Fresh off his stunning victory on national television, Paul Ventimiglia '12 returned to his alma mater to speak with robotics engineering students, faculty members, and sponsors on Tuesday, September 8. Team Bite Force, led by Ventimiglia, won first place on BattleBots, beating out 23 other teams during the show’s six-week nationally televised run on ABC in July.
WPI President Laurie Leshin introduced Ventimiglia to a standing-room-only crowd, calling the victory celebration more proof of the university’s ongoing successes in the field of robotics. “Robots are born, built, and implemented at WPI and their achievements are being noticed worldwide,” she said.
“During the airing of the BattleBots, former teachers and classmates would reach out to me and let me know they were rooting for me and the WPI-sponsored team, and that felt amazing,” said Ventimiglia, who spoke about some of his behind-the-scenes experiences during the BattleBots filming, and about how his experiences at WPI shaped his career. “While at WPI, I was taught the importance of projects and came to understand that the school would really support an interesting project even if it didn't fit into a ‘traditional’ academic mold. It was great to come back and visit Higgins Labs and Washburn Shops, where I spent so many sleepless nights building all sorts of projects, including BattleBot robots.”
On the show, competitors built and operated remote-controlled machines designed to fight in an arena combat elimination tournament. The ultimate goal was for the robot to survive the battle, but teams were also judged on their robot’s speed, strength, and design elements. The 250-pound Bite Force took top marks in aggression, control, and defense.
“I personally consider Paul among the best mechanical designers that I have ever met,” said Kenneth Stafford, director of WPI’s Robotics Resource Center. “Paul embodies the WPI ‘maker’ mentality. He has set new standards and forged relationships within the robotics community that continue to contribute in major ways to robotics and the university.
WPI was the top sponsor of the team Bite Force, which, in addition to Ventimiglia, included Jeremiah Jinno, a 2007 WPI graduate in electrical and computer engineering who also participated in the September 8 campus event. Joining Ventimiglia and Jinno was Will Bales, creator and team captain of HyperShock, a BattleBots competitor that made it to the final 16 before being eliminated. Bales is now a student at WPI.
Bite Force will be on display at WPI’s Rubin Campus Center until September 10. Since its arrival in late August, it has become a popular destination point with hundreds of visitors stopping by the display each week. Accompanying the robot is the “Giant Nut,” the coveted BattleBots trophy.
In addition to BattleBots, Ventimiglia has had a number of victories in robotics competitions. In 2009, while still a student at WPI, he led a university-sponsored team in NASA's Regolith (moondust) Excavation Challenge. The team’s robot, Moonraker, took first place, winning the $500,000 top prize. Ventimiglia has also participated in the National Robotics Week at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he represented WPI and showcased Moonraker. In 2007, he was part of the WPI/Mass Academy of Math and Science team that won the FIRST Robotics world championship in Atlanta, Ga.
Ventimiglia currently resides in California, where he has started a robotics design consulting company, Aptyx Designs. He continues to have close ties with the WPI Robotics Engineering Department; in fact, his undergraduate work on a robotic hand prosthesis was later used as a prototype by a team from WPI that won the prestigious Cornell Cup in 2014.