Purple Fire Robotics team tops U.S. combat bot stats, readies for national championship

Celebrating National Robotics Week

Apr 13, 2023
Purple Fire Robotics team

Florida Polytechnic University’s Purple Fire Robotics combat team members Russell Williams, Sam Porter, and Rhys Kephart, show off two combat robots, including nationally ranked Insomnia and recent trophies the team has won. They will travel to Seattle, Washington, in May to cement their top-bot status.

Florida Polytechnic University student Russell Williams has spent the last two years building and refining a combat robot that has become the No. 2 robot in the country in its class. In just a few weeks, the robot could battle its way to ending the season as the top bot in its category nationally.

Williams, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, was excited all season as he watched Insomnia, his prize-winning robot, smash its competitors and move up the ranks. 

“It felt really good to watch Insomnia do so well,” said Williams, co-captain of the combat robotics team. “I started this robot my freshman year and there’s been slight iterations since the beginning and slight redesigns, and it all added up to this.

“It was really cool to see it work reliably and well.”

Williams and other members of Purple Fire Robotics will take Insomnia to the Robot Combat League National Championship set for May 6-7 in Seattle, Washington. The robot will be the highest-ranked robot competing in the one-pound antweight category at the championship.

Williams described Insomnia as a high-kinetic-energy spinner robot that is connected to a drone motor and spins a piece of metal to maximize the moment of inertia.

“The biggest advantage it has over other robots is its specially designed blade that uses a multitude of materials, such as aluminum 7075 at the base, and tank steel on the tips with a counterweight, all held together with keying and titanium places,” he said. “It uses a TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) 3D-printed body that has a lot of stretch and holds up really well.”

The robotics team, which also has a VEX U robotics section, has been propelled this academic year with several other combat robotics builds.

Sam Porter, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with an aerospace concentration, worked with a team of students to take Purple Fire’s prize-winning 15-pound robot Hyperion and reduce it to compete in the three-pound division.

“The design experience is just incredible,” Porter said. “It’s also a great thing to put on applications for internships and jobs because when you say you helped develop a combat robot, you’re showing that you have developed critical thinking and design skills.”

Purple Fire Robotics will compete this weekend, April 15-16, in Miami, Florida, at Maker Fair Miami. 

Team member Rhys Kephart, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said building and fighting robots is a great test of problem solving and conceptualizing. 

“It’s just constant problem solving. You figure out where your design has flaws and you have to come up with a solution to improve it,” he said. “The solution may or may not work, or it may even break, but I love the constant need for improvement.”


Lydia Guzmán
Director of Communications