Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics could easily serve as safety instructions for a BattleBots team. The scale and energy of a battle, especially when two of the heavyweight robots are engaging each other, is both fascinating and a touch frightening, so it’s reassuring to see the contest area and spectator gallery separated by what looks to be NASCAR-like protection.

Earlier in 2021 when I learned through a friend and ex-PTC colleague that Chuck Pitzer and his Ghost Raptor team were looking for sponsorship and technical partnership, I knew right away that this was something for Onshape. 

‘I Had to Be a Part of It’

A lot of us have followed BattleBots through the years, and we’ve participated, mentored, and advised on various other robotics competitions. It’s really an engineer’s dream – energy, momentum, electro-mechanics, mechatronics, controllers, you name it. 

Of course, robotics is only gaining relevance in today’s world with automation, contactless cleaning, co-bots, AI, autonomous machines, etc. 

In the eighth episode of the Innovator’s Insider podcast, Chuck, Sabri, Sansoy, and Anouk Wipprecht from Team Ghost Raptor sat down with Onshape’s Richard Doyle and Michael LaFleche to talk about Season 6 of the BattleBots robot showdown, which premiered on the Discovery Channel on January 6, 2022.

Chuck Pitzer is the captain of the team and has been involved with BattleBots since the early days – the year 2000 was Chuck’s first BattleBot entry. However, he did point out that the roots of BattleBots extend further back to Robot Wars (1994 in the San Francisco area) and Robot Fighting League. 

Since those early days, those relatively underground movements became global phenomenons with mainstream TV audiences in all corners of the earth. Chuck’s comment when we saw the emergence of BattleBots sums it up: “I had to be a part of it.”

I was introduced to the other members of Team Ghostraptor and could see an incredible opportunity to work with a highly-skilled, creative and motivated bunch. 

Sabri is the AI/ML/Computer Vision expert and goes back a long way with Chuck, but is a relative newcomer on the Ghost Raptor team. I suspect his areas of expertise will manifest in future evolutions of the robot. 

The newest team member is Anouk Wipprecht who brings extensive experience with microcontrollers, wearable technology, computational geometry, human-computer interaction, and fashion. Her designs and collaborations with major names such as Audi, Swarovski, Adidas amongst many others are amazing. 

During their podcast, all of the team mentioned that one of the highlights of the season has been the collaboration, the sharing of perspectives, and the culture at the heart of the competition. Whilst trying to inflict maximum damage on their opponents, the teams are all highly supportive of each other, helping out with repairs or tools as needed.

Building a BattleBot Using Onshape’s CAD Software

My first task was getting the existing design, which has been evolving for 12 years, into Onshape, then assessing what might be possible to do for the short term. In most real-world situations like this, it is necessary to handle multiple sources of original CAD geometry. With Onshape’s built-in import tools, along with the direct edit capability to manipulate and modify shapes, I was able to quickly bring the design up to date and prepare it for new concepts (and weapons!)

One of the keys, according to the team, is the ability to adapt – to make a modular robot that can be quickly reconfigured between rounds in a competition. Configurations happen to be one of the key competitive differentiators for Onshape, too, so that was a great place to start. 

I helped rebuild the robot with extreme configurability in mind so that armour choices, weapons, and other chassis options could be quickly and easily defined and verified. I also noted that many of the components were standard items that many robot builders use – indeed Onshape’s design community both professional and educational have compiled easily accessible and shareable component libraries, so I was able to benefit from this community effort and bring the model to life.

Ghost Raptor Rendering of Ghost Raptor's side and front. Courtesy: Team Ghostraptor

Let the Battles Begin

While filming Season 6 in Las Vegas in August 2021, Onshape’s own Richard Doyle was able to secure access to the Ghost Raptor pit and hang out with the team. 

He mentioned his first impressions of awe at the size and speed of the robot. Ghost Raptor is in the heavyweight class, weighing in at 250 lbs., and with its horizontally rotating/articulating weapon (and a flamethrower!), it really is something to be seen. 

Meanwhile, I was on vacation in Vermont and was seeing a bunch of text messages and Slack threads going back and forward amongst the team. While standing knee-deep in a river, I was able to drop in on the shared Onshape Document using the Onshape app on my iPhone and created yet another configuration for the team in the pits to assess in real-time. 

The age of truly remote work-from-anywhere and real-time collaborative work is here, thanks to Onshape’s unique cloud-native architecture.

While at the time of publishing I am not able to share any results of the contest. However, I’m really looking forward to watching Season 6 on the Discovery Channel! 

Beyond that, I’m really excited about what’s next for Ghost Raptor. With the deep and varied experience of the team, along with Onshape’s platform, the possibilities truly are endless. 

Want to hear more about robots, CAD, and all things Onshape? Tune into the Innovator’s Insider podcast every Thursday and check out older episodes below.

Innovator's Insider