Socorro High School students Andrew Moellenbrock, left, a ninth-grader, and Jacob Breitha, a 10th grader, pose with their combat robots at the New Mexico Robotic Combat Tournament held April 23 at New Mexico Tech, hosted by the university’s Mechanical Engineering Department. Breitha said his robot has a unique “hammer” feature, which helped it fare well in its first competition.
Submitted photo

Middle and high school students from 40 New Mexico schools recently gathered to show off the design, speed, and agility of their mechanical creations in a robotic combat match. The New Mexico Robotic Combat Tournament, sponsored by the New Mexico Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering, was held April 23 on the university’s soccer field, drawing dozens of enthusiastic students, teachers, faculty, and family members.

According to tournament organizer Curtis O’Malley, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering, the robotic combat tournament is the culmination of months of research and preparation work performed by New Mexico Tech students.

“New Mexico Tech students work as educational research assistants and develop middle school and high school course curriculum content, including design requirements, instructional content on coding, wiring, component selection, descriptions of electronics components their function and purpose, as well as provide support for teachers and students in terms of help sessions or actually leading workshops in classrooms across New Mexico,” he said. “All of this being flexible to the needs of individual classrooms, as each school and student is unique and brings a different set of prior knowledge and experience.”

O’Malley said the combat robotics program helps New Mexico Tech students by training them to document and present technical content in a format that can be easily understood and evaluated by someone who is not yet an engineer.

“Being able to convey instructions to managers, suppliers, and technicians that do not have the same engineering background is an important career skill, and, in this case, the New Mexico Tech student learns that skill and helps educate the next generation of engineers that will work with them in a few years.”

While the program teaches students basic electronics and coding, they also can opt to build larger, more complex robots in different brackets where more engineering design challenges are introduced to the project, according to O’Malley.

“The goal of the program is to meet teachers and their class at the level they are and help them advance their knowledge of math and engineering through an engaging project-based program that introduces an aspect of competition and excitement,” he said. “All while having a support system of New Mexico Tech students and faculty to help with troubleshooting or explaining new content and concepts.”

Jacob Breitha, a 10th-grader from Socorro High School, said his robot, titled “Hand of God,” was designed with a unique hammer feature to assist it in its first competition.

“Everybody kept telling me it was their favorite,” he said.

The MESA Club from Carlsbad High School, advised by engineering and physics teacher Jason Butts, used 3-D printing for their combat robot, “Benedict,” which took first place in the competition.

“These kids worked very hard on this the better part of the year,” Butts said. “They’re a great set of kids. We had a blast.”

The robotic tournament draws on students, faculty, staff, and professionals from Sandia Labs and other professional settings to volunteer as judges, according to Bin Lim, Ph.D., chair of the New Mexico Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering. Students competing in the tournament also receive a tour of the Mechanical Engineering Department, he said.

New Mexico Robotic Combat Tournament Winners, April 23, 2022

3lb Weight Class

  • 1st Place – Sponge Bot (NMT Design Team),
  • 2nd – Flip Off (AIMS Middle School team)

1lb Weight Class

  • 1st Place – A Bot Named Curtis (NMT club team build and driven by a student from Sarracino Middle School)

150 Grams Class

  • 1st Place – Instinct (SAE club team)

MESA 3D Printed Class

  • 1st Place – Benedict (Carlsbad HS)
  • 2nd Place – Steak on a Plate (John Adams Middle School)

MESA Foam Bots Class

  • 1st Place – Night Watch (Ruidoso Middle School)
  • 2nd Place – Bob Ross (Sarracino Middle School)