Talking to BattleBots Team Reckless

With BattleBots growing even more popular after Season 3 on ABC, more competitive robots are eager to enter the arena. A newcomer to the field for Season 3 (hopefully) is UTA Combat Robotics with its robot: Reckless. This is a very innovative new robot that has potential, and was also designed in SOLIDWORKS. Aviana Knochel answered our questions about how she got started building a new robot:

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SOLIDWORKS: How did you first learn about BattleBots?
Aviana: I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid. BattleBots, Junkyard Wars and Mythbusters all informed my childhood and ultimately my career choices. Deadblow was my favorite Battlebot and as a teen, and finding out that Grant Imahara was the builder was like a puzzle falling into place. I heard about the reboot on ABC about 10 minutes after it was publicly announced and decided pretty much on the spot that I was going for it at some point during its run.

SOLIDWORKS: What made you decide to compete in the BattleBots tournament?
Aviana: Senior design is boring. Very boring. So boring, in fact, that last semester, the only project that was both completed and functional was a set of powered plantation blinds. I have never once looked at plantation blinds and thought “these could use a little more automation.” I didn’t want my name attached to a boring or failed project, and it just happened to coincide with BattleBots going back on air. Even though BattleBots is a big risk, I was confident the university would be on board for having another team competing on the national stage like our Formula SAE team, and sure enough they went for it.

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SOLIDWORKS: How do you get started building a team/Bot?
Aviana: The first thing you need is good people. Finding individuals who are hard workers and share your vision is paramount. Note that sharing your vision doesn’t necessarily mean sharing your exact ideas for the shape of the bot – it’s good to be challenged! Hearing “your ego is keeping us from having a unique and possibly match-winning design” from my first teammate really snapped me back to Earth early in the design process. But too much strife is also a bad thing and everyone needs to check their egos at the door, or else you’ll spend all your time fighting and no time actually designing.
From there, you need to make a list of what every robot you admire does and a list of what you want your robot to do, and compare them. Look for simple solutions when possible but try to make your bot at least look unique, if not function uniquely. Then and only then can you start designing and looking at manufacturing. In FRC we called this “shotgun brainstorming”: throw every single idea out there and then start crossing off the impossible, followed by the copycat ideas, and then narrow down what’s left. You really shouldn’t need to change the big design ideas like your weapon shape or drivetrain after the first week of designing.

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SOLIDWORKS: Why did you decide to use SOLIDWORKS?  What advantage does SOLIDWORKS give you when building a Bot?
Aviana: In high school I used Pro/Engineer Wildfire 4, and moved to SOLIDWORKS, thanks to UTA and my job at SEW Eurodrive. The program is just so much more intuitive than Pro/E and makes quickly mocking up a bot a breeze. The biggest advantage SOLIDWORKS gives us is checking the weight on the fly. For off the shelf parts like batteries and pneumatic cylinders, we can override their material properties and put in the actual weight, and then we can select the actual materials we’re using for our custom parts. From there we can stay under 250 lbs and adjust our center of gravity to better distribute the bot’s weight across our unique drivetrain. We can have the entire robot accurately modeled for weight and be off by maybe a half a pound max for unexpected wires, and we won’t have to put in Swiss cheese “speed holes” to get back under 250 lbs.

SOLIDWORKS: How many hours did it take to design your Bot in SOLIDWORKS?
Aviana: The team has spent roughly 30 hours designing the prototype in SOLIDWORKS. Admittedly, this prototype’s engineering is going more into the general ideas than the actual performance, since we just need wheels on the ground for driving practice and proof of concept. The final version will require considerably more work, and better analysis and material choices than just tossing bent sheet steel at the problem.

SOLIDWORKS: Do you have a favorite SOLIDWORKS shortcut/feature?
Aviana: It’s such a tiny thing but I honestly love the Convert Entities tool. It speeds up my processes so much and makes it much easier to add organic touches to the model. I probably abuse it a bit but if it means I spend less time making the model; that’s all I care about.

SOLIDWORKS: If you could develop the “dream” weapon for your Bot, what would it be?
Aviana: Well, we’re using one of them now, but my other dream weapon is an axe like Bombshell’s, but actually useful. I dislike Chomp’s tendency to throw herself over. It’s so difficult to pull off in BattleBots but it appeals to the violent Celt in me.

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SOLIDWORKS: What has been your favorite BattleBots experience
Aviana: Learning about the mere existence of Charles from Team Overhaul. That guy is absolutely hilarious, and his shoes are fly as hell. He and Ray are my favorite members of the community and I can’t wait to meet them.

SOLIDWORKS: When/what was the first robot you built?
Aviana: My first robot was a little LEGO Mindstorms robot for FIRST Lego League, way back in the fourth grade. It was my school’s rookie year and we got somewhere around 63rd place or something similarly absurdly low. The next year we made it to 19th place, and from there I was hooked.

SOLIDWORKS: How well did you do in your first competition?  What did you learn from this experience?
Aviana: Since this is my first year in BattleBots, I’ll answer that with how well I did in my FIRST competition. The robots we built in 2010 and 2011 and my team’s past experience with crab drives, in addition to teammate Brian’s experience with Mecanum in his team’s 2012 robot, really informed our design choices. 2010’s robot Dynamite was honestly a BattleBot stuck in a FIRST competition. We drove it hard and wild and probably should have received far more red cards than we did for intentionally damaging other robots, but it was built like a tank and played incredible defense. That year I learned two things: build the bot for the actual competition, not just what you want to build, and if you want to win, SMASH.

SOLIDWORKS: What lessons did you learn from Seasons 1 & 2?
Aviana: From watching both seasons in the comfort of my living room, the biggest lesson I saw was that driving practice matters. Watching the drivers overshoot their targets and then overcorrect or just flat out miss for three minutes at a time was actually infuriating. A good driver can do more with a mediocre bot than a mediocre driver can do with a good bot. That’s why Ray is so successful: he has the simplest machine in the competition but he drives with incredible control. After seeing so many drivers fail, my personal goal is to out-drive Ray Billings. If I can do that, I might just have a shot.

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Cliff Medling

Cliff Medling

Cliff Medling is a Senior Marketing Manager at SolidWorks