March 20, 2024

Railside Robotics is ready to go to battle

Railside Robotics, a relatively new student organization, is not just about building robots; it's about empowering its members to become skilled engineers through hands-on experience, teamwork, and creativity.
Members of the Railside Robotics 'Chungus Team' with their robot "Big Chungus"

A group of Purdue University students is building robots to go into battle – against other robots. But Railside Robotics, a relatively new student organization, is not just about building robots; it's about empowering its members to become skilled engineers through hands-on experience, teamwork, and creativity.

The organization provides students with the resources and support needed to construct competition-ready robots, akin to those seen on the popular TV show Battlebots. Amber Hitchins, Head of Relations for Railside Robotics who is majoring in science, says one of their core values is building better engineers through hands-on experience.

“Our members utilize SolidWorks CAD software to design their robots before fabricating them using 3D printers,” says Hitchins. “This approach not only teaches technical skills but also instills an understanding of professional and industry practices, preparing members for future careers in engineering.”

Railside Robotics prioritizes inclusivity and member engagement. Regardless of their background or level of experience, every member is encouraged to contribute and make an impact on the club. The club's membership has steadily grown, with approximately 30 active members as of the latest semester. The majority of members are from engineering disciplines, particularly electrical and computer engineering. However, the club aims to expand its reach to a broader audience, including students from diverse majors.

Thomas Munson is the organization’s Code Lead and a student in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He says he joined the team after hearing about a callout for members in an ECE class, Introduction to Robotics.

“I did a bit of coding in my time in high school with robotics, so I said I would join and so I've just been working on seeing if we can use an Arduino or something similar to control a bot,” says Munson. “I'm also looking at using wireless using ESP 32s which are similar to Arduinos, but they have wireless capabilities to control things like the lights of the battle arena.”

Both Hitchins and Munson say just as important as the technical and leadership skills they’re gaining, Railside Robotics is a lot of fun. And the organization has ambitious plans for the future. They aim to scale up their robot-building capabilities, eventually competing in higher weight classes and hosting their own competitions. Additionally, the club is exploring collaborations with other departments and organizations to enhance their outreach and educational efforts.

First, though, is an internal competition called BattleBot Brawl, which features one-pound robots. It takes place this Saturday (3/23) beginning at 10 a.m. in Aspire Building A. There will be a round-robin tournament containing four robots created by the club this semester and multiple exhibition matches. The tournament will feature BACN, a two-wheel drive vertical spinner with a thick wedge, Big Chungus, a drum spinner with two interior wheels, Pokey Puck, an invertible drive system with a small puncher, and Jack, a spring-loaded flipper powered by a servo.

The exhibition matches will include two robots competing at UIUC Robobrawl, a competition for 1 lb. plastic robots with metal-tipped weapons. Hammer Down is a hammer saw robot that utilizes a brushless weapon system and a brushed four-wheel belted drive system. Surface Charge is a bristle drive robot with two large horizontal disks that make up half of the robot’s weight. The exhibition matches will also have Omni Man, a three-wheel kiwi drive with a positional vertical spinner, and the SumoBots that will be used in the upcoming fundraiser will be tested for the first time in several exhibition matches.

The organization is also planning a SumoBot fundraiser on April 9th and 10th outside of the Wetherill Chemistry Building. In the SumoBot fundraiser, people will get to pay $2.00 to customize their robot with a variety of front and rear attachments and drive in a robot fight. Instead of motorized weapons, robots will have servos powering weapons such as lifters and hammers. In addition to raising money and being an introduction to combat robotics, the organization hopes the event will provide an opportunity to recruit new members.

If you are interested in learning more about Railside Robotics, you can visit their website for more information: