(Photo by Karuga Koinange)
Ricky Willems had been building robots since he was in kindergarten, mainly for pure enjoyment. But once he stumbled upon combat robotics several years ago, Willems saw an opportunity to bring his talents to a bigger stage.
“As soon as I realized it wasn’t just things I was going to build out of spare parts in my grandparents’ shed, I thought, ‘Something’s going to happen one day,’” Willems said.
Willems came up with the idea to form a group dedicated to building a combat robot two years ago while working at Stanley Black & Decker in Towson.
He built a few small robots himself before teaming up with coworker Brice Farrell, who previously made an appearance on robot-fighting TV series “BattleBots.”
Farrell also fell in love with combat robotics at an early age. His first experience building a robot sparked a motivation to learn more, despite a first attempt that was less than calculated.
“I put a chainsaw on top of a Roomba, which was a terrible robot, but so much fun so it grew from there,” Farrell said. “I’d always loved watching robots fight each other, just the weird what-ifs of what happens if a giant flipper smacks into a spinning blade of death.”
Anna Goodridge worked in The Makerspace by Stanley Black & Decker at the time and had experience building race cars. She brought that experience to the team early on, as well.
“Our team motto is: We just show up and build things. So people who are good at that are good team members,” Goodridge said.
The first Mammoth was built last year. The group built a smaller version of the bot for a small, untelevised showcase in Orlando as a proof of concept. They received widespread support from peers in the robotics community and quickly got the attention of “BattleBots” producers.
The group took two months to beef up Mammoth, transforming it into the largest Battlebot ever. Mammoth stands at a staggering height of 6 feet 2 inches, spanning 6 feet 4 inches wide and is 8 feet 6 inches long.
It’s equipped with a spinner that allows it to flip opponents or launch other bots out of the arena during battle, and its wide base gives it a massive range of attack.
— BattleBots (@BattleBots) August 10, 2019
Building this behemoth didn’t come without challenges, though. The group had to balance work life and bot life, prioritize which parts of the robot to build and nail down sponsorships in order to boost marketing.
And they navigated each of those areas without assurance from “BattleBots” that they would actually appear on the show.
“We didn’t know if this was actually going to happen or not,” Willems said. “We knew the general design we wanted, but in terms of the components and design of the subsystems that was almost entirely motivated by, ‘What can we do very inexpensively, very quickly and not hyper-experimental?’”
The show, filmed in Long Beach, California, was shot over a two-week period in April before airing over the summer. The team fought every other day, but their 2-2 record was not good enough to advance to the finals.
Despite the exit, the team continues to build, and bring Mammoth to the world. Two weeks ago, they made an appearance at Dev Day, the Baltimore Innovation Week event produced by Harbor Designs and Manufacturing and 1100 Wicomico.
They showed off Mammoth’s impressive stature and let attendees operate their miniature version of the bot.
“We really opened a lot of people’s eyes to Battlebots and what combat robotics can be,” Goodridge said.
Now, the team is preparing Mammoth to face off in the same Orlando competition where they debuted the first prototype. The event, titled Robot Ruckus this year, takes place on Nov. 9.
“We’re hoping to show up with a Mammoth that’s twice as powerful as what we brought on television and really make a splash down there,” Willems said.
Farrell said the team is looking to get back on “BattleBots” next season with a revamped Mammoth.
“We have general plans to make it twice as fast, three times as powerful and 10 times more fire,” Farrell said.
The team is also looking to expand its outreach through networking with local sponsors and organizations.
“There isn’t much representation in combat robotics in the Maryland area, so we’d like to grow that and reach out more,” Willems said.
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