It's a pretty safe bet most electrical distributors will never get sales leads from cable television's Comedy Central, but sponsoring a “BattleBots” robot increases the odds significantly. “Believe it or not, we get sales leads from people who have come to us through the BattleBots,” said Art Cook, president of Buckles-Smith, San Jose, Calif.

The automation distributor plays a role in Comedy Central's prime-time action with its sponsorship of “BattleBots” robots in four weight classes. Each week, an average of 3.5 million viewers tune in Tuesday at 10 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) to see two radio-controlled, weapon-clad robots battle it out.

Cook said the Buckles-Smith partial sponsorship came about because of one employee's special interest in robotics. With a group of friends, James Wetzel, Buckles-Smith's network/systems administrator and the Bots team's pit crew chief, was looking for sponsorships to help fund the cost.

“It was a relatively low cost-thing,” said Cook. “The original sponsorship only came with the expense of motion-control equipment that we really had no commercial use for. Then some of our manufacturers thought it might be a neat way to get some of their newer equipment tested out. It's getting some attention — usually on the motion-control side, which is a niche within or overall business.”

As an automation distributor, Buckles-Smith has a pretty large and enthusiastic technical staff, and the employees enjoy cheering the robots on.

According to the BattleBots Web site, the people behind the robots come from all walks of life, but they all share a passion for innovation and invention. As Cook puts it, “BattleBots has a unique following. Nobody does these BattleBots for a living, so most of these guys (on the hundreds of BattleBots teams) are engineers that work for our customers' companies. It's pretty interesting how that little group — that niche — is a viable group of customers.”

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