UCLA Engineering Student Team Competes at RoboGames

By Marianne So
ASME Senior Advisor

“Break time!” bellows Anatoly, in UCLA’s Machine Shop. It’s at that moment when your heart stops and your breath catches in your throat. You sigh heavily as you slow down the mill, walk into the fresh air, and grab a soda with the team and you realize DracUCLA has you tightly gripped under its spell, but you love what you are doing.

Last year, the UCLA chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers teamed up with UCLA Robotics to create a 120-pound combat robot for the 2006 International RoboGames. Our entry, DracUCLA, battled three other robots, including the eventual winner in its class.

For the team’s first year back at the competition, our goal was to enter competition with a fighting chance. “We won one, lost two, battled against the first place winner, Stewie, and otherwise destroyed the Destroyer before being eliminated!” lauds Anna Davitian.

One eye gleams as DracUCLA whirs to life and a steel cylinder spins up to 60 mph. The teeth welded to the formidable drum are intended to catch onto any opponent, stopping the drum in mid-spin and throwing all of the kinetic energy into destroying our competitor.

“We learned a lot from competing with this robot,” says UCLA Battlebots project leader Jeff O’Donohue. “I think that with the brilliant minds that we have working on improving this robot and building another, there is no reason we shouldn’t be a favorite to win every competition we attend.”

What possesses us to create these types of machines?

“Building is soothing,” explains O’Donohue, “I’ll design, run into one problem, solve it and I’m on top of the world, then hit a huge roadblock and it’s all I can obsess about, and then I solve it! That’s what possesses me!”

“It’s like having children,” philosophizes David Meisenholder, “every species wants to procreate.”

“It’s learning,” reflects Ryan Fix, “and the challenge of doing something you haven’t done before.”

“It’s the people,” states Rob Glidden, “and making something tangible.”

“It’s practice for the apocalypse. When it comes you’ll want me around; I’ll know what to do,” jokes Steven Snyder.

I think it’s finding out what effect our actions have on the world around us. DracUCLA is our outlet to see where we can make a mark in the world; even during construction we alter a part and look for the response.

We work from concepts to design to hardware: that’s what all of our careers will entail. The machining experience drives our theory into practice and provides a gauge for what can be done. The team spirit teaches us communication, and the budget holds us accountable – a bad product is embarrassing.

Our creation generates the same questions as any other engineering project, from building bridges to the space shuttle: What is its actual performance? What are the problems? Are we ready yet? As we work on design and construction, we don’t know for certain but we apply our theories to get closer to a definite answer, and finally we make a team decision to take the remaining, minimal risk, and launch.