Mount Airy man engineers robot gladiators

NEIGHBORS

August 02, 2002|By Lesa Jansen | Lesa Jansen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BY DAY HE'S a mild-mannered dad who works as an engineer. But by night, Mount Airy resident Rob Everhart works tirelessly in his garage, creating one of the most menacing, dangerous creatures on two tank treads: Atomic Wedgie.

The robotic gladiator begins its fifth season of competition this month on the cable TV show BattleBots, which is co-hosted by Carmen Electra on Comedy Central. The show pits robots against one another in battles to the death - or, rather, electronic failure.

"It just kind of started as a lark as I was flipping channels one day and saw the show," said Everhart. "I showed some guys at work, and we just started messing around with designs."

Tom Corrie of Columbia, Charlie Payne of Catonsville and Everhart, all engineers, developed a device that resembles a cross between a wedge of cheese and a doorstop. The three persuaded their company, Duratek, a nuclear remediation firm, to sponsor their creation, and the team named it.

On Saturday, Everhart demonstrated the robot's skills at the annual Robot Invasion Part II sponsored by the Mount Airy library branch.

"We're always looking for adult programs to bring people to the library and I just saw BattleBots on TV one day," said Nadine Rosendale, adult services supervisor.

Rosendale's interest piqued when she noticed that a local man was one of the battling robots' creators and called Everhart to participate.

The level of interest has surprised Rosendale, who said attendance more than doubled for the second program, as 225 adults and kids showed up for the program this year. The librarian knew she had a hit when all of the books on robots and robotics were checked out by the end of the day.

The rising interest in the field has originators such as Everhart always looking to improve their creations.

"You always have to keep that edge," said Everhart. "When we first started, we were using wheelchair motors and small batteries to power the robot. Now, all the motors are custom-made and we use titanium, the lightest and most expensive metal, to build it."

It can cost $500 to $1,000 to build a lightweight robot. It costs nearly $20,000 to build and maintain the Atomic Wedgie, a super heavyweight competitive robot.

Since the Atomic Wedgie first competed in BattleBots in 2000, other companies have stepped forward to sponsor the costs.

Today, Atomic Wedgie toys are available in Wal-Mart.

"I can't say I'm famous," Everhart said. "But I have been recognized from the show once in a while." For Everhart, robotics has become a family affair.

"I like to say my wife coined the phrase `BattleBots widow' because I would spend every night and weekend in the garage working on the robots," said Everhart. "She was pretty mad, so I helped to build one that she could take over."

Last year, Kimberly Everhart and their 9-year-old son Robert took Booby Trap to BattleBots. Armed with pneumatic flippers and a spiked hammer, Booby Trap competed in the middleweight division.

Everhart and his team, Half-Life Inc., taped the battles for this season's BattleBots in May in San Francisco. He's not allowed to divulge the outcome, but plans to compete again in November and take his wife, son and their creation.

"We even have a new lightweight competitor that I helped to develop with Tom and Charlie," Everhart said. "It looks just like Atomic Wedgie but smaller." More information is available at the BattleBots Web site, www.battlebots.com.

Bike ride

The Brain Injury Association of Maryland will hold its annual bike ride to educate the public about the benefits of wearing bicycle helmets.

The sixth annual Eat a Peach Bike Ride and Fun Walk will begin at 7 a.m. Aug. 10 at Mount Airy Middle School. Three bike routes will be offered, 16 miles, 40 miles or 67 miles. The ride will end at Mount Airy Middle School.

"We touch a lot of riders in this event and are able to emphasize the importance of wearing helmets," said Suzanne Kantt, assistant director of the association.

Kantt says one death every day and one brain injury every four minutes could be prevented if bike helmets had been worn.

More than 100 riders have registered for the event.

Registration will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Aug. 10, or in advance by calling 410-448-2924.

Lesa Jansen's Southwest neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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