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By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Middle and high school students from all over the state are preparing for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics competition to be held at Starkville High School this weekend.
BEST Robotics aims to inspire an interest in science, engineering and technology in young students. Mississippi State Universityâ€™s Bagley College of Engineering is a sponsor of the event.
Starkville will be represented by three different teams â€” Starkville High School Millsaps Career and Technology Centerâ€™s BEST Robotics Club, Starkville Christian Schoolâ€™s SCS CougarBots and the Starkville Christian Home Educatorsâ€™s SCHE Eclipse Robotics Spectre.
Several weeks ago, the teams gathered in Starkville to receive their challenge. This yearâ€™s theme is â€śBugs,â€ť and the teams are charged with using their robots to collect genetically engineered insects that have escaped from a lab. The robots will have to be able to maneuver through an obstacle course to collect termites, flies and cockroaches â€” not real ones of course, but rather bags filled with pinto beans, suspended styrofoam balls and small battery-operated toys that will be in constant motion. Several teams will be on the course at the same time.
â€śI would say that this one is going to be harder than the last few, but none of them are alike, so thatâ€™s to be expected,â€ť Starkville Christian team member Caleb Jordan said.
The teams had just a few weeks to design, build and test their robots. They also have to build a display booth, create a full technical notebook to track their progress, write a full research paper on the topic and design a marketing campaign that will sell their robot. Besides the performance and technical aspects, the teams will also be judged on their team spirit and creativity.
â€śGenerally, it involves a lot of surprises at the beginning of the competition, a lot of last minute changes, too,â€ť Veronica Leach, who is on the SCHE team, said. â€śIt can be pretty stressful at times, but itâ€™s always a lot of fun.â€ť
The SCHE team has designed a simple computer game based on the genetically engineered bug theme, created a scrapbook filled with pictures of the design and building process and made a website that updates members, family and friends on their progress.
Each team usually splits up into a number of smaller teams to work on different aspects of the project: a robot construction team, a spirit team, a booth design team and a notebook team, to name a few. Even students who may not have a specific interest in engineering can find a place on the team.
â€śThatâ€™s the great part. Iâ€™m not up in the shop the whole time because, you know, Iâ€™m not a big power tool person. Thereâ€™s a job for anybody who wants to do anything,â€ť SCHE team vice president Jessica Savage said.
There are 20 teams participating in the competition and while most teams are from Mississippi, there are also two teams from Memphis and New Orleans.
The SHS team is one of several rookie teams participating in the competition this year.
The teams that are ranked first and second place at this weekendâ€™s competition will move on to the regional competition in Auburn. The Starkville Christian team said it was determined to beat its friends on the SCHE and SHS teams.
The competition will begin tonight at 5 p.m. with registration, driving practice and the oral presentations. The robot matches will begin at approximately 9:15 a.m. tomorrow morning and run throughout the day.
The public is welcome and encouraged to come cheer on their favorite teams.