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Eighth-graders compete at RoboRAVE with 3D printed robot

Sigma Labs helped the New Mexico students print a metal cover for the robot

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Every year, RoboRAVE International brings together students and teachers from all over the world to learn how to design, build and program robots. One of the event’s most exciting elements is the SumoBot competition, which pits student-made robots against one another in the ring—a sort of BattleBots for kids. This year, two eighth-grade students from Rio Rancho, New Mexico brought a partially 3D printed SumoBot into the ring and were more than pleased with the results.

The students in question are Abigail Catanzaro and Garnet Waldrop, two eighth grade students from The ASK Academy in Rio Rancho, a charter school with a focus on STEM and biomedical engineering. While designing their battle-ready robot—Suomo—the pair encountered a challenge in the production which could potentially be fixed using 3D printing technologies.

The resourceful students reached out to Sigma Labs, a New Mexico-based aerospace and defense company specializing in metal additive manufacturing. In a letter to the company, the young girls explained that they needed a cover to protect the robot in battle and a scoop attachment; 3D printing could help them integrate these components while meeting the parameters of the contest. (The robot had to weigh between 1 and 1.5 kg and have a maximum volume of 400 square centimeters.)

RoboRAVE robot SIgma Labs

The letter read: “Increasing the mass by adding a metal case will also increase momentum. Force = mass X acceleration (one of Newton’s big 3 laws). Momentum is needed to cause a fast reaction to push other robots off the mat. Scoops are used much like a bulldozer to push other robots out of the tournament ring. They can also be used to scoop under opposition and knock them off balance. Our design has a front scoop, but we can’t figure out how to build to meet the size requirements and effectively use it to demolish our opponents. We welcome your ideas on how to improve the scoop and still meet our max volume.”

The request made it to the desks of Scott Betts, a Sigma R&D Process Engineer, and Chris Padilla, an NM State intern at the company. Happy to help, they converted the students’ drawings of the robot components into CAD models and, after several iterations and testing with the students, they printed a final design.

“Creating a proposal, being part of the design and engineering process, and being able to make modifications to code gives them a huge advantage as female engineers,” commented Darren Beckett, Sigma’s CTO. “What better way to engage students in the STEM areas than assisting them with this project?”

RoboRAVE robot SIgma Labs

Last month, Abby and Garnet brought their partially 3D printed robot to Conghua, China to compete against more than 700 other students in the RoboRAVE International SumoBot competition. However, things didn’t go exactly as they planned.

On the day before the competition kicked off, the students found out that their robot would be placed in a different category because it integrated metal parts. At a previous competition—RoboRAVE North America—the girls competed in the Lego division because the robot consisted primarily of Lego parts (as well as a motor, wiring, etc.). There, they placed 17th out of 94 teams, qualifying them for the international event.

Because the updated robot—designed to push opponents out of the ring, like in Sumo wrestling—integrated a metal 3D printed cover, it was upgraded to a tougher contest to compete against heavier, bigger and faster robots.

RoboRAVE robot SIgma Labs

“We thought about taking the cover off and competing in our original division,” said Garnet. “But decided it wouldn’t be best. Our robot was smaller than the others in the Lego division.”

In the end, the team added lead shot to the robot’s wheels and entered the Sumo-inspired robot into the tougher RoboRAVE challenge. Ultimately, the 3D printed bot did the girls proud, placing 11th out of 36 teams.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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