UC s Second-Annual BEST Robotics Competition Kicks Off With 11 Schools At The Starting Line

  Local high school teams “got the right stuff” at UC — But what can they build with all the stuff they got? Students and teachers attended the kick-off Saturday, Sept. 25, at UC to get their materials and view the game floor for this year’s contest.

BEST Robotics, Inc. (BRI), is a non-profit, volunteer organization started in Dallas in 1992. From the initial 14 competing schools with 221 students, today BEST competitions are held all over the United States. More than 700 middle and high schools participate, involving more than 8,000 students, teachers and mentors. There is no fee for schools to compete in BEST. This fall, UC is hosting a BEST competition for the second time, with a 100% increase in the number of schools participating in 2003.

“Squeaky the Robot is not doing so well,” says Mark Fassler, an information tech analyst in the College of Applied Science. UC's BEST competition is a joint effort between the colleges of Applied Science and Engineering. Fassler takes the designs supplied to him by the national BEST team and builds the game floor for the competition here at UC. BRI sends out a call each year, two years in advance, for designing the game floor. Each scenario is based on some challenge that Squeaky must face. They prefer to use each game floor for three to four years, to keep costs down, and try to use materials that are readily available, inexpensive and easily moved.

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  So what’s Squeaky’s problem this time? According to

BRI’s web site

, Squeaky has BEST fever. The designers feel that his DNA is messed up. This DNA, in the form of 850 playpen balls, must be denatured, sorted and re-sequenced. There are also tennis balls, otherwise known as “PCR Primers” that must be separated from the DNA playpen balls. Added to the students’ challenge is that this year their robots must be stationary while they separate the DNA from the PCR Primers, kind of like a giant “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” game.

“That means that their robots have to have an arm with a 4- to 4½-foot extension,” says Fassler. “But the entire robot has to fit inside a 2-foot square cube.”

Fassler almost turns over his whole life to the BEST competition during the six weeks of competition, as well as the weeks preceding. He even drafted his wife and son to help with painting one weekend to get the game floor ready in time for the kick-off. Fassler gets a real kick out of the results.

“The neatest thing for me was on game day last year. Hughes High School was there,” says Fassler. “Now the kids at Hughes might not seem to have much, but they built the robot and it worked. On game day, they even brought their marching band! They cheered on their team and they cheered on the other schools’ teams! That team spirit really moved me.”

Eleven schools will field twelve teams in 2004:

Glen Este High School
Harmony Community School
Hughes High School
Loveland High School
Northwest High School
Roger Bacon High School
Ross High School
Scott County High School
Sycamore High School
Ursuline Academy
Western Hills Design Tech High School

Over the next few weeks, the teams will design and build their robots, working with their teachers and an assigned mentor. Sycamore High School has twice the challenge — they’re fielding two teams. So how are things going?

“All is well with our two teams,” says Sycamore’s Mel Hoffert. “The project management structure that we have in place is working well; the mentors have been very helpful; and the students are making good design and development progress. Thanks for this opportunity!”

“So far, so good for Loveland,” says teacher Sue Evans. “We have met with our mentor David Conrad and the students have started.”

Ray Prueitt from Glen Este High School reports similar status.

“Our robot is coming along fine,” he says. “We have our design figured out and have begun the construction process. Next week we hope to finish the body and install wiring and motors the week after that.”

Not all teams are in the building stage yet. At least one school is spending more time on design than the others.

“We are just now in the concepts stage,” says Tom O'Neill, IT Instructor for Ross High School / Butler Tech. “I have four teams working together to determine the best design before we even begin to build. This is a great challenge.”

Other schools are chomping at the bit. Excitement is definitely building at Scott County High School in Georgetown, Kentucky, according to science teacher Leigh Ellen Baird.

“Students have started their time line of the design and electrical building to keep the whole student body informed,” she reports. “A Pep rally is in the planning to send the ‘Cardinal Cure’ to Cincinnati for the robot and BEST competitions. The students are excited with their T-shirt design, fund raising and sponsor hunt.”  Scott County is on fall break this week, giving students and teachers a much-needed respite in the middle of a condensed schedule.

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  On Oct. 30, the teams will assemble at the Cincinnati Museum Center for “Mall Day” to test run their robots on the game floor. The teams can use the following week to tweak their robots to obtain their maximum performance on “Game Day,” which will take place at the Cincinnati Convention Center on Nov. 6.

What school will have the best BEST robot? Stay tuned to find out!

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