This article appeared December 9, 2001 in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper:

Distinction: Fighting robot competitor, designer of "Flexy-Flyer," "PyRAMidroid" and other models.

Name: Mike Konshak

Home: Louisville

Age: 54

Job: Mechanical engineer for Storage Technology Corp.

For the last year, Konshak has been building robots to fight in competitions filmed for television. Konshak expects one of his robots to be featured on The Learning Channel's show Robitca mid-December, and later this year, the mechanic heads to San Francisco to compete in BattleBots, which will air on Comedy Central.

Can you describe these competitions? Konshak builds "heavyweight" robots, mechanical and electronic devices capable of navigating around obstacles and crippling competitors in races and battles.

"They're radio-controlled," he said. "They're not allowed to be autonomous, because they don't want a 220-pound robot that can destroy other 220-pound robots running amok."

The battles are typical of the "extreme warrior" genre popular on television these days, he admits. In some cases, saws come out of the floor, threatening competing robots, or "flipping ramps" toss the robots off their "feet."

More high-brow robot competitions, hosted at universities, feature far more sophisticated autonomous robots (not radio-controlled) capable of performing specific tasks, such as playing soccer or picking up ping-pong balls, Konshak said.

But the television competitions involve brute force: Some robots flip others over, others feature steel jaws, spinning arms and metal guillotines, all designed to incapacitate other robots.

What are some of the challenges you face competing your robots? Traveling with the machines can be very difficult, Konshak said. "Getting your laptop through airport security is one thing," he said. "Try getting a radio-controlled, fighting machine through the metal detector."

How did you get into this as a hobby? Konshak's old hobby, racing motorcycles, especially vintage dirt track motorcycles, brought him broken bones and concussions as well as awards. "I was looking for something to get out me out of that," he said. "Something exciting , national, something using my engineering expertise."

His new hobby still takes up a lot of his free time, said Konshak, who builds and tests robots in an extra garage at home. "But it's at home, and the robot gets killed instead of me."

--Katy Human


Thanks to Mike Konshak for sending this.