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Robot Combat League Interview: Team Crash, Round One!

Posted on April 23, 2013 AT 07:21pm

Robot Combat League has had an exciting first season so far! Tonight are the Finals: Team Crash versus Team Steampunk! We recently had the honor of interviewing Amber and Dave Shinsel of Team Crash, and will be sharing it with you in two parts. Part two will come later this week, wrapping up the initial interview, but also collecting some reflections upon the Finals from Team Crash.

Without further ado, let’s begin!

[Like always, here's an initial key for reference! B: That's me! A: Amber Shinsel! D: Dave Shinsel! And featuring O: as upside-down shocked emote, who isn't featured in this interview] 

B: First of all, I’d like to thank both of you for taking the time out for this interview. I know that between building robots, working at Intel, and whooping combat bot butt, you probably have a pretty busy schedule.

*both Amber and Dave laugh*

A: No problem!

B: Before we get to talking about the giant combat bots, though, I’d like to know a little bit about the robots you’ve made at home.

D: Okay, I assume that’s going to be for me, because I’m the main robot builder in the family. [laughs]

B: Yeah! Basically, the only thing that I’ve seen is the one that they’ve shown in some of the video footage, which looked a little bit like Wall-E, or at least a relative.

D: So, if you want some back story for this and if you want to look behind the scenes, you can go to my website, and I’ve got a bunch of robots that I’ve built up there. I’ll just talk about them briefly–if you want–here.

B: Oh, yeah, go for it!

D: I’ve been building robots for over ten years. I’ve built a series of robots, about eight of them, I think, so far. The one that you’ve seen that kind of looks like Wall-E, as you say… Actually, the virtualization that I got for his face actually came from the movie Short Circuit. I watched that movie years ago, and Johnny-5 always stuck in my head. I’ve always loved the way that he looked.

B: That is still one of my favorite older movies!

D: Isn’t that great? [laughs] So that robot is my most current one, and his name is Loki. Loki is named after the Norse god of mischief, which seemed appropriate, because he’s always getting into trouble. And, Loki is a kind of interactive robot, he wanders around and you can talk to him and stuff. I’ve got a series of other robots that are up there on the website. There was one robot that I build a while ago that was for outdoor navigation, it was for a competition called RoboMagellan that they do each year at the Space Needle and I competed in that several years back. It was basically a radio controlled car with a laptop bolted on top of it, and that was kind of fun. So, I built that and series of other ones. I built a six legged walking robot, and built another one out of a bicycle helmet… a number of things like that.

B: I’ll definitely have to check out your site to see some of these, because they sound like they’re pretty cool!

D: The site is called dshinsel.com.

B: Okay! I tried looking you up, but the only thing that I found was your old profile on the Intel site, so it’s good to have more info.

D: Yeah, just look at dshinsel.com and you’ll get a bunch of stuff up there.

B: RCL didn’t really mention much particularlly about it, just that you both work at Intel. What do you each do there?

A & D: Well, I–

A or D: Did you wanna go–

D: Did you want to talk, Amber? Go ahead.

A: No, go ahead! You can go first.

D: Okay, well, I’m a software engineering manager, so I manage a team of engineers and we build performance tools for game developers. So, people that are building high end games, like World of Warcraft and all these other kinds of things, they use our tools to make their games run fast. Amber, describe what you do.

A: I’m a software engineer and I work in a software group at Intel SSG and we do what you call ‘Task Finding’, it’s pretty much looking at new, innovative, interesting technologies that are starting to become… prevalent, I guess, and seeing how we can work those into some services.

B: They both sound pretty cool! So… Let’s get to the robots: How did you two get selected to be ‘robo-jocks’ for Robot Combat League?

A: [to Dave] I’ll let you take that one.

D: The producer of the show contacted me. He found my name because I was featured in an article in Popular Mechanics magazine, so he saw one of my robots there. That’s what initially hooked him up to me. He went to my website and went ‘Oh! This guy’s been doing robots!’ He contacted me a while back and told me ‘Hey, we’re putting together a show on robots, are you interested?’ I said ‘Of course!’ You know, very interesting. I didn’t have any idea what the show was about. I had no clue it was going to be or how it was going to play out. I certainly didn’t know it was going to be almost eight foot tall, eight hundred pound robots. That didn’t even enter my mind when we started out, and they were very quiet about what the show was going to be, because it was very secretive at that time. When they started asking me about my background and my family and stuff, I mentioned that I had a daughter who’s also a software engineer and got her degree in computer science and works at Intel, they were like ‘Hey, that’s great! Can we talk to her?’ And… Amber I’ll turn it over to you.

A: Well, that’s about it, and they did, and we wound up as the father/daughter team!

D: I’ll say more than that. They talked to me afterwards and told me ‘We talked to your daughter, and we think she’s terrific!’

A: Well, they didn’t say that to me! [laughs]

D: They said it to me! They told me… well, I think they liked you better than me, actually!

A: Yeah?

D: [laughs] So, anyway, they were like ‘This is great, we’ve got two engineers, a father and a daughter, that we can go bring on the show!’ So, that’s where it came from.

B: I thought that the father/daughter team was kind of an interesting angle, because otherwise, all the other challengers might have known of each other , but they didn’t really know each other before getting paired up.

A: Yeah.

D: Yeah, that’s right! Most of them had never even met, I think.

B: Yes, exactly. Some of them may have heard of each other, but that might’ve been the extent of it. Do you think that lent you an advantage, being a father/daughter team?

A: I definitely think it helped. We didn’t have any awkward ‘getting to know you’ phase and we were able to jump right in. We were able to communicate well, or at least as well as we can. It’s hard to hear up there when you’re actually fighting, and y’know, your dad’s a little on the deaf side and can’t really hear you to being with [Dave laughs], and it’s loud, and there’s a lot of yelling, but… Yeah, I think it helped a lot. We were able to come up with strategies together and there wasn’t… You know, with a new person, there could be some tension, potentially, and there wasn’t any of that. I think that helped a lot.

B: It’s a big enough of a learning curve, just learning how the robot works, and then you have to get to know the person who’s controlling the other half of it?

A: Exactly, yeah!

D: Since one person’s controlling the upper body, and one’s controlling the legs, you really do have to work as a team, and I think it really helped us, because we kind of intuitively knew how each other worked and what we were doing. But, as Amber said, the biggest problem is that we couldn’t hear each other, so you don’t really get it on TV that much, but when you’re up there fighting… Number one, you’ve got the crowd noise, but ALSO the robots themselves, you have no idea how loud they are!

A: It’s very loud!

D: It’s like being in the middle of a car crash.

A: It is! Like being five feet away from one.

B: Who knows, maybe for the next season, they’ll keep that in mind, and perhaps give them headsets?

D: We asked for that.

A: Yeah!

[both laugh]

D: And they said ‘Yeah, good idea for the next one!’

A: That definitely would’ve been helpful, and I think they’ll probably wind up doing something like that in the future.

B: I hope so. Anything to improve it and make it better for not just the players, but for the viewers, too. What did you guys think of Crash when you first saw it? Did you think that it would be able to make it all the way to the Finals?

D: I think we were skeptical.

A: Yeah. When we first saw Crash, I remember kind of… On one hand, it’s an eight foot so that’s exciting! And he was kind of, honestly, cute and adorable. He’s not one of the big scary ones. But, we were a little concerned when we first saw him because the roll cage has these gaps in it, and we weren’t sure if maybe… when we were thought of it, we were about to fight Steel Cyclone, and they have small fists, and we were a little concerned that their fists would be able to punch through the Plexiglas .. and as you saw in the last episode, when Scorpio was given that long weapon, that was definitely a potential issue. We were concerned that something sharp and narrow and long being able to penetrate right in an knock out an actuator. Luckily, they weren’t able to get a shot in like that, and so it was okay. We were concerned about a couple things, but after the first fight we started feeling a lot better about Crash.

B: I was actually kind of surprised during the Semi-Finals that the Christmas Tree didn’t end up didn’t end up smashing Crash’s face.

A: We were definitely paying attention to that.

D: He kept trying to poke it in the face. We were actually less worried about the face than we were about our midsection, because that’s where the real damage happens.

B: I don’t blame you, because whenever A.X.E. got his head knocked off, they kept going.

A & D: Yeah!

A: [excitedly] It’s a robot, so the brain isn’t in the head.

D: When Amber was fighting, I think she did a really good job of blocking them so that they couldn’t get that Christmas Tree in our midsection. I also think that Scorpio’s team did a really good job at blocking *us*, because you notice towards the end of that fight, their armor was gone! Their chest piece was gone, their arm armor was gone, even one of the leg armors was gone, so they were completely exposed. But, Diana did a really good job at blocking our hits. Amber kept trying to get in there and get to her.

A: And Chris kept pulling her around in a way that we couldn’t get to her as well. The defense on that fight was amazing.

D: We think that, well, at least for me it was one of the most exciting fights. It was a really really intense fight with really good control. I thought that the team that we were fighting against, Scorpio, they were a very, very strong team. We were glad to survive against Scorpio’s blades.

A: That was definitely my favorite fight, too.

B: I was actually just about to ask what your favorite moments were, throughout the season.

D: I would say for me, my favorite was fighting against Devonric.

A: Yeah, Brimstone.

D: Brimstone was kinda scary. A lot of people were worried Brimstone. We were worried because it had padded armor, and so we were worried that the judges wouldn’t see when you hit. Because you can hear when you hit, but you know, with that padded armor, it’s a lot harder to tell. So we didn’t know if we would be scoring points. But, at the end, when Brimstone just kind of collapsed and caught on fire…

A: That was very fun!

D: It was crazy!

A: That was a pretty awesome moment. It’s hard to beat that, definitely.

B: Whenever there are the sparks and explosions, could you actually feel the heat off of that?

A: I don’t think so, although I’ll be honest: This was filmed in LA, as you know…

D: It was hot.

A: …towards the end of October, so whatever heat was coming off those probably wasn’t as hot as the set! [laughs]

B: So you don’t even notice!

D: The event took place in a really large warehouse. It was built, I think, before World War II, and so that warehouse was like a factory. It had a big crane and all this kind of stuff, and on hot days, it would get really really hot. Our fights were in the evening, and it hadn’t cooled down yet, so it was really hot in there. So, when you’re up there fighting and your adrenaline is going and stuff, you get pretty hot. It was pretty cookin’.

A: I’ve definitely never been that hot in my life.

B: Come back to LA again some time, it’ll happen again!

[both laugh]

A: Especially if I’m wearing a long sleeve, long pant track suit and it’s a hundred degrees outside and the warehouse has been heating up all day.

B: That was ridiculous! Everybody looked like they were soaked by midmatch!

A: It was pretty… yeah. And you had hydraulic fluid in there.

D: Well, yeah, the soaking might’ve been the hydraulic fluid showers we were taking.

A: I noticed in some of my interviews that I look kind of disgusting and greasy, and it’s definitely because I just spent two hours crawling around on the floor, cleaning up hydraulic fluid or trying to wipe it off our feet, or something like that.

D: You know, you asked us before about Crash, and one of the things we really admired about Crash that really worked to our favor was because he had this open design, there was no place for the hydraulic fluid to puddle, or to collect inside the armor, and that I think was a real advantage for us. When you look at the fights, you’ll notice that when there’s a lot of hydraulic fluid on the floor, the feet slip, and it’s a lot harder to control the robot. So, one thing we focused on a lot, a strategy that never came out–or I don’t think was obvious–was whenever we broke an arm or an actuator so we were spraying hydraulic fluid out, we always tried to turn and spray it onto the other robot. And we did that very much on purpose, because we wanted them to get all slippery. That hydraulic fluid is very slippery!

A: That worked quite well!

D: Then we could push them around, and push them in a corner where we could beat on them for a while.

B: Like what you guys did to Scorpio.

D: Yeah, and definitely we did that Brimstone as well. We got Brimstone nice and wet and shoved him in a corner and then it was harder for them to get all that hydraulic fluid out of their armor, where as on us, due to the roll cage, we were able to wipe him down a lot easier. You’ll noticed that we spent a lot of time wiping all the hydraulic fluid off, and it was really so that it would not be leaking in the fight, and so we wouldn’t be slipping on it.

B: Including that, what do you think was the hardest part of the entire experience of RCL?

A: I think for me it was definitely being away from home for that long. Just being in such a different environment with long hours and… you know, being away. That was tough.

D: We had… I totally agree, being away from home absolutely the hardest thing. If our family had been there with us it would’ve been a lot easier. It was great doing it with Amber, though.

A: A lot of contestants were local to LA and got to go home everyday.

B: Yeah, I did notice there were a lot of LA locals.

D: It worked out well for them, because it’s really hard to take basically a month out of your life and just be gone and go do this. Amber and I were lucky enough that we were able to work remotely. That’s the nice thing about Intel and about the jobs we have at Intel is that we can actually work in the evening or on spare days.

A: Or midday, or morning, or midnight, who knows!

D: Whenever we weren’t fighting or whenever we weren’t out there working on the set, we were able to do other work, so that was great. But, one of the other things I think was really hard was that there were some really long hours. You know, you get out there and you’ve got fights going and there’s a lot of prep time beforehand, and by the time the fights are happening, you can be really really tired. Some of these fights happen really late at night.

A: Or early in the morning.

D: Yeah, so we were pretty tired sometimes. For me, the hardest part was… my voice doesn’t last that long. And so, my voice kept going out on me. You can hear me sometimes where I’m trying to talk and my voice just isn’t very good.

B: What were the filming hours like, overall? You said you were filming on and off for a month?

D: Well, yeah, in order to… Well, this is the first time this has ever been done, right? So, trying to plan out how this would happen… In our first fight, when Amber and I were fighting against Steel Cyclone, that’s the first time two of these robots had ever fought. They’d never actually taken two robots and trying to fight them. And so, when we saw how much damage was occurring, it was like ‘Oh my god, how are we going to keep this up and get through all of these fights and actually get this whole competition completed?’ So, there was a lot of weird hours where we would cycle through, and we’d be trying to get something going, and there’s be some sort of problem, and we’d go take a break and then we’d come back to it, and all kinds of stuff like that.

A: And to give you kind of an idea, the first fight, we got to the set around 2 PM, and I don’t remember when it was supposed to start, but we got back to the apartment we were staying at around 7 AM. It was a REALLY long day.

B: That’s some really long hours!

D: That IS a long day.

B: That’s like the School of Hard Knocks right off the bat.

D: Yeah. I’ve gotta tell you though, we loved the fight part. When we got done–we would talk about this–we would go and we would do our fight, and your adrenaline is so pumped up that we got done, we were like ‘I just wanna go do it again!’ I just couldn’t wait to go fight again, and Amber, I think you were exactly the same way, right?

A: Sure, but I wanted a nap first, maybe a shower, but then I would go again! [laughs]

D: I meant the next day. The next day, we’re like ‘Let’s go do it again!’

A: [laughs] Need a break!

D: Yeah! That and the repair turns between rounds were just awesome. Yeah, they were tense, they were stressful, but they were just so exciting. You’ve got a deadline and you just have twenty minutes to fix all this stuff.

A: Yeah, and my dad thrives on that kind of stuff, and I do not, so that was really funny, and it kind of was fun to watch him, he was so excited with all the repairs, because that’s kind of stuff he loves. And I think he does really well under pressure. I don’t quite as much! [laughs] That was VERY stressful for me!

- – - – - End Round One! – - – - -

Round Two will take place on Thursday. Come back then, and see what Team Crash has to say about the Finals!

Bryan Todd [aka DieselBT] -- This is where I'm supposed to say something clever about myself. Let's pretend I did, and it conveniently mentions all of my top interests, such as anime, video games, crazy gadgets, electronic music, voice acting, sound editing, and countless other ridiculously fascinating topics. I also like to write stuff about things, which is why I'm here.

...That, and I like your shirt.

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