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Today's Family Magazine

RoboBot competition is a "smashing" success

Two combat robots battle it out during the 2018 RoboBot competition. Photo credit: Shane Hesson from Timeless Photography.

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 and middle 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 50 teams this year that will compete from 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.  The teachers/instructors offer input into the specific design of their students’ robots, but most of the input is from students.  When the students are designing the robot, their main focus is usually on durability, maximum damage and mobility.

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.  Close battles are called by the courtside judges.

Sustar said, “Fredon has supported the AWT RoboBots program for the past eight years…we all believe in it.  This gets our future workforce involved.  We are hoping this year we achieve as much as we have in the past—showing high school and middle school kids that manufacturing has rewarding careers for them.”

When Alice Cable, executive director for Alliance for Working Together, was asked what AWT hopes to achieve in every competition, she replied, “We want our competitors to have fun and celebrate what they've learned, we want the companies that help the teams to have some potential new talent, and we want spectators to recognize how cool manufacturing can be and celebrate the teams' talents!”

She adds, “Three main things set this program apart from other robotics competitions: one is that there is really no cost to the school to participate, the second is the direct link with local industry, and third is that it's robot combat, which is just entertaining all around. 

Alyson Scott, president of Fredon Corporation has been coordinating the RoboBots competition since year one and says it's just incredible to see how far they’ve come.  “Every year has its special moments and its unexpected surprises.  I can't say enough about our amazing network of volunteers who work tirelessly to make everything run smoothly.  We have people—documentation judges, set-up crews, competition judges, safety crew—who give hours and hours of their own time just because they believe in the value of the program.  Our volunteers are incredible and we couldn't do this without them,” said Scott.

Mark Winner from Madison High School is a parent volunteer first-time coach for a team of six students; three sophomores and three freshmen—a new and young girl team.  “I’m learning a lot.  As this is our first year in competition, we continually keep our two main goals in front of us:  to produce a working robot and to not get completely destroyed in the arena.  These are some super sharp students who have a ton to offer the combat robotics community,” said Winner.

He added, “On the day of the competition, I will encourage them to focus on two things: 1) competing at the highest level they are capable of, and 2) watching and getting to know the winning teams.  As a team, we want to grow in our ability to compete and we'll need to do both of those things to get to the top in years to come!  I hope they will learn more about what it takes to bring an idea through the process of design, manufacture and competition.  We're excited to be a part of such a great program and I look forward to seeing how this experience impacts the futures of each of our students.”

Daniel Triana is a coach for the Willoughby Middle School Junior Bots team.  He has been a robotics advisor for three years and says he saw the high school level competition years before that and volunteered when the opportunity to coach his own team opened up.  This year he has one seventh grade team and one eighth grade team.  There are four students on each team.

In the competition, Triana says the students learn cooperation, and coordinating their effort with team members and partners from industry.  Skills students will learn while constructing the robots include planning the design of the robot, managing time and resources, problem-solving, mechanical and electrical skills such as bolting materials together and soldering.

“Students prepare for a single day of competition by designing and building the strongest and most fierce robot they can imagine while adhering to strict guidelines provided by AWT.  Winning depends a great deal on the driver so we take turns practicing with the remote- controlled robot before the team selects their champion in a test of driving skill,” said Triana.

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 27 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 RoboBot competition, visit