Robotics competition at Auburn University helps prepare tomorrow’s leaders

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The public will have an opportunity to witness firsthand the enthusiastic, sports-like environment surrounding the final competition of BEST, the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology robotics program, as one of the 2012 regional championships takes place on the Auburn University campus in the Auburn Arena on Dec. 1-2.

Matches begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, and the competition will continue on Sunday, Dec. 2, beginning at 9:30 a.m. The event will conclude by 5 p.m. Sunday.

Answering the nation’s need for more and better-prepared workers in scientific, industrial and technological fields, BEST is a middle school and high school robotics program, now in its 20th year nationally and 12th year in Alabama, that is available to all schools at no cost. The not-for-profit, all-volunteer program challenges students to design and build a robot to use in a six-week-long series of competitions, culminating in a regional championship.

The championship, “South’s BEST,” will include teams from Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. During the competition, teams will compete in a series of head-to-head matches on two playing fields designed for this year’s game titled, “Warp XX.” The theme behind Warp XX is the space elevator, presenting a real-world engineering challenge of transporting supplies to and from the International Space Station on a tethered cable. Teams have been tasked with designing and building a robot capable of climbing a 13-foot pole to carry and deliver essential items – fuel cells, solar panels, habitation modules, etc. – to and from the space station located at the top of the pole.

In addition to robot performance, teams will compete to receive awards for their engineering design notebook, marketing presentation, team exhibit, interview, team spirit and sportsmanship. Awards are given based on criteria such as demonstrated teamwork, a positive attitude and enthusiasm, school and community involvement, and creativity.

Recent statistics provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, www.oecd.org, indicate the U.S. is lagging behind in science and mathematics achievement in K-12 classrooms. Furthermore, OECD measured the ability of 15-year-old students to apply their scientific and mathematics knowledge, and the U.S. ranked near the bottom among the 29 countries participating in the study. In reference to the OECD study, the National Science Foundation, www.nsf.gov, issued a warning that in order for the U.S. to maintain worldwide economic leadership, K-12 students must be better prepared to become tomorrow’s leaders.

BEST is the third largest educational robotics program in the nation and is the only one that is free to schools.

“BEST works because students are the sole participants and primary decision-makers, designers and builders for the competition,” said Mary Lou Ewald, director of outreach in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. “BEST is successful because students have an opportunity to interact with industry leaders, technical professionals and engineers who act as mentors, guiding them through the challenges they face while designing, building, promoting and competing in the BEST Robotics program. Students gain skills and hone talents they will use as members of the future workforce, including: abstract thought, self-directed learning, teamwork, project management, decision making, problem solving and leadership.”

The primary objective of the BEST Robotics program is to: provide students with a real-world engineering experience that incorporates the practical application of math and science; prepare students to be technologically literate and thus better prepared to enter the workforce; help students develop leadership, project management, teamwork and organizational skills; and develop confidence and competence.

For more information, including a schedule of events and a complete list of participating schools, go to the website at www.southsbest.org.

(Written by Candis Birchfield.)

Contact: Carol Nelson, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (nelsoc4@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)