UC’s Ground Floor Makerspace births combat robots

Student resources breathe life into UC robotics

In the heart of University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub lies the Ground Floor Makerspace, an advanced and active hub of ingenuity where students, faculty and the community converge to bring their ideas to life.

Among the countless ongoing projects, the Makerspace holds a special significance as the birthplace of robots destined for the National Havoc Robot League (NHRL) competition, the next slated for April 20. Participants at NHRL enter their robots, which look like miniature race cars, to combat fender to fender in an enclosed boxing ring.

The Ground Floor Makerspace is a single-source experience with progressive resources to take you from ideation to creation. It attracts a diverse group of engineering, industrial design and STEM enthusiasts who collaborate on various student projects. Notably, nearly every UC bot, including the formidable Maximizer in the 12-pound class, traces its origins, wholly or partially, to the advanced equipment and technology available in Makerspace.

Just as Mike Tyson used his “peekaboo punch” to knock out his opponents, Maximizer's creator, UC mechanical engineering grad student Jacob Hoffmann, fashioned his bot with a similar, yet innovative weapon capable of rendering opposing bots unconscious.

Making robots

Close-up of a sliver combat robot that looks like a 12-pound Hotwheel car with a UC C-paw emblem on top.

Maximizer. Photo/Jon C. R. Bennett of JCRB Photography

The connection between the Makerspace and the NHRL runs deep, with nearly every UC bot’s genesis within its walls. Maximizer has soared to the top, claiming the coveted No. 1 spot in its weight class. 

“The NHRL is a startup funded by a group in Connecticut who run the competitions six times a year,” explained Hoffmann. “The top four from each competition compete in the seventh and final event each year, affording the best teams with funding for materials and travel. The NHRL gave our UC team a $10,000 grant to run our program. The mission for me is to make this sport more accessible. When you’re spending $1,500 to design and build a robot, that’s not exactly accessible for some students.”

Sponsors such as SendCutSend, Toyota, NHRL and UC are the catalysts behind Hoffmann and his UC team’s continued ability to design, build and compete. His triumph last year serves as a testament to Makerspace's role in nurturing talent and fostering innovation.

Flames, frames and robo-fights

Two 12-pound combat robots face off inside a glass-walled enclosure shooting sparks and flames during contact.

Maximizer's flames and sparks sizzle during battle inside the combat enclosure at the NHRL competition. Photo/Jacob Hoffmann

"I love the Makerspace more than any shop because it’s open during the day and has all the tools I need," said Hoffmann. “The seamless integration of technologies like the water jet and laser cutter facilitates a logical progression from prototype to fabrication, empowering students like me to actualize our visions with precision and efficiency.”

Ben Jones, director of UC’s Makerspace, underscored the ethos of empowerment and autonomy that defines the space, “Through tailored training and hands-on experiences, students like Hoffmann are equipped to navigate the intricate nexus of design, manufacturing and project management inherent to robotics.

"We trained Jake on how to use the tool safely and we got out of his way," said Jones. "From conceptualization to realization, students like Hoffmann navigate a journey of experimentation and iteration that helps hone their skills and expand their horizons.”

UC grad student Jacob Hoffmann wears a welding shield while working with welding tools in UC's Makerspace

Jacob Hoffmann took advantage of UC's Ground Floor Makerspace laser cutter and other tools to create his NHRL prize-winning combat robot, Maximizer. Photo/Jack Shad

For Hoffmann, the Makerspace represents more than a laboratory; it's a crucible for holistic skill development.

"When you start to combine the different tools here, that's when you can start to dynamically think about how you are using equipment," he explained. “With a diverse array of equipment and a collaborative environment, the Makerspace equips students with the skills and mindset needed to thrive in today's rapidly evolving technological landscape.”

Armed with a background in mechanical engineering, robotics and materials, Hoffmann leverages his expertise in combat robotics and his professional pursuits, including his current paid position in UC’s Intelligent Robotics and Systems Lab where he builds satellite testing equipment.

From combat to careers

Three men sit together at a broadcasting desk discussing a combat robot held by Jacob Hoffmann in center.

Jacob Hoffmann helps give broadcast commentary about the competition while also describing his robot Maximizer during a recent NHRL competition. Photo/Jacob Hoffmann

Beyond individual achievements, UC's Makerspace serves as an example of inclusivity and collaboration. Unlike conventional labs, this multidisciplinary haven fosters the exchange of ideas, exploration, prototyping and problem solving, enriching the learning experience for students from various majors and backgrounds.

Looking ahead, UC's commitment to innovation remains unwavering. UC's Battlebots Club has grown from three competitive bots to five this year, a testament to UC's investment in developing student talent in robotics. 

As Jones reflected, "Our Makerspace helps seed critical ideas for creating combat robots, as well as the additional life skills that are learned."

With its doors open to all, the Makerspace embodies UC's commitment to fostering innovation and empowering the next generation of STEM leaders.

As Hoffmann prepares to embark on his postgraduate journey, his story epitomizes the transformative impact of UC's Makerspace, igniting passions and propelling students toward promising careers at the intersection of design and technology.

Featured image at top: UC grad student Jacob Hoffmann's combat robot Maximizer on right defeats an opponent with its razor-sharp cutting wheel during an NHRL competition in March. Photo/Jacob Hoffmann

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