Robot Fight Club

Sumo Robot League trains middle schoolers in the ways of autonomous combat with $100 bot kits.

School teams are collaborating, using a Sumo Robot League app, and will compete in a spring tournament in Augusta, Ga.

Photographer: Devin Christopher for Bloomberg Businessweek

A small startup called Sumo Robot League encourages middle school students to learn to build 4-by-4-inch, 17-ounce machines, program them, then pit them against each other, tournament-style. Chief Executive Officer Eric Parker, an architect by training and a parent, says the goal is to lead more kids toward computer science degrees. He’s pitching his $100 robot-making kits to teachers. “I think they’re on the right track,” says John Morehouse, director of Georgia’s Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, a state development agency that’s helping make the kits. “They’ve nailed it on knowing who to target.”

 

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The league has distributed about 400 of its $100 kits, which come with parts for a single robot, in six states. It’s on track to ship more than 800 in January.

Photographer: Devin Christopher for Bloomberg Businessweek
Parker (above) and Will Ashby, the league’s only salaried employee, train teachers to code, build the robots, and organize the competitions.
Parker (above) and Will Ashby, the league’s only salaried employee, train teachers to code, build the robots, and organize the competitions.
Photographer: Devin Christopher for Bloomberg Businessweek
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Parker has raised $150,000 so far and seeks an additional $1.2 million to increase production to 1,000 robots a month, cut the price to $60 apiece, and automate teacher training.

Photographer: Devin Christopher for Bloomberg Businessweek
Once built, the robots rely on their coding and onboard sensors to try to shove each other out of the sumo ring.
Once built, the robots rely on their coding and onboard sensors to try to shove each other out of the sumo ring.
Photographer: Devin Christopher for Bloomberg Businessweek

 

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