Though you might not see him in the spotlight, Martin Coursol, originally of Sturgeon Falls, is a crucial part of the Ottawa-based TKO Robotics team that is now battling it out in an international, televised Battebots competition. Martin, along with his wife Cassandra, help TKO get their Battlebot, “Lucky”, ready to go head-to-head against other destructive, metal-clad opponents.
Battlebots became popular after airing on the Comedy Network in Canada back in the early 2000s. It had a simple premise: teams build remote-controlled robots which compete in an arena fighting match. The show was rebooted back in 2015 and is currently being produced for Discovery Channel. “Matches last 3 minutes or less. A robot is counted out if it can’t move for 10 seconds. If both bots are still moving after 3 minutes, it goes to a judges’ decision,” describes Coursol.
Each robot has a particular strength or weapon that it uses to beat the competition. Lucky’s strength comes from a “flipper” that has approximately 15,000 lbs of force. “Our primary weapon is our four-bar flipper. It is designed to toss opponents up and away from us and use their own weight and the arena hazards to cause damage,” boasts Coursol.
He has been a fan of the show for several years, watching it in the early 2000s, and he was happy to see its recent return. “I’ve been watching since they restarted, and introduced my wife to the sport, got her hooked as well,” he recounts.
Sylvain Coursol, Martin’s brother, also used to watch the show when they were growing up, and says that they would both marvel at the engineering side of Battlebots. When asked about his reaction to the news of his brother being on the show, he says: “I was really excited, [I’m] always eager to hear the behind-the-scenes stuff, but they can’t disclose a lot because of the filming but it’s cool.” Sylvain keeps up with Lucky’s matches, watching from his home in Sturgeon Falls, and says he’s anxious to see the next one on February 16th. “The team posted the robot’s configuration, and he will have some interesting armour for this fight,” he reveals, eager to see how it goes.
Martin got on the team through his work at Dymech Engineering Inc. in Ottawa. Dymech is one of TKO Robotics’ sponsors and materials supplier. “I’m a mechanical engineer, I work in a metal fabrication shop. We do all sorts of custom metals around Ottawa, and all over Canada. One day, I’m just looking at our upcoming schedule at work and I see ‘Battlebots’. So, when I saw that I went to look [at what they were working on], and I recognized it was a ‘Lucky’ frame. I immediately asked the boss ‘who is this and how do I get involved?’”
He knew there was a Battlebots team based in Ottawa, but he’d never thought to reach out until then. Once he did, conversation flowed easily around the shared passion and soon, he and Cassandra were invited to be part of the team. It was all very organic. “The team captain is a really nice guy, he’ll talk to anybody. We just introduced ourselves, said hello, and they invited us over to see how things are, look at things. We just kind of stuck around,” he explains.
Martin and Cassandra bring a lot of expertise to the team. “[Cassandra] works in cabinet manufacturing. She also works with her hands, and is comfortable with tools. She’s very hands-on with the robot, she has fully assembled almost the whole thing at competition by herself,” says Martin, adding that he is now getting involved with design work and upgrades.
However, learning the skills to work on a Battlebot was something they had to do quickly. “When Cass and I got there, it was our first competition, it was our first time seeing the robot move. We were just helping wrench, taking things apart, helping where we could,” he says, pointing out that they had joined the team only a month prior. The competition’s qualifying battles were filmed in Las Vegas over two weeks, and much of the TKO Robotics crew were leaving after the first week, so they had to learn fast. “The second week, we were going to be a much smaller group. We had to learn on-the-fly how the thing got put together quickly and get it ready for every match. We ended up starting to bring the robot into the arena, turn it on, turn it off, all that fancy stuff.”