Robot wars

The goal is simple: destroy or render your opponent's robot immobile while avoiding damage to your own. It’s a competition called 'Battlebots,' and the BattleCats, OHIO’s student-run team, recently organized the inaugural edition.

Kweku Diaw, MA '25 | June 5, 2024

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The competition, which pits student-made robots against each other as part of a project for a first-year mechanical engineering class, was part of the BattleCats organization’s efforts to increase the awareness of robotics-based competitions on OHIO's Athens campus.

A student in a green t-shirt smiles as she holds a remote control, and two other people watch what she's looking at

Battlebots began as a television show and now describes the genre of robot-based contests that take place in large and small venues across the country.

a smiling woman holds a robot remote control while a man stands next to her, watching what she's watching

The project for first-year mechanical engineering students taught the basics of robotics engineering with an engaging twist.

Battling for course credit

Brock Klamfoth, a junior majoring in computer science, is the event and competition manager for the BattleCats. He joined the team in the spring of 2023 and described the event as one of his standout memories in the group.

“Being the announcer for the spring tournament was an unforgettable experience. Even though I was very nervous, I found the role exciting and something I want to keep doing in tournaments that the BattleCats team makes.”

The event, one of the organization’s newest initiatives, included an experiential learning component for freshman mechanical engineering students, who participated for course credit. The semester-long project required the first-year students taking the Mechanical and Energy Engineering: Gateway course to build their own battlebots and compete against other battlebot enthusiasts to see which bot would come out on top. 

Kylie Stewart and Josiah Thacker, freshmen in the mechanical engineering class, participated in the contest and placed third and first respectively..

“They chose battlebots because building those robots is a small-scale project, and the electronics are pretty simple, so it was a good way for us to get used to building, creating, and wiring,” Thacker said. 

The initiative allowed the students to solve design issues for functionality purposes as they built their bots to compete with a specific timeline in mind.

“We got more hands-on experience because of how small the robots had to be,” Stewart said. “We worked in teams of two, so everyone had something to do, and we all contributed to building our bots for the tournament significantly.”

Two small robots are pictured in a plywood box with windows as children watch

The final showdown brought spectators of all ages.

Two small robots are pictured battling in a plywood box

Each robot comes with a special set of skills.

An orange and blue robot with a long tail sits beside a controller

Students designed and built their competition robots over the course of the semester.

'An incredible experience'

The BattleCats organization formed in 2012 and currently count a membership of 38 students. The values of the community emphasize creativity, competition, and teamwork. The team, competitive in its nature and the sport it is involved in, participated in an event held by a group called Xtreme Bots last year and came in second place.

“It’s been an incredible experience being a part of this organization,” Klamforth said. “As someone who wants to work on things like robotics after college, working on this team has given me an idea of what that career will be like.”

As the competition manager, Klamforth coordinates the group’s participation in local tournaments. He described the tournament experience as “formative” for its impact on team unity and inclusion. 

“It helped give us inspiration on how to work as a unit and function like that,” he said. “Even though there are numerous roles within the team, including the electrical, mechanical lead and team leads, competitions have allowed us to function as a unit seamlessly.”

Their main challenge in competitions has been ensuring they always have a backup plan.

“You can never be too sure going up against other Battlebots, so it helps to have a plan B,” Klamforth said.

Image of a person's hands manipulating a small green and blue box-shaped robot

There are numerous things to look forward to from the BattleCats team. They are working on new Battlebot tournaments for the 2024-2025 school year, including the second version of the spring tournament and a possible bot racing competition. They will also be producing creative and exciting bots for future tournaments. Anyone interested in Battlebots can find their information on the Bobcat Connect Website