Battlebot robots slug it out at Ogden-Weber ATC competition

Sunday , March 19, 2017 - 5:00 AM1 comment

MARK SAAL, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — At the rate technology is advancing, they say that robots will one day become our not-so-benevolent overlords.

Pray we don’t end up being ruled by Samurai.

Samurai is a “battlebot” — a very real battling robot — built by a bunch of high school students from St. George.

Of course, these high school students aren’t doing this all on their own. They’re being egged on by reckless mentors like Mike Shrout, a STEM instructor at Dixie Applied Technology College, where the students attend an early-morning tech class.

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“We like to give them a glimpse of all the technology that’s out there while they’re still in high school, instead of finding out 10 or 20 years down the road the paths they might have taken,” Shrout said. “We’re showing them all these paths now. We’re showing them a whole bunch of ways to make more than $100,000 a year.”

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Apparently, one of those paths is helping them to use all of the STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) they’re learning to build their own battlebot.

The students drove all the way from St. George to Ogden to take part in the 2017 Rocky Mountain Battlebot Competition, held Tuesday, March 14, at the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College. The event attracted about a dozen teams, mostly from local places like Davis Applied Technology College, Ogden-Weber ATC, along with Fremont, Ogden, St. Joseph, Weber, Bonneville and Roy high schools.

The competition features a series of elimination rounds building up to the championship bout. Two robots go into a large Lexan battling cage. Only one robot comes out alive.

And Dixie ATC’s Samurai walked away the undisputed champion.

As an adviser, Dixie’s Shrout says his job is basically to yell “Do this!” or “Do that!” at the students. But clearly, he’s not the kind of guy who ever yells “DON’T” do something, as he pretty much turned a blind eye as they designed and built the most lethal robot killing machine known to man.

I’ve watched a few of these battling robot competitions before. And usually, such contests exhibit all the excitement of a couple of Roomba vacuum cleaners gently bumping up against one another.

But Samurai is different. It’s more like a cross between an aforementioned Roomba and the most dangerous-looking lawn mower on the planet.

Basically, the remote-controlled robot is shaped like a baseball home plate, with two spinning arms protruding from it. These arms, simply referred to as “The Weapon,” are made from a hatchet, reinforced with steel, and featuring the end of a crowbar welded to them. When Samurai gets into the arena with another hapless metal machine, The Weapon begins spinning rapidly, inflicting all sorts of damage on anything unlucky enough to get in the way of the battlebot’s spinning blades.

On Tuesday, Samurai made short work of all other comers, winning the battlebot competition and earning a trophy and an invitation to nationals in the process. In the semifinal match, Samurai struck its opponent with enough force to actually create sparks. And in the finals, it knocked wheels, weapons and various other metal pieces off of Ogden High School’s own impressive “Demon Tiger” robot.

“Dude!” Shrout told his students following the championship bout. “There’s chunks of that other robot all over the floor.”

But the most frightening part? Samurai wasn’t even really trying.

Jake Brown, a junior at Snow Canyon High School and one of Samurai’s creators, said they were only using The Weapon at one-fourth — or maybe one-third — power.

“We’re not turning it up all the way,” he said. “We think it’s too dangerous to do that.”

You think?

Brown and his teammates — senior Rindi Finlinson and junior Dax Ewell, both from Desert Hills High School — say they once took Samurai to full power but “had to turn it off real quick” as it started humming and bouncing and looking like it was getting ready to take flight like some futuristic-looking helicopter with hatchet-crowbars for rotor blades.

Ogden-Weber ATC’s Merrill Child is an instructor for the Ogden High School team that created the runner-up battlebot Demon Tiger. In practice runs, Demon Tiger used its powerful motor and protruding spikes to punch a hole in a 55-gallon drum. Child thought Demon Tiger might be able to spike Samurai, push it up against the wall and pin it there for the victory. But in the end, Samurai and “The Weapon” prevailed.

As unstoppable as Samurai appeared on Tuesday, Ogden-Weber Tech College’s Bret Holmes, who organized Tuesday’s event, said juggernaut robots like that can be beaten.

“But the other robot needs to attack quickly, before the motor spools up,” he said.

I don’t know. Maybe Samurai can eventually be destroyed. And maybe this killer Roomba isn’t the beginning of the end for humankind. But frankly, having seen this robot’s awesome power, I’d like to go on record with this one final statement:

“All hail Samurai, most exalted ruler and benevolent overlord!”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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