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Rock-em, Sock-em

Engineering students gain educational experience with combat robot


Pop culture has always been fascinated with robots. From to R2D2, to Optimus Prime, to the Terminator, robots have saved our homes, won our hearts and even taken over the world. Now, a group of engineering students at Ohio Northern University have used their film-based inspiration to create a robot of simple yet realistic mechanics. This robot will not save the world, will not cook breakfast and will not tell jokes. It will, however, have three minutes to destroy its opponent in the RoboGames arena.

“Flamethrowers are allowed.
That would be cool.”
—Wes Clark

The team, comprised of juniors Bryan Burkholder, a computer engineering major from Bluffton, Ohio; Tyler Cler, a mechanical engineering major from Ripon, Wis.; Matthew Yingling, a computer engineering major from Canton, Ohio; Ryan Lawson, a computer engineering major from Toledo, Ohio; Wes Clark, a mechanical engineering major from Lancaster, Ohio; and sophomores Anne Druesedow, a mechanical engineering major from Sharon Center, Ohio; Michael Horth, a mechanical engineering major from Akron, Ohio; and Timothy Chaffin, a computer engineering major from Creston, Ohio; worked together to create “K-Bot,” a 60-pound combat robot designed to compete at the recent international RoboGames competition at in San Mateo, Calif., from April 15 to 17.

RoboGames is a growing competition that embraces robot enthusiasts from all walks of life. Professionals, students and the occasional tinkerer can compete in more than 50 categories ranging from LEGO robots, to humanoids, to mechanized combat.

“I had always been kind of interested in doing a battle bot/combat robot kind of thing. It had always sounded kind of cool to me,” said Cler.

The team spent more than a year developing, building and testing K-Bot with the guidance of faculty advisor Dr. Sami Khorbotly, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. He was immediately impressed with the work ethic the group displayed from day one, saying, “They’ve all worked hard and are very committed even though there isn’t any class credit.”

The team was nervous and excited for their first match at RoboGames. In order to compete, robots must first pass a safety inspection to prove that they are safe and no illegal tricks are secretly hidden.

“There are certain things that are not allowed,” said Cler. 'For instance, we can’t use electro-magnetic bursts that would disable the functioning of the other robot."

Other than that, teams are encouraged to be creative and think of any means of destruction they can. K-Bot’s primary weapon is a spinning double-hammer. However, when asked if he could have any weapon he wished, Clark answered, “Flame-throwers are allowed. That would be cool.”

Match winners are determined by combining scores for both aggression and the damage inflicted. The aggression points are awarded for enthusiasm and flair, and to deter teams from being too defensive in their strategy. The round-robin format guaranteed each team two bouts in the ring, and while the competition was tough, it was also friendly.

Ryan Lawson and Wes Clark. Not pictured, Tyler Cler.">“We were beat pretty bad in our first match.” Cler said. “We really weren’t prepared to do the amount of reconstruction that was necessary, so other teams let us borrow their stuff. Everyone was really helpful and supportive.”

Building K-Bot turned out to be an educational experience on many levels. Students had to solve classic engineering problems while also using creativity to build a more lethal robot. In the end, the team learned the most important lesson.

“No matter what you do, there’s always something else that isn’t how you thought it was going to be,” Clark said. “There’s always some improvement we can make.”

Even though they didn’t compete the way they wanted, everyone is excited for another chance in the ring.

“We learned so much,” Cler adds. “I can’t wait to see what improvements we can make for next year, now that we know what we’re doing.”

—Kate DeAngelis
Junior, Professional Writing
Norton, Ohio


The T.J. Smull College of Engineering provides a teaching/learning environment that maximizes opportunities for student success. The college offers degree programs in civil, computer, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science, and engineering education. The tradition of the college is to treat each student as an individual, to keep class sizes small, and to encourage faculty-student interaction.