By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Hundreds of students from all over Mississippi and Louisiana gathered Saturday morning at the Raspet Flight Laboratory in Starkville to receive the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (B.E.S.T.) Robotics challenge.
B.E.S.T. challenges students from eighth through twelfth grade to come design and build a robot that will complete a specific challenge, and in turn spark an interest in engineering and technology.
This year’s theme is “Bugs” - a group of genetically engineered creepy critters have escaped from a lab and each team will need to build a robot to collect them before they escape, said Eric Heiselt, who is running the program with the help of the Bagley College of Engineering. The robots will have to be able to maneuver through a course filled with obstacles to collect termites, flies and cockroaches - 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.
Each team will have three containment areas where they can store the bugs. Teams will get extra points for sorting the bugs out into separate containers, but it is not mandatory. The bugs will have to be kept fed, however, and the robots will need to collect tennis balls to feed them.
Different teams will be on the course at the same time, which will make the challenge even more competitive between teams.
The 19 Mississippi B.E.S.T. teams will have just over a month to design, build and test their robot. Throughout that process, the teams will have to create a technical notebook that will chart their progress. Each team will also have to come up with a marketing campaign to promote their robot and create an exhibit booth for display at the competition.
The competition will take place at the end of October at Starkville High School. This will be the first year that SHS and Millsaps Career and Technology Center will have a team in the competition.
“This is exciting. I think we have a lot of work cut out for us, but I think the students are really excited and ready to get started,” team coach Denise Adaire said. “The first year is always the hardest, though.”
Several instructors from Millsaps will act as coaches for the students, but the design and execution will be all student led.
Though this will be a new challenge for the students, the team was already brainstorming ideas minutes after the theme was announced.
“It’s going to be fun and difficult at the same time, but we have the potential to become awesome,” Emoree Heiselt said.
Team members also said they were thankful for a home field advantage, which will give them an opportunity to get set up and prepared.
Mississippi State University and the Bagley College of Engineering is a huge sponsor of the program, but B.E.S.T. also got some help from companies like Caterpillar, Milwaukee Tools and Sleep Innovations, which each donated funds or supplies to the teams.
One of the aspects of the challenge is spirit and sportsmanship, and the Starkville High School team is counting on the community showing up to support them. For more information on the competition, visit http://www.msbest.msstate.edu .