While some robots flipped and fell over, Bridgeport High School students drove their robot to victory Saturday at the University of North Texas Coliseum during the re-installment of the Denton County BEST Robotics competition.
Eleven Denton County schools put their robotics skills to the test Saturday in a daylong competition after spending six weeks designing and constructing a robot meant to simulate picking up trash from the ocean.
This competition was the first local Boosting Engineering Science and Technology Robotics competition since 2013, when the Denton County program was discontinued due to lack of funding.
BEST Robotics Inc. is a nonprofit organization that aims to motivate students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. DC BEST was re-established this year with the help of a $15,000 grant from the Texas A&M Nuclear Power Institute to UNT.
“[Students are] learning about possibly using robots to clean up the ocean,” said Leticia Anaya, a UNT engineering professor who serves as the director of DC BEST Robotics. “The other thing is using robots to construct reefs and saving wildlife.”
Local schools included the Texas Academy of Math and Science at UNT, Guyer High School, Pilot Point High School and Argyle High School.
Students made the robots over the last six weeks using materials from two kits, Anaya said. The first kit contained materials such as wood and PVC pipes, and the second contained electronic and mechanical components.
“[Students] had a mentor that worked with them after school,” Anaya said. “They got together after school together and brainstormed ideas — how they’re going to go about solving the problem and the challenges they face.”
They also had tools and materials on standby Saturday at the UNT Coliseum just in case something went wrong — multiple robots fell off the ramp throughout the day and were taken back to the table for touch-ups.
While the teams were large, only three students from each team were allowed on the field during competition. Team members had to stay within boundaries outlined in tape to avoid disqualification.
Four teams competed during each match. The teams were given a minute to attach their robot onto wooden ramps a few feet off the ground. Then they had three minutes to drive the robot to the end of their ramp.
On the way to the end, teams could earn points by completing tasks such as picking up a bottle, placing it in a box and raising their box, Anaya said.
One student moved the robot with a remote control, another stood by to catch anything the robot picked up and dropped to place in their box, and the last student stood at the end of the ramp where the robot was supposed to travel.
UNT engineering students served as referees during the matches. One student was placed at each team corner and another served as the head referee, monitoring everyone.
While robotic performance was a big part of the competition, the schools were competing in five categories total: the engineering notebook, marketing presentation, table display, spirit/sportsmanship and performance.
TAMS team member Amogh Dambal, who has participated in robotics contests before, said he learned more about adaptability and pushing past boundaries.
“It’s been different this year with the robot starting elevated and not on the ground,” Dambal said. “As a team, we had to adapt every part of the technological aspects.”
Another member, Riya Kumar, said the program introduced juniors in TAMS to the robotics field. At the start of the six-week program, she said there were students who did not know how to operate a drill.
Those members are now capable of holding their own in the robotics competition, Kumar said.
Guyer team member Rachel Hughes was one of three students presenting at Guyer’s table.
“Even though [the competition] is a simulated field, it translates to real life,” Hughes said.
The team named their company Guyer Gyre Cleanup Inc. An ocean gyre is a system of rotating ocean currents that will trap any trash that gets in.
“Any trash that gets there stays there,” Hughes said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much trash is in the ocean.”
Miguel Benitez said the team members had their own lab where they could work on their robot. Hughes said this lab is amazing for them because robotics at Guyer started in a garage six years ago.
“[With a new lab we’re] able to gain more members and explore more of the STEM field,” Benitez said. “We have the tools to show [students] how it all works. It helps prepare us for college.”