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RoboBot competition brings students together to work as a team

Cleveland Heights High School's bot, Vulcan, goes airborne during the 2017 competition.

By Donna L. Robinson

Students from Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Summit and Medina counties, and as far as Meadville, Pennsylvania have taken part in the RoboBots program administered by the Alliance for Working Together (AWT).  RoboBots is a combat robotics program for high school students with the goal of giving them real world manufacturing experience while building and competing their robot in a tournament.

The idea of bringing this program to northeast Ohio came from Rich Ditto, VP of operations at Fredon Corporation.  Roger Sustar, Fredon’s CEO said, “Rich and I were in Phoenix, Arizona at a National Tool and Machining Association conference around 2005 and we got to watch a National Robotics League battle in a cage.  This looked like the ‘wow factor’ we had been looking for to promote manufacturing as a rewarding career for students.”

Fredon Corporation had a lot of input in the initiation of the competition.  They built and designed the cage, Astro Manufacturing helped with assembly and space, and Tendon Manufacturing helped with welding parts.  Mentor Rotary donated thousands of dollars to sponsor the first match between Roll-Kraft and Fredon at Lakeland Community College, where it has been held the past eight years.

RoboBots has about 30 teams that compete from high schools in northeast Ohio.  There are two divisions –– high school RoboBots (grades 9–12) and middle school Junior Bots (grades 7–8).

To make the competition possible, AWT enlists the help of local businesses.  Alice Cable, executive director for AWT said, “We have team sponsors, otherwise called industry advisors, and because some teams work with more than one sponsor (Ashtabula is an example), we get about 40 companies working with high school teams annually.  Ashtabula is an interesting story because they have about 10 smaller companies working together –– some companies support the team financially for supplies and others might help with welding, engineering, or machining.  And with this collaboration Ashtabula Tech has won first place the last two years.  Altogether, 85 companies have worked as industry advisors, directly mentoring a team, since 2011.”

Derek Woods, from Fredon is in charge of the Lake Shore Compact and Lake Catholic teams this year.  He explained how the process works. “The teachers/instructors offer input into the specific design of their students’ robots, but most of the input is from students.  Teachers, instructors and company advisors are only present to provide minimal structure and help solve problems.  When the students are designing the robot their main focus is usually on durability, maximum damage and mobility.   However, some teams do focus on immobilizing instead of destroying the opponent.”

Most matches end with a knockout, basically when the other robot can no longer move, however if the match lasts the full three minutes judges are present to determine a winner.   Criteria are based on which bot showed the most control during the match, which was the most aggressive/caused the most damage and a few other categories.  Each battle ends up with a winner.  There is a losers bracket and then back to the battles.  Close battles are called by the courtside judges.

Terry Colescott has been an advanced manufacturing instructor for Auburn Career Center for seven years, and has been preparing and assisting his students for the RoboBot competition for six years.  “Our team is open to all volunteers, then I assign responsibilities according to students’ strengths and interests,” said Colescott.

He holds team meetings where students share ideas for the design and he encourages them to watch some previous battles and to look at different designs.  “We discuss pros and cons of each design and then the team decides which direction they will pursue.  My teams have taken part in approximately five RoboBot events and we have placed as high as fourth place in the winning column.”

Colescott adds, “The students learn team work, leadership, how to meet deadlines, how to take responsibility, and how to think outside of the box. They are responsible for researching every part that we build or buy and for getting the vendors lined up.  Our bot is 100% student designed and built. We have great sponsors such as Swagelok, Cobb Industries, and Fischer Performance Tools that give us the resources to try different materials and components in the search for a winning bot.”

Overall the students take away a lot of gratification from the experience in competing in this RoboBot competition  “Working as a team and getting to see what a manufacturing company does hands on.  Also it helps develop practical skills and soft skills that the students can apply to their career after school,” said Woods.

Sustar concluded with, “The best thing we ever did was start the AWT and RoboBots.  This led to Junior Bots for middle schools, SMI Summer Manufacturing Camp Institute, and Think MFG Expo with Eastern, Western and Mentor chambers.  Every October is Manufacturing Month.”

This year’s competition will take place on April 28 from 8:30 am–5 pm at Lakeland Community College.  It is free and open to the public.

For more information about AWT and the competition, visit

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