They all came to the Wyoming County Community Fair on Sunday to test their metal.
Some bore crowbars, rakes, garden hoes, and just about anything else as weapons.
Others employed subtler methods in their combative roles.
But all 16 came with one goal in mind - to be the best construct during the Table Top Sumo Robotics Competition.
Or at least, that’s what their creators hoped.
The event was organized by Kyle Singer of Meshoppen who explained that this is the second year he has held the competition at the fair. As outlined by the rules, each person uses a radio controlled robot he constructed, which is placed on a large upraised platform. The goal is for the operator to use his robot to push the competitor’s construct off the platform, while avoiding having his machine pushed off.
Zac O’Donnell of State College, who assisted Singer as well as participated in the event, said the entries must meet a certain criteria. Each must weigh less than 12 pounds and pass a safety inspection. Participants must prove they can control their robots, and if a machine loses its signal, it must be able to turn itself off. The constructs can be armed with weapons, but they must be weapons that cannot normally harm people.
Other than that, the sky’s the limit. One robot has a body made of PVC pipe. Some are plastic. One entry has a wooden body.
And for the most unusual entry, the robot’s body is an old computer printer with a flashing blue light attached to the top.
“I just did it because I thought it would be fun to do,” said Mike Zalatan of Allentown, who made the ‘printer’ robot.
Singer said he’s always been interested in robotics, and discovered that people who were building small combative robots about nine years. This led him to start constructing his own robots, and he met with others who had the same interest. Singer said he’s been participating in and organizing robotic competitions for the past eight years.
Although the event was held at the fair, Singer was the only local participant. Singer said he was not surprised, because building robots is not that popular a hobby.
When it was pointed out that Tunkhannock Area High School has a robotics team, Singer explained what they do is different from his events. He said their events are more like ‘sports,’ compared to the head-to-head competitions he sets up. As an example, Singer said he attended the competition at Tunkhannock, in which the robots had to capture towers by throwing a ball into them.
Singer said he’s spoken to some of the students and encouraged them to continue their interest. But he also explained that for an individual getting into robotics can be an expensive hobby, costing between $300 to $500 to construct the first robot.
Matthew Semmel of Palmerton said that this is the first year he participated in robotic competition.
“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” Semmel said about what got him interested in robotics. “It’s a lot of motors and wires. And it’s a lot of fun.”
Semmel is majoring in engineering the Penn College of Technology in Williamsport. While he doesn’t intend to pursue a career in robotics, Semmel said working with robots has given him some valuable experience in certain areas.
“I’ve learned about designing, sheet metal tolerance, making certain designs line up properly,” he said.
Tim Thompson of Williamsport has been creating robots for about 6 years. His latest effort, using a PVC pipe as a body, was easy because he already had the drive circuitry worked out for his creation.
Thompson also attends the Penn College of Technology, majoring in electronics and computers. He said designing robots has provided him with invaluable experience - showing him how to trouble-shoot problems on the job; how to perform fine soldering work; and how to create a high-powered drive system.
The big winner of the robotics competition was O’Donnell, whose entry wins first place in three of the four competitions - round robin, knock out, and rumble. Singer won first place in second rumble competition.