Robot pastime helped alumnus build career




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A. Sue Weisler

Mike Jeffries ’11 talked to students about how his fascination with robots helped build a career in aerospace technology systems

Mike Jeffries is proud when Bombshell is on the attack, knowing there’s no “tapping out” or yielding in competitions. During this past season of ABC’s BattleBots show, taped over the summer, Bombshell and Jeffries’ Chaos Corps team battled to an impressive second place finish.

Jeffries ’11 (mechanical engineering technology) spoke to several undergraduate classes this fall about the competition and how his fascination with creating robots helped build a career in advanced aerospace technology systems.

Most of the students were familiar with BattleBots—and not intimidated by the destruction.

Jeffries showed several competition video clips, and the classes watched as Bombshell confirmed how the 250-pound robot, with an impressive array of weaponry, earned its name.

But as Jeffries talked about the competition, equipment and strategy, his engineering expertise came through. When he is not building competitive robots, he is a research technologist in the Aerospace, Transportation and Advanced Systems Laboratory at Georgia Tech Research Institute. He helps develop novel radar and antenna systems through the institute’s Systems Development Division.

“I’m here to talk about what happens after graduation and how a hobby can count as relevant experience,” he said to the class. “It can be a way for you to say to a prospective employer, ‘I have these skills.’ It shows interest in the field, and an interesting side of your personality.”

Jeffries had always been interested in building robots. He was an undergraduate at RIT when he competed for the first time in a robotics competition, placing fourth overall with a 5-2 record. He also was awarded the Best Engineered Robot, a surprise at the time. “It had one working wheel going into his last match,” he said laughing.

BattleBots robots are a combination heavy power tool and a Roomba on steroids, connected wirelessly to drivers who maneuver them to overpower other robots. A wide variety of weaponry is allowed in competitions. Bombshell sports an electric axe and articulating horizontal blade, among other interchangeable parts. The robots come in multiple sizes, from heavy robots like Bombshell to smaller, but still powerful 5-pound mini bots.

Jeffries and his wife, Julie, are a BattleBots couple. She is part of the nine-member Chaos Corps team. They have been married just over a year, recently bought a house and are setting up a home studio that combines her interest and background in metal art and his in robotics. “Our house is full of tools and has more maker space than living space,” she said.

Both volunteer with the Atlanta Maker Faire and are a big part of that state’s maker community intent on promoting science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

Jeffries’ mechanical engineering technology background is about designing well-made products and equipment.

“People may not care about the difference between engineering and engineering technology,” he said. “They do care that you know what you are doing.”