By STEVEN NALLEY
Local teams will represent two Starkville schools at a region-wide Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) robotics competition this weekend.
Both the Millsaps Career and Technology Center and Starkville Christian School Robotics teams placed high enough in the Mississippi’s BEST competition at Armstrong Middle School Oct. 27 to advance to the South’s BEST competition at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. Saturday and Sunday.
The competition tests teams’ ability to not only build robots but also to market them; each team functions as a mock corporation that creates marketing materials, builds display booths, gives oral presentations and solicits sponsors. Awards are given for each of these facets, as well as a BEST Award for teams who perform best across the board.
In just its second year fielding a BEST robotics team, Millsaps received the BEST Award at the state level in October, with SCS in second place for that award. Nick Kolbet, a senior at Starkville High School serving as the Millsaps team’s CEO, said he was excited to see his team succeed.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” Kolbet said. “They’ve worked so hard for it. Being my last year here, it’s really great that we get to go on and live up to our full potential this year.”
Dale Jordan, a mentor for the SCS BEST robotics team, said this is the students’ fourth year to compete, but it is their first year to go to the regional level. He said the students are looking forward to the experience of advancing to BEST’s next level.
“We just feel we have been very blessed to compete at this level,” Jordan said. “We have some great kids, and they have learned a tremendous amount about not only the robotics part of the competition but also the marketing and public relations. It’s been just like being in a company; they’ve had a marketing team, a production team (and) an engineering team.”
One of the Millsaps team’s faculty coaches, Denise Adair, said she is proud of the students as well, and she is glad to see them learning business skills that will help them later in life. While there is a national-level BEST robotics competition some years, she said there is no such competition this year, making South’s BEST the highest level of competition the students can reach.
“These people put in hours and hours of hard work, and it’s really paying off in just their second year of participating,” Adair said. “It means a lot to me to see them grow the way they have.”
Adair said the adjustments the team is making for the regional level mostly boil down to fine-tuning. Kolbet said the team has garnered more sponsorship funds, largely for the trip to Auburn, but the mock corporation element of the team will not change much.
“I know as far as the marketing and presentation team, we’ve added more slides,” Kolbet said. “We’ve tweaked it, but it’s nothing super extensive.”
Denise Adair’s son, SHS freshman Marshall Adair, is coordinator and driver for the team’s robotics division, and he said little will change on the robotics front as well. He said this is largely because the robot was built for consistency from the start, and the team wants to maintain that consistency at the regional level.
BEST robotics competitions use a different theme with different goals each year, and this year’s robots are model space elevators designed to carry cargo up a wooden pole to a receptacle at the top. Marshall said there are multiple different types of cargo that robots can carry from the bottom of the pole to the top receptacle, but their robot is specifically designed to carry one — a “light cargo ball,” represented by a softball-sized whiffle ball.
“A lot of teams are going for the other types of objects, like the two liter bottles that represent fuel tanks, but we were going for simplicity and reliability,” Marshall said. “We can get all four (light cargo balls) and hit the summit indicator switch. We can get 15 points, including the bonus for going up and down the pole. Some (teams) might be able to score higher than us, but they can’t do it every time. We can score that amount every single time.”
Jordan said the SCS team robot uses an arm designed to pick up several different types of cargo models, but the SCS team members have declined to make fundamental alterations to their robot as well.
“The kids wanted to know (about) the regional level,” Jordan said. “We decided rather than just try to reinvent the wheel, we would just go with the robot we have and just gain the experience of going over there.”