Preparing for battle


250 lbs. of electronics, steel and … glitter?

BattleBots, the ultimate in televised robot combat, just completed filming its latest season in Las Vegas, NV, and one of JT4’s very own will be starring in the show. Robert Stehn and his team of fellow robot enthusiasts developed and entered their robot, Jackpot, into the competition, hoping to walk away with the $10K grand prize.

BattleBots is an elimination-style competition. Teams work their way through a bracket of 32, with seeding determined by additional preseason battles. The robots fight each other until one of them can no longer move or until the three-minute timer runs out, in which case the judges determine which competitor dominated the fight. The rules state there canbe no use of nets that could tangle one’s opponent or use of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that could confuse or shut an opponent down. Just about everything else is fair game in the goal to physically incapacitate opponents.

This is not Robert’s first competition. An electronic technician and Jump Start graduate who joined the J-Tech contract in 2013, Robert’s love for robots began in high school. Back then he took part in FIRST Robotics Competitions where the robots participate in a specific, assigned challenge like shooting balls into a basket. Three years ago, he revived his passion and started building small robots ranging from 150 grams to 3 lbs. He then moved on to 12 lbs., 30 lbs. and finally the 250-lbs. beast, Jackpot.

This is not Jackpot’s first competition either. He made his debut in the 2020 BattleBots season, which had just been newly revived and picked up by the Discovery channel. Despite being built in three short weeks, Jackpot remained undefeated in the preseason. His Cinderella story run came to an end, though, when he lost in the first round to a robot named Rotator.

For the 2021 season, both Robert’s team and Jackpot have undergone several changes. The team, who met on a combat robot fan page on Facebook, has expanded to include a few more members. This year Robert was nominated to be team captain, making him responsible for rebuilding Jackpot from scratch. Learning from mistakes made in 2020, the team has ensured the new Jackpot is bigger, better and promises to bring a lot more sparkle to the competition. Literally.

“Building robots can be really expensive,” explains Robert. “Some robots cost upwards of $60K to build. So, we really do it for the glory of winning, not the prize money.” Most teams seek sponsors to help keep their out-of-pocket costs reasonable. Robert’s team is sponsored by fans, a laser cut metal company that donates raw materials and several other companies that produce edible and drinkable glitter. This meant that in addition to needed technical enhancements, Jackpot received a shiny makeover. “What’s better than a giant robot?” quizzes Robert. “A giant glittery one!”

Robert’s enthusiasm for robots is only rivaled by his enthusiasm for his job. He finds the two complement each other remarkably well. His work as an electronic technician has helped him with the mechanics of building robots, and his background in robotics has helped him branch out from his required job duties to help with design and fabrication, as well. In so doing, he has made his family, friends and colleagues extremely proud of his accomplishments.

Although Robert cannot divulge the results of this year’s competition before the season airs, he does promise a fierce and exciting competition. So tune in to the Discovery channel this January to watch Robert and his crew kick some bot! ////

(Left to right) Jason Wood, Kat Waters, Jeff Waters, Robert Stehn, Shea Johnson and Lucas Grell pose with Jackpot.