Science & Technology

Local students compete in 2018 Emerald Coast BEST Robotics competition hosted by UWF

The University of West Florida hosted the 11th annual Emerald Coast BEST Robotics competition on Saturday, Nov. 3. BEST, also known as Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology, is a project-based STEM program that 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.

Students from Woodlawn Beach Middle School competing in the Emerald Coast BEST Robotics competition on Nov. 3, 2018

This year, more than 800 students from 29 schools in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties participated, making Emerald Coast BEST Robotics the second largest hub in the Southeast.

“The increased enrollment of schools in BEST is a testament to the success of the program,” said Sam Russel, hub director for Emerald Coast BEST Robotics and instructor in UWF’s electrical and computer engineering department. “The fact that twenty-nine schools signed up for this year’s competition is an indication of the growing interest in STEM fields and robotics.”

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

Each BEST project is designed to teach teamwork, problem solving, project management and pride in task completion within the constraints of a short time period and limited material resources. This program puts teams from middle and high schools across the region in head-to-head competition. Each student team has six weeks to design and build a remote-controlled robot to solve a problem or perform a specific function. Students build their robots from a materials kit provided by the hub. Each team is judged on its robot performance, oral presentation, table display, project notebook, spirit and sportsmanship.

This year’s theme was “Saving Sea Turtles by Cleaning up Plastics Polluting the Oceans.”

At this year’s event, Gulf Power Foundation announced a $50,000 gift for Emerald Coast BEST Robotics. The gift, which will be given over a span of five years, will help to expand the program beyond the four counties that participate and assist in the cost for students to compete. No fees are paid by participating students or schools.

“I have competed three times at BEST and it is always so fun and interesting,” said Chris Brown, eighth grader at Beulah Middle School. “It is awesome to know Gulf Power provides gifts to let us take home the kits with us and continue to learn.”

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.

“The number of participating schools is limited only by available funding, since there are no sign up fees or kit costs to be paid by schools,” said Russel. “However, as more funding becomes available, we intend to increase the number of participating schools and the geographical footprint to include more counties in Northwest Florida.”

For more information on Emerald Coast BEST Robotics, visit the website.