Building BattleBots and Narrowing the Gender Gap

Autodesk Education
Autodesk Education April 7, 2022 2 min read

Over the past two pandemic years, many students had to start college virtually—not the ideal entry point for most. In the fall of 2020, and Katherine How entered the University of California, Berkeley, mid-pandemic, and had to figure out how to connect to her new school and classmates from her home in Canada.

Ironically, How forged human connections through robotics, a field that had interested her since high school when she first learned how to use Fusion 360 software and competed regularly in Autodesk-sponsored VEX Robotics and FIRST Robotics competitions. She and four likeminded classmates found each other online and formed Combat Robotics at Berkeley (CRB), a student-run club focused on creating a combat robot for the well-known competition show BattleBots.

How decided to pursue robotics at UC Berkeley while majoring in mechanical engineering. Early on, she noticed that her department had fewer women than other engineering departments. Claiming space in a traditionally male field is a daunting task, but How has worked to level that playing field, starting with CRB. “I wanted to get more women involved as we put together Combat Robotics,” says How. “We focused on creating a comfortable work environment and opened recruitment to everyone, which helped us create a diverse design team.”

From the jump, the team chose Fusion 360 as their design and manufacturing tool. The file-sharing capabilities and collaboration features, specifically Fusion Team, helped them iterate the robot’s design remotely in real time—the team fully designed their robot without ever seeing parts or a prototype in person. Fusion 360 integrates CAD and CAM in a single platform, which helped the team simplify their design and manufacturing workflows and production process. They used the simulation functionality to test the effects of different forces on the robot parts, which helped them strengthen and lighten parts, optimizing their robot for battle.

After spending 11 months working completely online, How and the team finally met in person for the first time in August 2021 to assemble their robot—a 250 lb. beauty named Glitch. Drawing inspiration from the design of a B-2 bomber, Glitch features a 6061 aluminum chassis and AR500 armor. Its weapon is a 58 lb. asymmetric drum made from S7 tool steel, with a tip speed of 130 mph.

When Glitch and CRB arrived at the September 2021 BattleBots competition in Las Vegas, competition sponsors Autodesk and Haas Automation ran a “Haas-pital,” a machine shop where a team of experts used Fusion 360 and Haas machines to fix bot parts live during fights. Pooria Sohi, product marketing manager at Autodesk, staffed the Haas-pital. “Team Glitch represents the future generation of designers and engineers we hope to see in industry,” says Sohi. “Their ability to execute on such a complex project while just emerging into the world of design and engineering should be commended.”

With BattleBots behind them, CRB has set eyes on more combat robots and competitions. The club has already doubled its membership this year. New club members created a 15 lb. combat robot named Fatal Error for the Sacramento Bot Battles competition in February, where they won the Design Award. Now, they’re well on their way to making Glitch 2.0, with 25 students eager to use Fusion 360 to get the job done.

Tune into BattleBots on the Discovery Channel to see how Glitch fares in the competition. New episodes drop weekly.