Campus Life

UWF hosts BEST Robotics Competition for local students

Screaming fans, pep bands and referees may seem like the makings of a high-energy football or basketball game, but the attendees at Saturday’s BEST Robotics Competition were treated to a different type of sport. The event brought together 20 middle- and high-school teams from the local area to face off in a competition involving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills.

The objective of the teams was to design and build a robot to safely handle mock bugs and/or food and carefully transport them from their current location to one of three containment areas. Four robots are in the game at one time, and each round is three minutes long.

“The excitement is crazy,” said Nate Collins, a father of one of the Escambia High School competitors. “Who knew teens could be this excited over science and math? All the schools are doing really well. I wish I had these types of opportunities as a student.”

The real work began long before the day of competition. Representatives from the teams met Sept. 17 to see a brief presentation of the game and were issued two kits of parts used to build the robots. Teachers and volunteer mentors were allowed to assist the students constructing the robot. The robots are remote-controlled.

On Oct. 22, a week before the competition, teams met to practice and fine-tune their skills. Finally, on Oct. 29, approximately 1,300 teachers, mentors, students and spectators gathered for the grand finale.

“Everyone seems to be having a great time,” said Maureen Graham, a mother whose children wanted to attend the competition. She adjusted her earplugs and pointed to the bleachers filled with screaming fans. “It’s great for the campus to do this on a Saturday. This type of thing introduces kids to the college and these kinds of programs. It’s crazy that these events can get people as excited as football and other sports can.”

Awards are based on sportsmanship, creative design, exhibits and interviews, among other things, and are designed to introduce team members to other skills that successful engineers and technologists will need in an industrial environment.

The competition is broken down like a traditional sports competition, with semifinal and final rounds deciding the ultimate winner.

Woodlawn Beach Middle School, Woodham Middle School and Seaside Elementary School won the BEST Award and will progress to the regional competition Dec. 2 and 3 at Auburn University.

“The teams demonstrated an outstanding balance of project management, engineering and programming applications, robot design, presentation skills and overall team work,” said Michelle Lockhart, HUB director of Emerald Coast BEST. “This event is a great introduction of UWF to future students and further emphasizes the university’s commitment to STEM outreach.”