Students gear up for Tin-Man competition

Story & photos by Texan Mosaic Staff

 “We’re hoping for a fire,” says Billy Tackett, South Plains College assistant professor of Industrial Manufacturing and Emerging Technologies.   

Tackett is joking.  He’s hoping to see mechanical chaos when dozens of SPC and high school students send their robots into the ring at the upcoming 2023 Tin-Man Competition.   It makes the competition much more fun.

The 2023 Tin-Man competition will be held inside Building 6 at the SPC Reese Campus on May 5 at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The competition is fierce. 

“There’s no second place,” Tackett says.  There are three melee rounds with up to six robots at a time.  “It’s kind of like Thunderdome for robots.  In this case, six robots enter, one of them leaves.”

The Tin-Man Competition is named after the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz”.  The coveted winning trophy features a tin woodsman holding an ax.  

Preparation for the battle began the first day of the spring semester.  Students start with a Robotic Fundamentals class.  “We start off not knowing what a robot is,” SPC IMET instructor Travis “Wheeler” Osborne says.

This year SPC students are defending the Tin-Man title and trophy.  There are several students from two and three- person teams who are building their robots now on the Levelland Campus.  More SPC teams are building their robots on other campuses. 

Tackett says students are given a lot of the supplies, or “junk” as he calls them, to build from.  That way, he explains, it’s not a contest about the richest team having an advantage.  The junk includes items like PVC pipe, cardboard in a box, electrical wire, light switches, paint, wheels, rollers, and items to make remote controls.

At one table in the Levelland IMET lab, student Brent Colwell  says he is reshaping the housing for the motor that will attach to the top of his robot to control the robot’s weapon.

That weapon, his professor explains, could be hammer or a blade, but it will spin from a three -pointed apparatus on top of the robot.  It’s designed to slice, hack, or smash the competition.

“We’ve had people mount drills on there,” Tackett says.  “We had a couple of chain saws a couple of times.  Yeah, it was a lot of fun.”  

Today, student Evan Vanbeek is working to make sure tracks fit over the wheels of his team’s robot so it’ll have great traction.

Vanbeek’s team partner, Ely Orona, is in an adjoining classroom working on the computerized “brain”, or remote- control system, that will control the robot.  “Controls- left, right, straight forward, even for our weapons system,” she says.

Osborne explains that students have to build their own robot remote controls for the Tin- Man.  He says that involves entering code into computers.  “You’re not making these robots work without a computer,” he says.  

High up on a shelf near the top of the warehouse ceiling of Building 6 on the Reese Campus is a “hall of heroes” lineup of robots from years past.  Tackett calls them “favorites”.   These include a two-foot-highbox resembling a square porcupine.  It has long nails sticking out of it everywhere and it’s topped with a cowboy hat.  Another one, slightly larger, features Snoopy as the Flying Ace sitting on it.  A third has a Barbie with bad hair perched on top.

Who knows what this year’s competition will bring?   

Tackett says robots are judged on both design and decoration.  Student competitors also get credit for 

competing in costume.

“I hope a whole bunch of robots start blowing up and going everywhere,” Colwell says.   “I hope we do some damage, or we go out exploding ourselves.”

The arena will be full of “skid marks and broke parts”, says Osborne.  And, if Tackett’s hopes come about, there might be a fire.

Either way, the last robot standing wins. 

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