Machine-Based Learning

Highlander Combat Robotics program offers opportunities for mechanized combat and learning beyond the classroom

It was machine vs. machine.


A robotics-based project of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) student professional organization recently hosted its first-ever competition at UCR that pitted robot against robot. The event provided participating students the opportunity to have their robotic creations smash and bash one another, but it was part of a broader learning experience that allowed them to use their imagination, practice their design skills, and sharpen their technical prowess.


Highlander Combat Robotics
Participants in Highlander Combat Robotics. (HCR) (Photo courtesy of HCR)

The project, Highlander Combat Robotics (HCR), was launched in 2022 as part of ASME, a BCOE engineering leadership and development club. It was initially created as a team to compete in BattleBots, a robot-combat competition television series. This team was founded to give members — both beginners and experienced — the opportunity to learn, design, and build 1.5-lb. robots to fight in an arena in one-on-one competitions.


Participation in HCR offers many benefits, said HCR vice president and mechanical engineering major Lucas Tian said.


Club members get the opportunity to design from their imagination, draft their ideas on paper, evaluate critical details with teammates, create virtual models of their work, and 3D-print them for prototyping and testing.


“I’m really happy to see the team become a place where people who may not have gotten the opportunity to have hands-on experience begin that process in a fun and team-based setting,” Tian said.


HCR is intended to offer club members “a gateway to practical learning, allowing them to translate classroom knowledge into tangible creations,” Tian said.


Under the guidance of seasoned members, newcomers delve into the intricacies of 3D printing, computer-assisted design (CAD), and design principles, all while honing essential skills such as teamwork and leadership.


Highlander Combat Robotics
HCR robots inside a specially designed arena. (Photo courtesy of HCR)

The culmination of this designing and testing of robots is an end-of-year competition where members’ wheeled creations take center stage for the public to witness firsthand. At the competition’s debut, held May 22, eight robots, each weighing no more than 1.5 pounds, engaged in head-to-head combat within a specially-crafted arena. All robots are designed and constructed by club members.


Similar to boxing and mixed martial arts matches, the competition kicks off with robots undergoing a weigh-in before unleashing them into the arena for three-minute battles. During these clashes, parts of the robots fly off, and victory is determined by the percentage of weight lost during the mechanized fisticuffs. Nearly 50 individuals attended and watched nine matches, a successful feat, according to HRC leadership.


"Despite the challenges posed by the post-COVID landscape, witnessing our vision come to life has been immensely rewarding,” said HCR president Evan Percival.


Looking ahead, HCR has set its sights on new horizons, with plans to compete in heavier-weight competitions.


Tian encouraged both current and new members with experience in similar competitions — robotics competitions for middle and high school students like the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) — to join the “heavyweight” team.


Highlander Combat Robotics
HCR members working on their robots. (Photo courtesy of HCR)

HCR will continue to maintain its annual 1.5-lb. competition at UCR.


“We want to continue to provide an opportunity for members to design, build, and battle with their friends,” Tian said.


Jun Sheng, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and ASME’s faculty advisor, praised the benefits of participating in HCR and competitions.

“The Highlander Combat Robotics competition, alongside other projects orchestrated by our ASME club, offers a remarkable opportunity for engineering students from diverse majors and backgrounds to collaborate on exciting endeavors,” he said. “Through participation, they not only learn the art of teamwork but also translate classroom knowledge into real-world applications.”

Moreover, they acquire insights beyond the confines of textbooks and classrooms,” Sheng added.


“It's a privilege to be part of this, and I am enthusiastic about welcoming more students to join us in this enriching journey!”

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