Proctor native appears on Discovery Channel
Proctor native Lucas Grell has battled his way up to the BattleBots level of competition.
DULUTH — A Proctor native with a passion for robotics has taken his skills to a bigger arena. Lucas Grell has been working with robotics since he was a sophomore in Proctor High School's robotics program. And now he's joined Team Jackpot in the latest season of "BattleBots" on the Discovery Channel.
His mother, Diane Podgornik, recalls Grell's reaction to finding the robotics program at Proctor.
"We walked past a classroom where they had the robots set up, and he was hooked right away," Podgornik said. "He was kind of shy before then, but when you took him to a robotics competition, he can talk to anyone about anything."
"I had seen reruns of the original 'BattleBots' and some 'Robot Wars,' like a lot of kids, but didn't ever seriously expect to have an opportunity to participate until I found out about the program," Grell said. "We learned a ton about manufacturing and repairing parts for the robots."
Grell competed in the National Robotics League and his team made it to nationals three times throughout high school.
"We got to travel all across the country," Podgornik said. "I was one of the coaches, so I got to tag along. I can tell you it was always interesting to get those robots and our gear through security in those days. But we just left early so we'd have time."
Since graduating in 2015, Grell continued to compete in robotics competitions across the country with Team Minor Threat. Grell competes in mostly hobbyweight or 12-pound combat robot competitions. It was at these competitions that Grell met the members of Jackpot and joined their team to enter the BattleBots World Championship competition event.
"We work together well and it's a lot of fun, although the time at the actual competition can be stressful and we often spent very long hours working on the robot," Grell said. "Over the two-week event, I'd say I was probably in the pits at least 12 hours a day and sometimes more. It's not bad, though, since everyone there loves what we're doing so much and the community is very friendly."
Grell flew out to Las Vegas for the competition over the summer. Ahead of the competition, the team met via video calls to iron out the design. The robots must weigh under 250 pounds and have other restrictions on types of weapons and speeds they can spin.
"Other than that, it's largely safety related, like being able to easily turn them off and being able to remove batteries that might be damaged," Grell said.
The team builds multiple versions of their bot to deal with each competitor they face. Team Jackpot, a Las Vegas-based team, has also added a little extra flair to its robot. According to Podgornik, the bot is covered in red glitter with diamond- and heart-shaped weapons. And thanks to a sponsorship from a glitter company, they also tend to cover their competitors and the fighting cage in red glitter when they compete.
"It was so much fun to see some of the fights live," Podgornik said. "And it was interesting because I met so many people Lucas has known since our days competing in the national competitions when he was in high school. Everyone there has such a passion for robotics that they developed while in high school."
Grell's passion for robotics also led him to his full-time career. When he's not traveling across the country for robotic competitions, he works professionally in computer-aided design in Duluth.
Team Jackpot's robot was featured in a YouTube-exclusive battle against Team Deadlift. New episodes of "BattleBots" started airing Jan. 6 and will continue weekly. Podgornik said she expects Grell's team to be featured in a couple of episodes, but isn't sure which.