GTRI’s Jeffries Builds Bots with Appetite for Destruction

Michael Jeffries, a research technologist in the Aerospace, Transportation and Advanced Systems (ATAS) with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), has turned his hobby of robot building and battling into a turn on ABC’s BattleBots.

Jeffries and his team, Chaos Corps, entered their robots Bombshell and Short-Fuse into the nationally televised competition. Jeffries is the team captain, lead designer of the group’s prize fighter, Bombshell, and is the driver for the actual fight.

“We designed Bombshell to have a modular weapons system,” Jeffries said. “We can attach four different weapons, usually right before the fight. It keeps our opponents guessing, because they never know what weapon Bombshell will have.”

The robot’s drive system and armor weighs 136 pounds, and the various weapons can weigh anywhere from 80 to 113 pounds. Weapons range from an electric axe to a 42-inch horizontal spinning bar, that can raise and lower during a fight. Bombshell is sponsored by SendGrid, a marketing email platform.

The team also has a companion robot, Short-Fuse, which is basically a quad-copter strapped to a flame-thrower. This is the first time, Jeffries said, that they’ve used flying robots in the competition.

Bombshell has continued through the televised competition, earning a wild card position after losing to Complete Control, but then defeating Cobalt its first battle in the round of 32. The team continues on in the brackets, scheduled to “fight” the robot Poison Arrow on Thursday, Sept. 1, on ABC.

“I became interested in robot battles during the original airing of BattleBots on Comedy Central, back when I was in middle school,” he said. Jeffries fielded his first combatant in 2006. It was a 60-pound robot for RoboGames in California.

Prior to the group’s stint on ABC, Jeffries competes with a group of teams that battle regularly in the Atlanta area. Chaos Corps is made up of members from these teams. Jeffries, his wife and group of friends attend roughly six events a year. His win/loss record is 226/126 over his career, and 65/12 with one robot.

“Called ‘Robot Battles,’ it’s the second-longest running robot combat event in the world, since 1991,” Jeffries said. “We’ve battled at Dragon*Con, conventions and other events around Atlanta and the Southeast.” This year’s Dragon*Con battle will be the 60th such contest for Robot Battles.

When ABC opened up the second season of the show to auditions, Jeffries pitched to the other groups that they should pool their resources to create a robot for the show. More than 1,000 hours of fabrication work and assembly during a two-months build. “It’s very much a team effort in terms of assembly,” he said.

During the wait after the auditions, Jeffries said he and other members of Chaos Corps were busy battling each other.

And, for Jeffries, pugilistic automatons are a family affair.

“I made a really smart decision early on: I got my then-girlfriend, now wife, fighting robots early in the relationship,” he said. “She has her own bots and competes, alongside and against me. Her favorite line when we compete is ‘You know whoever wins, you still lose, right?’”

The past year, he said, has been one of firsts: The couple bought a house, got married and helped build a robot for a nationally televised show. Additionally, he moved into the role of a full-time employee at GTRI, after contracting.

All of his BattleBots fights have been taped and completed. Jeffries’ last local fight was in June, and the next one won’t be until Labor Day weekend, so he said he’s enjoying the time off.

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For More Information Contact

Robert Nesmith
Georgia Tech Research Institute

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