Area schools earn top honors at 10th annual Emerald Coast BEST Robotics Competition

The University of West Florida hosted the 10th annual Emerald Coast BEST Robotics competition on Saturday, Oct. 28. The project-based STEM program inspires middle and high school students to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology through participation in a sport-like competition to design, program and build a robot.

This year, 585 students from 22 schools in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties participated in the six-week program, beginning with the kickoff event on Sept. 16 and ending with Saturday’s Game Day competition.

The winners of this year’s event, who will compete at the regional championship at Auburn University in December, include Seaside Neighborhood School, Pensacola Catholic High School,
Woodlawn Beach Middle School and Brown Barge Middle School.

Sam Russel, hub director for Emerald Coast BEST Robotics and program manager and instructor in the UWF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said the annual competition is helping prepare today’s students for the future workforce.

“Studies are showing that over the next few decades, the majority of jobs will require a higher knowledge of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence,” Russel said. “Students need to be ready, and this competition gives them the opportunity to start learning those necessary skills, providing a ‘heads up’ for their future careers.”

As part of the program, students and teachers are invited to attend programming classes taught by UWF engineering faculty members. The trainings, as well as the kits and resources to build the robots for the competition, are funded by the University and provided at no cost to area schools.

Funding for the program is provided through the University’s partnership with industry leaders, including Gulf Power, AT&T and International Paper, as well as organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Northwest Florida Section and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Northwest Florida Chapter, in an effort to bridge a pathway between K-12 education, college and industry needs. The ultimate goal is to educate and retain the leaders of tomorrow to bring innovation to the Gulf Coast. Each competition is based on a real life product-to-market scenario that gives students the opportunity to experience exactly what it takes to start a business. Teams competing for the overall “BEST” award gave marketing presentations to convince potential investors that they were the best for the job.

This year’s theme was fighting fires using robots. Teams were tasked with building fire-fighting robots capable of rescuing a mannequin, removing hazardous material and putting out a fire.

Russel credited Vaughn Nichols, electrical engineer and key account manager for health care and universities at Gulf Power, with working hand in hand with the University to provide engineers for training sessions, participate in the event’s steering committee and judging the competition.

For more information about the UWF Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering, visit