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Last week, a group of New York area robotics students, the RoboSpartans, competed against 72 of the East Coast’s best robotics teams to earn one of 24 invitations to the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship in St. Louis slotted for later this month. The team made their robot, named Leonidas, using a standard kit of parts, raw material hardware store findings, and their EKOCYCLE Cube 3D printer, which they received as both tool and inspiration to “think outside the bot.”

The EKOCYCLE Cube uses post-consumer recycled plastic to fuel it is prints, and in the hands of the RoboSpartans, it proved that innovation begets innovation. Rather than creating a bulky and compact wheeled structure as is so often seen at such competitions, the RoboSpartans pulled inspiration from their team costumes and helped put the STEAM into STEM. “We started looking at our robot as being something more animated and sculpture-like rather than a bunch of metal parts,” said Ryan Payne, the team’s lead designer and builder. “I really like art and engineering, so it’s been nice to bring the two together.” 3D printing was integral to their customization and design process.

Learning from past experiences, the team built Leonidas as a modular robot with sections that could be quickly swapped out should a part get worn or damaged. “We refused to think inside the box or out of it. We just tossed the whole box idea completely,” said team member Daniel Michaels. With the addition of their 3D printer, the team was also excited to make their robot look as good as it performed by incorporating artistic touches, special color schemes and lighting effects, as well as printing pieces of team flair and promotional materials like mini Leonidas replicas, pins, and fans.

The RoboSpartans were honored with the PTC Design Award to celebrate the individuality of their robot and simplicity of their process.

The RoboSpartans are one of over 1640 teams to receive EKOCYCLE Cube 3D printers, and their achievements are representative of why 3D Systems’ is commited to FIRST Robotics teams. We are excited to see young minds find ways to combine engineering, technology, art and design to achieve more meaningful, innovative and adaptive results.

Have you used 3D printing to think outside the box? Share your story!