Robotics "Test Drive" Brings Area Students to the BRIC
by Gary Stokes, Office of the Vice Provost for Research

WACO, TEXAS - The BRIC was abuzz recently with hundreds of middle and high school students from nearly two dozen Central Texas schools as they took the opportunity to "test drive" team-built robots of their own design.

The Saturday, October 12 event was organized by Texas State Technical College Waco in preparation for a local robotics competition that is part of a national contest conducted each year by BEST Robotics, Inc., a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that conducts the sports-like robotics contests to interest students in careers in engineering science, technology or math. BEST, which stands for "Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology," has over 50 local "hubs" in 19 states. The Heart of Texas (HOT) BEST hub is sponsored by TSTC Waco.

Each school's team is provided with kits of materials - two-by-fours, plywood, PVC, circuit boards, motors, etc. The goal is to design and build a radio-controlled robot that can achieve a specific objective determined in advance by the national organization. This year, teams must build robots that can grasp, lift and place wooden dowels, plastic clothes hangers, and other objects into various containers that represent components of a central processing unit or "CPU," the electronic device that constitutes the "brain" of a computer. It's a daunting task that involves close teamwork and a fair amount of "real-world" pressure. Trey Pearson, TSTC Waco's GEAR UP coordinator, is the HOT BEST hub's director.

"No one can do anything until BEST announces what the competition will consist of," Pearson says. "Once the teams get their kits they have just 42 days - six weeks - to design and build their robots. (Today's) test drive comes at the halfway point; it's the first time they all have a chance to see the game course and try out their machines on it."

Though the teams all start with exactly the same set of materials, creativity plays a big part in the competition. "We have twenty-two teams represented here, and when we're done we'll have twenty-two different robots," Pearson says.

The area competition will be held November 2 at University High School in Waco.

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.