Members of the Wetumpka High robotics team stand with its overall first-place trophy. Contributed photo
Members of the Wetumpka High robotics team stand with its overall first-place trophy. Contributed photo

WHS Robotics the BEST across the Southeast

Published 12:56pm Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wetumpka High School’s robotics team reclaimed the title of regional champion at last  weekend’s South’s BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) Robotics Championship at Auburn University.

Wetumpka’s “SteAm Machine” won first place overall, besting 55 other teams from across six states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana.

“The team did extremely well even though this was a rebuilding year for us,” said team sponsor Dr. Virginia Vilardi, WHS science teacher and science department chair.

The overall winner is determined by a tabulation of scores in several categories, including robot performance, engineering design notebook, marketing presentation, team exhibit, interview, team spirit and sportsmanship. Awards are made based on established competition criteria.

Category awards captured by Wetumpka were first place Simulink Design Award, third place engineering notebook, third place code talker scavenger hunt, fourth place team exhibit, fourth place marketing presentation and fourth place spirit/sportsmanship.

“All of this plus the performance of the robot led to the team being awarded first place BEST overall,” said Vilardi.

The winning team from each region will receive a trophy and be recognized on the BEST and the regional championship’s website.

All members of the winning team will receive a MathWorks Baseball Cap and a copy of the MATLAB and Simulink Student Version.

Vilardi said the regional contest was the finale of this year’s competition, since a national competition is no longer held.

This year’s BEST challenge was “Gatekeeper 2013.” The playing field involved a horizontal conveyer belt to transport the robot to three different stages in building a central processing unit. Robots were required to collect transistors to make gates then assemble the gates to create integrated circuits to build the CPU.

Competing in BEST requires intensive work and cooperation.

Earlier in the school year, competing teams received a kit of standardized parts and the details of this year’s challenge. Teams subsequently vied at a “mall day” contest – a sort of dry run for competitors, then continued to competition at regional hubs. Wetumpka High participated in War Eagle BEST and finished in second place.

BEST is a middle school and high school robotics program, now in its 21st year nationally and 13th year in Alabama, that is available to all schools at no cost. It is the third-largest educational robotics program in the nation.

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.

Five schools from the War Eagle BEST hub competed at the South’s BEST championship – Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, Lee-Scott Academy, Saint James School, Springwood School and Wetumpka High School.

There are 35 full-time members of the WHS team and about 10 additional part-time and middle school team members.

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