? said Anderson. ?They also learned valuable lessons about teamwork and taking a project from paper to an actual working model and the need to go back and make changes.?

This year?s PolyBot creations were subject to specific design constraints. All three teams were restricted by size and weight and asked to keep costs within a reasonable amount. In an effort to help defray costs and attain assistance with vital materials and tools, each team solicited sponsors. Supporters included: Team 1 ? Superior Communications (Irwindale), Check It Paintball (West Covina), Duffco Enterprises (San Dimas), Mountain View Paintball (Upland) and Joe Martinez with the Pomona Unified School District?s Adult Education Services; Team 2 ? United Finishing Systems, Inc. (Baldwin Park), CJI Process Systems (El Monte) and Pegasus Hobbies (Montclair); Team 3 ? PG Drives Technology, Inc. (Anaheim).

The three PolyBots offered different design strategies. Team 1?s creation, The Beatle, was a low riding, heavily armored unit with a whirling pipe curved down at each end to provide maximum coverage. The design included a pneumatic system that lifted the main body while in motion, then dropping the armored body to the ground for defensive purposes and to provide a solid anchor while under attack.

Team 2, creators of the Cordless Cannibal, devised a quick, agile attacker featuring a large, overhead blade similar to that found under a lawnmower.

Team 3?s construct, The Swinger, offered the most lethal appearance. It featured a stationary twin-bladed axe on one end and a steep pitched ramp on the other, providing two attack options. By putting the unit into a spin motion, the axe could be used as a destructive weapon. Otherwise, by turning the ramp to the front and using a straight-on forward motion, the unit could attempt to get underneath and flip its opponent.

After the official weigh-in and specifications check, the three PolyBots were put into action. The Cordless Cannibal unfortunately was quickly sidelined when it suffered what proved to be irreparable internal damage.

?You find out there?s always something that messes up. So you go back and fix the one thing and something else messes up,? said Team 2 member Philip Portillo.

?That?s a classic example of shear failure,? Anderson later explained. ?That?s another difference between the PolyBots and the trebuchets. Trebuchets you can do a quick fix with duct tape. These are much more complex.?

Once the Cordless Cannibal was knocked out, it was up to The Swinger to find a way through The Beatle defensive posture. Initially, The Swinger enjoyed some success but damaged its ramp in the process, leaving it unable to move. After allowing for a short repair period, Team 3 opted for an aggressive attack plan. Briefly it appeared to take the upper hand, actually dragging The Beatle from its central position. But the strain proved too costly and failed to inflict any noticeable damage.

?With our design we knew we wouldn?t be the fastest, and we were pretty sure we wouldn?t be the strongest. So we thought we?d move to the middle (of the combat zone), settle down and let the others come to us,? said Team 1 member Kris Hernandez. ?It?s a great class. We had to learn how to do a lot in a short amount of time and how to work together as a team. Professor Anderson makes it practical while still letting us do cool projects.?