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Carissa Carlberg, 12, knows a thing or two about building sophisticated, competition-worthy robots for "BattleBots," a robot-on-robot, battle-to-the-death competition returning after a 10-year hiatus to ABC. Though Carissa hasn't built a robot for BattleBots on her own, she's been by her dad Christian's side along with her two brothers.
The dad-daughter duo spoke to mom.me about the family robots obsession, the strategy behind the design of their entry and what participating in robotics means to Carissa and girls in engineering and technology.
The series premieres Sunday, June 21, 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central on ABC.
Christian, it's been 10 years since your last competition. What's different in the robot world now? What have been the big innovations since then?
DAD: Basically, battery technology has jumped light years. With so much quad-copter and electric car development, a lot of money is getting put in to smaller and lighter batteries.
Carissa, you would have been around 2 during your dad's last competition. What do you remember from back then?
CARISSA: I remember my dad built "CHUNK" with a college team for "BattleBots."
DAD: Well, actually it was "Battlebots IQ," honey, back in 2008—not the original TV show in 2003.
CARISSA: But it was still fighting robots, right? Anyway, although I was too small to build it, I remember being in the pits with my brothers. It was a lot of fun!
DAD: She had just turned 6, and I have this great picture of her filing down the robot with her brother. That particular competition was for college students. I was mentoring. But it was the first time my kids got to experience this sort of competition.
CARISSA: Yeah, what I remember most is how busy everyone was in the pit area working on fixing their robots between matches, fixing their robots.
Christian, when did you start working on robots with Carissa?
DAD: We had started designing and building science projects years ago—
CARISSA: Like the ants in space project.
Interviewer: Excuse me?
CARISSA: We wanted to know what ants would be like in space.
DAD: We took one of my battlebot motors and rigged it so that it would slowly spin an ant farm upside down, round and round so we could watch how the ants behaved when they experienced "weightlessness."
CARISSA: They got a little disorientated as they walked through their tunnels, but they still built tunnels like the non-spinning ant farm. What was neat about that was I got to use a waterjet to make parts.
Interviewer: A waterjet?
CARISSA: It's a big machine that basically shoots high-pressure water and sand down at a plate of aluminum to cut out patterns. We cut the pieces out and put them together like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle to make the ant farm holder.
Carissa, what could the first robot you designed and built do?
CARISSA: Well, I am still in training. But I guess the first robot would be a Lego robot to roll around.
DAD: You have to understand, these battlebots are serious machines and can be extremely dangerous. This time around, we designed a simple and relatively safe robot for the new show.
Interviewer: Safe? I thought these things had to be destructive?
DAD: Well, yes, but a 250-pound robot hurtling at 10 feet per second is fundamentally dangerous. We just wanted to build a robot that we could take to school and show other kids without fear of the weapon spinning up. We built a lifting arm, which is pretty safe.
CARISSA: As long as you don't put your head in it.
Christian, how can inexperienced parents and kids get into robot building?
DAD: Start with Legos. There are a ton of gear and motor sets. Then you can try buying some of the small robot sets, like VEX. Building battlebots is, unfortunately, a very expensive project—even for experienced builders. But if you can at least get the ball rolling with just building small projects with your kid, you are laying down a great foundation of encouragement and fun.
Carissa, what's with your brothers—why aren't they interested in robots? What interests you so much about robots?
CARISSA: Actually, they are.
DAD: Yeah, this is a bit of a sore subject around the dinner table. I am working with all my kids with robot design, but media tends to focus more on my daughter.
CARISSA: I'm the most outspoken.
DAD: Well, OK. Yeah.
Christian, I remember the blade from the "BattleBots" shows before. It was impossible to beat. Where do you get your ideas?
CARISSA: Oh, you are talking about "OverKill."
DAD: Yeah, that battlebot never won a championship, but it was always in the top four or two and never got knocked out. It was essentially a simple design and built well. It is hard to make things simple, but it always pays off in the end.
Carissa, what's your favorite thing about "BattleBots"?
CARISSA: The fighting.
DAD: Not the building?
CARISSA: Well, yeah, but the fighting is really cool because everybody makes really cool robots, and you get to see them at the fight. And everybody's really great.
Christian, how has Carissa contributed to this season's entry? What's her role on the team?
DAD: [laughing] Team loudmouth?
DAD: OK, OK! Seriously, the ABC reboot of "BattleBots" allowed me to start my kid's battlebot training in earnest. With only 10 weeks' notice, it is very difficult for experienced builders to make a new robot. In my case, we laid out a strategy for making a safe, very reliable and fun robot.
Carissa, do you want a career in robots? Why do you think fewer girls than boys are involved in designing and building robots?
CARISSA: I don't know. I really like dance and theater. Maybe. "BattleBots" is fun and I met a lot of girls at "BattleBots," so I don't know if there are more boys than girls.
Interview: I gladly stand corrected! Again, the media?
DAD: I understand what you are asking, but the question automatically implies that there are more boys than girls in engineering. Unfortunately, there are right now. But I think it's this automatic assumption implied by your question and the media in general that dissuades young girls from even considering the tech field before they reach high school. But not my kids. Carissa will continue to do these science projects with me and continue her dance classes and theater. I do not care what path she goes down as long as she is passionate about it and happy.