Posted February 3, 2021
Plethora Proud to Support Tantrum in Battlebots
Aren Hill, Captain of the Battlebots team Seems Reasonable, took some time to talk with Plethora about his love of robotics and what it takes to compete in Battlebots, which airs Thursdays at 8PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel.
What drives your passion for robotics?
I’ve been building things for a long time. I grew up on a farm in Illinois, where I had plenty of space and time to tinker. I figured out early on in life that I enjoyed creating new and nifty things with other people.
I obtained my Mechanical Engineering degree, started working on educational robotics at VEX Robotics, and then made the move to Auris Health here in California. Along the way, I competed in FIRST Robotics competitions for over 15 years, across 5 different teams, in addition to several other endeavors.
I’ve always enjoyed engineering challenges. I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve met both on the job and through robotics competitions. It’s exciting to be a part of a community so passionate about showing off the possibilities of what we can accomplish.
What made you want to start competing in Battlebots?
I work with a lot of friends who have experience in robotics competitions. Probably around 2017, a group of us were getting together each week to watch Battlebots. At some point, we thought, “We could totally do this” and away we went.
Our robot, Tantrum, joined the fray in 2018 for Season 3 of Battlebots, which was the first season to be aired on the Discovery Channel.
What’s your day job?
I’m a Senior Mechanical Engineer at Auris Health, a Johnson & Johnson company. I get to work on cutting edge (pun intended), next-level robotic surgery systems.
Does everyone on team Seems Reasonable work in a similar field?
Many of my teammates are my coworkers here at Auris Health. Our team is mainly made up of engineers, but in fields ranging from autonomous farming to robotic surgery to robotic litter boxes to Google Cloud security to College Research labs.
We also have some younger FIRST Robotics alumni helping out while they continue to work on their college degrees.
What types of robots compete in Battlebots, and where does Tantrum fit in that mix?
Battlebots has a few classes of robot, including vertical spinners, horizontal spinners, flippers, lifters, grapplers, and saws. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages against the other types.
Our robot, Tantrum, is a Vertical Spinner Puncher, and the only one currently competing. The Seems Reasonable team likes trying new things and thinking outside the box. We saw an opportunity for the damage potential of a vertical spinner, with the additional control and durability provided by being able to retract the weapon.
The ability to “feed” the weapon into the opponent means that we do not need to run into them very quickly in order to get a good bite on them. Theoretically, by setting the feed rate in our own robot, we should always be able to get a great bite of our opponent.
What’s the origin of the name Tantrum?
When we started building our first battlebot, we were paranoid about armor. As a result, we kept making the robot smaller and more dense, with thicker armor. Plenty of energy was stored up inside of the robot, which had a habit of not being nice when it released that energy. Our robot’s small size and generally grumpy demeanor led us to the name Tantrum.
What’s the most complex component of Tantrum?
The punching mechanism and the wiring to allow the spinner to move back and forth with the motor. Keeping these systems reliable is one of the toughest design challenges in the robot.
Why did you seek out Plethora as a sponsor?
With compact robots, you end up with quite a few complex parts. Our team actually has substantial machining knowledge and expertise, but at some point you run out of bandwidth. We needed to offload some of the machining of these complex parts to free us up for other aspects of the project.
We turned to some of the vendors that we use for our day jobs at Auris, like Plethora. Plethora was a known-entity with a really easy to use system. They were an obvious company for us to reach out to. And we like being able to help promote the products and services that we like and use.
What kinds of parts does Plethora manufacture for you?
Plethora makes some relatively complex, large, aluminum parts for the robot. They’re both machining and turning different parts for us. They’re able to deliver a higher quality part more quickly than if we made them in-house. Some of our more complex, aluminum parts might be five or six setups for us, but with Plethora’s equipment it’s a much faster one or two.
Can you describe an engineering or design issue of Tantrum that you overcame?
We come from competitive robotics backgrounds that require more complexity. With Battlebots, it took some time to get dialed in as to what level of complexity could survive in the arena, or is even useful.
Tantrum 1 was one of the more complex robots at its first event, and this made for difficult repairs of highly custom parts whenever it would fail or break. We learned some lessons there, but were still a bit too cute in 2019.
For the 2020/2021 season, we focused on quick repairs and part swaps, as well as durability. This has let us guarantee a 100% ready robot going into every fight, and it’s paid off in our performance.
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