Thursday, January 12th is team Valkyrie's debut fight in the BattleBots World Championship VII.
Valkyrie sports the look of a stealth bomber that carries a giant undercutting blade in the front. Its name is derived from Norse Mythology where Valkyries are women who help guide souls of the dead in the afterlife. This name hints at team Valkyrie's larger mission to bring STEM awareness to young girls around the world.
On the eve of team Valkyrie's first battle, we sat down to talk with their captain Lucy Du. Enjoy this interview and support team Valkyrie as they compete on this season of BattleBots that airs every Thursday at 8pm ET on Discovery.
What makes Valkyrie different from other teams?
“We’re one of the few teams in BattleBots where the majority of members are women. A lot of teams are just in it to win, which would obviously be great. But we formed Valkyrie with the goal of communicating a bigger message that this team stands for women in STEM.
I largely do BattleBots because I think it’s a really good way to inspire kids to get into STEM that needs a larger female presence. BattleBots allows us to share an empowering message with a large audience and it was nice to have a team that's aligned with this goal."
What's it like being a captain of a BattleBots team?
“I’ve been part of BattleBots for 7 seasons, but this is my first season with Valkyrie and my first time being team captain, which is definitely a change of pace.
As team captain, there are so many little things that you need to make sure are running smoothly. My team is awesome and helps out with everything, but ultimately I am responsible for every final decision.
The thing that was hardest for me was how much it took over my life during the first couple months. I’d wake up, and it would be the first thing I would think of, and it was harder to focus on my job outside of BattleBots because there are just so many decisions that I had to make. Like, what shirts should we buy? What material should this be made of? Is this bolt long enough, or should we make it a little bit longer?
I had to make tough decisions and own them even if they weren't the right ones.”
Does every team member have a specific role?
“As a team member, I think there are different levels of commitment that you can give, so it changes a lot as peoples’ availability changes throughout the season. In the beginning when we were designing the robot, we made one person in charge of that step and the rest of the team would help out where they could. And then there’s general robot maintenance that everyone is in charge of.”
What challenges did team Valkyrie face?
“This year in particular, the timeline was really tight. We had less than 3 months to get everything together before filming. It was tough because we basically started from scratch with only Alex, Leanne, and me because previous year's team had mostly disbanded. So from the time we got notice, we needed to start building a team while getting everything else ready in the limited amount of time that we had.
There was also a lot of learning along the way, with most of our team being relatively new to combat robotics, which made it really fun. It was nice to get new perspectives from members who haven't seen this over and over. There was a steep learning curve for everyone including me being team captain for the first time working on a robot I’d never worked on before.
But by the end of the season, the team had really banded together. We were all really excited to have each other.”
Did you test your robot's killing power in advance?
“Well, not directly, we never actually hit anything. It’s really hard to find a place where you can test safely. Basically at like 5am the day the robot had to ship out we finally put everything together. We wired Valkyrie up, put it outside on an empty parking lot, secured it with wooden blocks so it wouldn’t move, placed it upside down so the blade wouldn’t touch the ground, and fired it up from the safety of the loading dock.
We very very carefully during the startup procedure, ran a bunch of spin-up tests and ended up running the disc blade backward so that it wouldn’t catch on anything.
Our motor controllers on our weapon measured speed, temperature and other parameters. Afterwards, we looked at the data using math to back out how fast things were going, how much energy it was storing, how much it theoretically could do, if it matched what other robots did, and how it compared to the past Valkyrie robots.
It was definitely a scary feeling when we finally put the robot in the box. Like, 'Oh my god, I don’t know if anything is going to survive this hit.' It’s all just based on math, what has worked before, and some level of intuition.”
Do you get nervous before the fights?
“Oh yeah. This was my first year driving for BattleBots. I tried to get as much preparation as possible talking to other drivers and getting tips. I practiced matches with smaller robots to get the muscle memory down.
But nothing really compares to the first time that you go up there in the big box. The crowd is screaming, the lights are flashing, there’s just so much sensory input that you can’t really prepare for. You just have to do it.”
What’s the most fun part about being on BattleBots?
“I think the most fun part is getting to meet other BattleBots competitors. It's really cool to learn about what they do outside of BattleBots and about their specific robot.
Almost nothing we use to build the robots is made for the sole purpose of BattleBots. Everyone gets really creative. Some use motors that are made for cars and drone equipment, a lot of the flame throwers are made from repurposed parts.
There are also a lot of fun shenanigans that happen. We pranked another team by going into their pit after they left for the day and bedazzled all of their tools to make them sparkly. They’re friends of ours, so it was all in good fun. It’s basically a large, adult summer camp, and giant engineering playground.”
How does it make you feel that thousands of girls will be watching you on BattleBots?
“I’ve never been the face of something before so it’s kind of nerve wrecking. I hope I can live up to some level of standard that is worth looking up to! I hope to inspire some women and girls to fight the engineering fight, which is not always the easiest path. I would feel very honored if they looked up to me.
I actually did not grow up watching BattleBots. I knew of it, but only connected with it later in life. There are a lot more young girls in robotics now that grew up watching the show and became engineers because of it.
People now come up to us at outreach events telling us that their daughters are really into engineering or robotics because of BattleBots. That’s really good to hear and reminds us of the real reason we do this.”
How do you envision the future of robotics?
“Assistive and medical device robotics area is really booming. Outside of BattleBots, I’m working to build a powered prosthetic ankle. So basically a robotic ankle that people with amputations can wear and have it be as close as possible to having your limbs back.
Robotics still has a long way to go because the possibilities are kind of endless, but there's also been a ton of progress in the past few years. There’s a lot of movement to have robotics replace many dangerous tasks that humans currently do, so I think that’s a really great direction that robotics is expanding in.
As technology like motors and batteries continues to improve at a crazy-fast rate, it will unlock the true potential of robotics. We will be able to create things that humans previously only envisioned in sci-fi.”
What do you think about your Xena safety boots?
“I really love them! I love how stylish they look and feel safe in them. The blazer is great too! So many pockets. As a grad student, I don’t really need to dress nicely, but I’m excited to wear it more often in more professional settings.”