Bite Force

Battlebots winner Paul Ventigmiglia ’12 and Bite Force teammates at Odeum this evening

September 8, 2015
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Bite Force is on tour and will be in full force tonight as designer Paul Ventimiglia demonstrates his champion battlebot in the Odeum at 8 p.m.

Paul Ventimigla ’12, has some impressive robotics chops, and is described by a former advisor as “an amazingly capable engineer.”

In late July, Ventimiglia took home the winner’s Giant Nut from ABC’s Battlebots Season 1 after a grueling tournament in San Francisco.

With Bite Force in the arena and Ventimiglia controlling it from the gallery above, the 250-pound robot rose to the top among 24 opposing teams, winning key matches against rivals Warhead, Ghost Raptor, and Tombstone.

Ventimiglia describes the tournament as a “fantastic experience” from start to exciting finish.

In early spring, the show’s producers contacted a “very small list of builders they’d worked with before,” he says. “They wanted new robots that hadn’t been seen before that looked cool, that looked more like toys or interesting creatures.”

He was a natural participant, a veteran of the battlebot world who has won contest after contest. In 2007 he took first place as head of the WPI team in the Battlebots IQ College Division. Two years later, in the NASA Regolith Excavation Challenge, he won the top prize of $500,000 for Moonraker, a robot that could potentially harvest lunar soil.

Indeed, he had also won Battlebots before (in 2009), but the show had not been televised.

Professor Ken Stafford of the Robotics Department, his academic advisor and now personal friend, describes Ventimiglia as “an amazingly capable engineer. There is incredible design and creativity behind his endeavors.”

To build Bite Force, Ventimiglia sought sponsors, headed by WPI and including VEX Robotics, Magmotor Technologies, Big Blue Saw Waterjet Cutting, and Applied Welding Technology.

WPI-sponsored Bite Force was winner of the Giant Nut from ABC’s Battlebots Season 1 after a grueling tournament in San Francisco.

The build period was “short and extreme—just a couple of months,” he says. His team included Jeremiah Jinna ’07, Teena Liu, Cory McBride, Travis Covington, and Anthony Ventimiglia. They worked in his garage and workshop in California, where he runs his two-year old robotics consulting business, Aptyx.

In the build process, Ventimiglia designed a battlebot that was not Bite Force and “then scaled it back to what you see now,” he says. He had never before built a robot that had a control box, he says, describing Bite Force’s lifter and fork in the jaw.

And, where the purpose is typically to destroy an opponent, this time it was to control.

“[These battlebots] were designed to put on a show and take advantage of arena hazards, which requires finesse,” he says.

The competition, which was held on Mare Island in the East Bay of San Francisco, took place over a full week, with three days of fighting.

Ventimiglia’s first contest was thrilling, and not only because he had put the finishing touches on Bite Force the night before and had only a minute to practice before the fight.

“I was going up against a very visually famous robot named Warhead,” he says. “It’s one of the poster children for battlebots—it’s an art piece, but it can cause a lot of destruction.”

After that first victory, he was surprised to find himself going all the way to the finals and then into the winner’s circle.

Ken Stafford, though, credits Ventimiglia’s ability to take each problem as it comes.

Professor Ken Stafford of the Robotics Department was Ventimiglia’s advisor at WPI.

“In the case of Bite Force,” says Stafford, “the real reason that it won—besides the quality of the robot—was that Paul changed the configuration of Bite Force to meet each specific opponent. He came up against superior robots, but the combination of his robust design for a particular robot battle and his superior driving skills led to his success.”

It is, he says, indicative of Ventimiglia’s brilliance in robotics.

“He looks at a problem and says, ‘This is the clear path to succeed in this problem.’ He has an incredible sense of purpose, and his work is amazingly efficient and simple. He does things that make sense.”

Bite Force and the Giant Nut have been on display at WPI for a couple of weeks.

The battlebot’s Tuesday night appearance is part of the Robotics Department’s annual Meet and Greet. Faculty will meet incoming undergraduates and graduate students at 6:45 p.m. and then reconvene to the larger public venue for a demonstration and panel discussion.

Introduced by President Leshin, Ventimiglia will show off Bite Force’s talents first and then take part in a Q & A with two other battlebot experts.

In addition to Ventimiglia, the panel will include new WPI transfer student Will Bales, the creator of Battlebots contender Hypershock, as well as Jeremiah Jinno ’07, a member of the Bite Force team. A dessert reception will follow.

– By Laura Porter