By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The Starkville High School gym was packed Saturday afternoon with screaming fans, but the Yellowjackets hadn’t gotten an early start on their basketball season — these fans were there for the robots.
Mississippi State University’s Bagley College of Engineering hosted teams from all over the state for the Mississippi Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics competition. The teams of middle and high school students spent the last few weeks designing and building a robot that could work through a course and collect “genetically engineered bugs,” which were actually bags of beans, styrofoam balls and small toys that were constantly in motion.
The competition is very high energy, with some teams bringing their own musical instruments — or in the Millsaps BEST team’s case, the Starkville High School band. The teams cheer each other on as their teammates face off on the course.
The teams were judged based on their robots performance, a technical notebook that tracked their progress, a research paper, a marketing booth and team spirit.
“If your robot works great, that’s great, but we want to talk about the entire picture,” Eric Heiselt, who organized the event, said. “It’s that entire picture that opens it up to all of the students. It’s not just the students that love math and science and robotics, because the drama kids are very involved with the presentations and the art kids are very involved in the design of the shirts, website and booths.”
The Starkville Christian Home Educators’ “Eclipse” team took home the BEST Award, the top prize in the competition for overall achievement. It was the team’s fifth year participating in the competition and their experience paid off in the end.
“I think it was a really tough competition this year. All of the other teams did really, really well. I wasn’t really quite sure who would win,” team President Miandra Maiers said. “We worked really hard and I think it was our experience that got us this far just because this is our fifth year in the competition so instead of having to try to figure out how we were going to do what we were going to do, we knew how to do it.”
Though their robot did not perform the best in the competition, they excelled in many of the other areas of the competition, earning them the top marks.
The Holy Cross “Robotigers” team from New Orleans took home the prize for best robot. The Lausanne Collegiate School team from Memphis and the Alcorn Central High School Technology Discovery’s “Bear Bots” team from Glen also topped the list.
These top four teams will move on to the South’s BEST Robotics Competition at Auburn University, a much larger competition featuring around 40 different teams from around the southeastern United States.
The Millsaps BEST’s “BuzzBots” team won the “Rookie of the Year” and the “People’s Choice” awards.
“It’s very exciting. When we started this, our phrase was, ‘Let’s just keep the wheels on.’ So, the fact that we’re doing so well is pretty exciting,” team coach Denise Adair said.
Even though it was their first year in the competition, the BuzzBots held the lead throughout most of the robotics competition, but some technical difficulties caused them to fall behind.
The BEST Robotics Competition aims to inspire an interest in science, engineering, math and technology in students and hopefully prepare them for a future career in the field. For more information about the competition, visit http://www.msbest.msstate.edu .