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Wednesday, August 27, 2003
 
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Ohio robot battles it out with Princeton on new reality show

By Kelly Durso

Two teams, two robots, and one challenge. These are the ground rules in the DIY Network's newest reality series, "Robot Rivals." Three students from the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology face off against Princeton University in the show's second season.

Robo Duel. Photo courtesy of DIY Network."Robot Rivals" pits students from different universities against each other to build a robot and complete the challenge all in one day. Challenges range from robots that can put toys away to robots that can cut down trees. Jim Zarchin, president of DIY Network, says the ultimate goal of the network is to teach viewers something.

"Robot Rivals accomplishes that mission because each episode includes project instructions and related information about electronics and other technologies," says Zarchin. "But, like all of our other programming, even if robots aren't your main area of interest, the series is entertaining so that people of all ages and hobbies enjoy it."

Ohio University's team consisted of electrical engineering majors Doug Bowlus and Dominic Capretta, both seniors, and sophomore mechanical engineering major Matt Decker. The three teammates first met as members of the Russ College's Electric Bobcat Racing team, a student group that races in the University Consortium of Electric Vehicle Racing Teams Formula Lightning series. Their Robot Rivals challenge was to build a robot to complete an obstacle course with a seesaw and a door.

Bowlus says Ohio and Princeton approached the challenge with two very different robots. Princeton went with a pneumatic design involving CO2, while Ohio used an electrical motor with mechanical gears.

"Producers of the show ensured major differences in approach among the schools to keep the show interesting," says Bowlus.

Each team worked with an expert to build the robot. Ohio's expert was Buzz Dawson, who has competed in numerous episodes of "BattleBots." Dawson advised the team on the robot's design and construction.

Being on a reality show may look like all fun and games, but the team found it challenging.

"Television creates some unique demands. It was frustrating at times, because every time we did something we had to stop what were doing and call a cameraman over so they could get it on tape," says Decker.

Capretta echoed Decker's opinion by saying one doesn't really build all that much because they have the robot built and the electronics done before you get there. The show calls this process the pre-build.

One incident that might have hit the cutting room floor – no one will know until the show airs -- involved the obstacle course's seesaw. Capretta, who was the robot driver, gunned it off the starting line and toward the seesaw. When the robot hit the seesaw, the seesaw bowed and sprung back, sending the robot through one of the walls on the set. Luckily, the robot survived in one piece -- even if the wall didn't.

The Ohio team says that overall, they had fun and learned a great deal from the experience of building a robot. Decker says the show is good exposure for Ohio University.

"It's definitely good for our school, and good for the engineering program," says Decker. "I hope they invite us to participate again, because it is really good for us to compete in visible activities like this."

The Russ College of Engineering and Technology will receive a $500 scholarship for participating in the show. To check out the action and see who won the competition, tune into the DIY Network May 7 at 9 p.m. Check your local cable listings for DIY Network availability.


Kelly Durso is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.

Ohio.edu Front Door Photo Credit: DIY Network

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