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Getting into gear: Three area teams to compete in BEST robotics challenge; RoboJackets seek seventh state title

 

Starkville High School robotics team member Camille Smith, 16, right, acts as a field scientist while driver Luca Hoffman, 13, places the rubber ducky wildlife into the fishing net. The school's robotics team will compete at the state competition at Mississippi State University's Humphrey Coliseum Oct. 19-20.

Starkville High School robotics team member Camille Smith, 16, right, acts as a field scientist while driver Luca Hoffman, 13, places the rubber ducky wildlife into the fishing net. The school's robotics team will compete at the state competition at Mississippi State University's Humphrey Coliseum Oct. 19-20. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff

 

Starkville High School robotics team member Sidharth Nagarajan, 15, directs robot driver Luca Hoffmann, 13, not pictured, to safely raise the recycling box to a raised platform.

Starkville High School robotics team member Sidharth Nagarajan, 15, directs robot driver Luca Hoffmann, 13, not pictured, to safely raise the recycling box to a raised platform.
Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Mary Pollitz

 

 

When Camille Smith started her junior year of high school, she knew she wanted to help the environment. But it wasn't until she joined the robotics team that she decided to become an environmental engineer. 

 

Smith, 16, joined the Starkville High School's RoboJackets team because of her friend. Now, she works on the marketing team to sell her robot to a panel of judges during the state competition at Mississippi State University Oct. 19-20.  

 

Smith also serves as the "field scientist" during the robotics matches by collecting rubber ducks and sea turtles the SHS robot catches during the competition. She said finding a place on the team wasn't as difficult as she first imagined.  

 

"It's really impressive how everyone works together," Smith said. "I thought it would be harder to learn, but everyone made it easier. They take their time to explain things." 

 

Starkville High School's RoboJackets are a BEST (boosting engineering science and technology) Competition team. BEST is a middle and high school program where students build a functioning robot within six weeks. Each year, BEST creates a new game for students to play. 

 

The RoboJackets have participated in BEST for the past eight years -- winning six state and two Southeast regional competitions in that span.  

 

Nearly 50 students from grades 6-12 have worked together the past five weeks in preparation for state competition at Humphrey Coliseum. The winning team will advance to the regional competition at Auburn, Alabama. 

 

In this year's BEST game, Current Events, students must build a robot than can travel along a current, which is a moving beam several feet off the ground, and pick up "ocean pollution." 

 

The SHS robot consists of wood, motors, gears, aluminum and piano wire. 

 

Student teams from Starkville Christian School and Starkville Christian Home Educators also will compete in this year's state competition. 

 

 

 

A game with new challenges 

 

Unlike previous years, the robots are no longer roaming the ground, rather balancing on a 3.5-inch beam. SHS senior driver, Marshall Skelton said that was the biggest challenge he's faced in his tenure with robotics. 

 

"The past four years have been wheels on the ground," Skelton said. "This year we are on a beam and it's totally different. So figuring out a way to get something that won't flip off the beam was the most complicated. We've never done this before." 

 

While traipsing down the beam, the driver has to knock rubber ducks for the "field scientist" to save in a fishing net. Next, the driver has to move the telescope arm to gather ping-pong balls which simulate micro-plastics in the ocean, and bottles. The driver has to gather the "pollution" and give it to the field engineer. 

 

The field engineer collects the pollution in recycling boxes. Without the robot touching the box, the driver lifts the box with a piano wire and raises it to a higher platform. All of these steps have to come together in a three-minutes match, while four other teams play the same game simultaneously. 

 

RoboJacket sophomore Sidharth Nagarajan, 15, is competing at BEST for the first time. Throughout the past five weeks, he's helped design and build the robot.  

 

"I learned the engineering process, how to use trial and error, when to measure correctly and how to use calculations to make sure you only have to do something once," Nagarajan said. "This is my first time doing it, but it's exciting." 

 

Denise Adair, RoboJacket mentor and SHS faculty member, said BEST offers various ways for students to participate beyond robotics and engineering. During the competition, students will be judged on multiple presentations, the competition itself and even spirit and sportsmanship. 

 

Other than the robotic competition, a group of students will market their robot and company "StarkTech" to a panel of judges. Adair said the marketing committee acts as business owners and CEO's to try and "sell" their product. 

 

Adair said, with less than two weeks until competition, the team is on track but the new game offered new challenges. She added the team is ready, but not overly confident, because in BEST anything can happen.  

 

"This year, the game is tough," Adair said. "It's a great game. It talks about recycling and the ocean. The kids have really embraced the game. They're really excited about the game, but it's going to be difficult." 

 

 

 

Other local teams participating 

 

Starkville Christian School Cougarbots is celebrating its 10th year participating in BEST. With 18 students from seventh-12th grade, Haley Martin, team mentor, said the students have been working diligently to prepare for the upcoming competition. 

 

Unlike previous years, she said, this game presented students with more planning, troubleshooting and prototyping. The team spent the first few weeks of build season creating multiple robots with cardboard to combat this year's game.  

 

"It took them a couple weeks of brainstorming, we had several different designs for the robot," Martin said. "It has been an amazing challenge for these kids. It's been really cool seeing them work through all of these challenges."  

 

The Starkville Christian Home Educators (SCHE) Eclipse robotics team has been preparing nearly every weekday for BEST, with the team consisting of home-school students from Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties. SCHE celebrates its 13th year with BEST and has expanded to 28 participating students. 

 

Team mentor Beth Lane said the program provides real-life skills and hands-on learning for students.  

 

"I think this is a wonderful program for kids to be involved in," Lane said. "It doesn't cost anything for teams to participate, and it promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) first, but also promotes self-confidence, team-building skills. It promotes things that don't have to do with just building robots, like speech and art."

 

 

 

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