Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Gary Eckstein works on Priceville's robot as he helps prepare for the BEST competition this weekend at Calhoun Community College.
BEST battle returns to Mars
Calhoun hosts 18 high
school robotic teams
By Bayne Hughes
email@example.com · 340-2432
The Tennessee Valley BEST is moving to Calhoun Community College and then returning to space.
After a year of solving the laundry quandary, the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology robotics competition is returning to Mars to search for life.
It's the year 2021, and a Martian base exists. The base is ready to receive supplies before the arrival of the astronauts.
Students from 18 North Alabama schools, including Austin, Decatur and Priceville high schools and Athens Bible School, built or are building robots to unload an automated supply vehicle and deliver the supplies to the Martian base.
After several years at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, the competition moves to Calhoun.
The robots have three minutes to exit the base, drive across the hot Martian surface, drive up onto the ASV, load supplies and then deliver the supplies to the base. The teams get 40 points for each fuel bottle delivered and five, 15 or 25 for each box of supplies delivered.
The competition is Saturday in Calhoun's Carlton Kelley Gymnasium.
Each team got a box of materials five weeks ago, including motors, transmitter and receiver, PVC piping, plywood, electrical wire and much more to build the robot. They could also add items like golf tees, golf balls, coat hangers and aluminum cans.
The students from Austin, Decatur and Priceville said their groups held meetings to discuss robot concepts and strategies. While their robot designs are unique, Austin and Priceville said they built their robots to go for the bottles.
"We brainstormed about which (bottles or boxes) we would go for and how we would do it," Priceville senior Stephanie Varner said. "We decided it would be hard to go for both in the time we have."
Decatur was still building its robot this week, but senior Blake Lankford said the design is to pick up one or two bottles and boxes at a time, load the robot and then deliver the supplies to the base.
The students changed their robots several times as they tried new ways to accomplish their goals. Austin junior Jon Moore said they tried different materials for the claws, including a coat hanger and using nails like a rake, before cutting plywood into the shape of a baseball bat rack.
Each team assigns a driver and a spotter for each race. Austin senior Heather Sawyer said this takes strategy, too. She said the arena often gets too noisy to hear voice commands so she and another spotter worked out special sign language for the competition.
The students had to record their concepts and strategy sessions, their schematics, the building process in an engineering notebook. They also have to build a display, promote their team and the competition, and show school spirit.
These areas go into what's called the "BEST" competition. This is separate from the robotics competition. Priceville won the Tennessee Valley BEST competition last year and finished second at the South's BEST competition at Auburn University.
"The keys to winning BEST is the booth has to meet all of the requirements, and you've got to show a lot of spirit," said Priceville senior Tim Savoy.
The teams are competing to advance to the South's BEST Regional Robotics Championship on Dec. 7-8 at Auburn. They will compete against teams from 10 other BEST competitions in nine states for a chance to advance to the East Regional Championship.
The BEST event starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in Calhoun Community College’s Carlton Kelley Gymnasium. After a morning of driver meetings, practice and oral presentations, the robotics competition starts at 1 p.m. The schedule calls for the championship round to start at 4:45 p.m., with the awards ceremony at 5:30.
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