For 16 years Icewave has ripped, hacked apart, torn limbs, and otherwise mangled the likes of Razorback, Chomp, and Ghost Raptor.
The destruction has taken place on the television program BattleBots, a show which features robots going at it gladiator style. BattleBots has brought countless kids to engineering. Some of those competitors have taken what they’ve learned and created successful careers and companies.
Icewave’s creator, Marc DeVidts, is one of them.
“I saw BattleBots on Comedy Central in high school and like most technically oriented kids I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” he said. “I wanted to build one of these things, and I wanted to know how to do it.”
DeVidts reached out to robot builders who posted build logs in the early days of the internet. Before long he was competing on the show. His creation fought its way to the top of 600 wrecking robots, taking first place at one of the BattleBots IQ college competitions. After that, the show went off the air. But the participants kept building.
“Builders across the country wanted to keep doing it” said DeVidts. To help the burgeoning community continue their skirmishes, he created the Builders Database and other software to assist them.
Along the way he became friends with David Cann, a software developer who worked for BattleBots. Cann decided they should capitalize on the coming touchscreen revolution. They created a plush toy that kids could interact with through the phone. While trying to get the toy produced in China, the pair wished they had a robot for remote communication. They found just what they were looking for—a screen and camera on wheels—from a company called Anybots.
During that time, the second generation iPad was released. While trying to sell the robot they’d created, DeVidts and Cann discovered the toy market to be cut throat, with low profit margins. So they put their skills into creating an iPad-driven telecommunications robot.
“The prototype was a golf caddy that a friend had found,” DeVidts said. “We put an Arduino in there, and put the iPad on the part where you put your score.” The YouTube video of the robot got a lot of buzz . . . enough that someone at BMW saw it and called the duo—now Double Robotics—asking if they could make them a few.
Eventually they took their idea to the startup accelerator Y Combinator. Trevor Blackwell, one of the Y Combinator cofounders, also happened to be the creator of Anybots. Blackwell said, “It’s an amazing idea,” and something he would have done if he had started today.
Now there are 10,000 Double Robotics bots roaming factories and offices. “There’s never been a better time for being able to show the things you can make instead of having that piece of paper,” said Devidts. “The advent of YouTube and social media—all it takes is building something cool and showing it to the world to get you anywhere you need to be.”
Michael Abrams is a technology writer based in Westfield, NJ
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