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October 15, 2013

Robotics competition to bring out ‘best of the BEST’

Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein tells the story of a man who, remarkably, brings a creature to life using science, and a few extraordinary means.

 Sam Houston State University has challenged area students to be like Dr. Frankenstein, but without the horrific consequences, by using science, technology, engineering and mathematics to bring a creature of their own to life as part of the annual SET BEST Robotics Competition.

 Those students will put the results of their hard work to the test as they compete against the projects of other schools at SHSU’s Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum on Game Day, scheduled for Oct. 26. Sponsored by the SHSU computer science department, the SHSU College of Sciences, and the former Brazos BEST hub in Bryan, the event will kick off at 9:30 a.m. and will include oral presentations, an exhibit and the robotics game competition.

 The Boosting Engineering Science and Technology Robotics Competition challenges middle- and high-school students to take everyday components and create a “robot” that then competes in a timed obstacle course.

 Students in seventh through 12th grades build their robots over the course of six weeks using kits they receive from SHSU filled with plywood, PVC pipes and fittings, plastic and metal sheets, electrical cables, duct tape, screws, nuts, Velcro, rubber bands, and, this year, a rollerblade wheel and an axle.

Following this year’s “Gatekeeper 2013” theme, students have been asked to explore a central processing unit-style obstacle course, using their robots to build a “CPU” in three stages—first, they will maneuver their robot to collect and insert “transistors” (wooden dowels) into the model computer; then, they use the robot to fabricate an “integrated circuit” (clothes hangers); and finally, the CPU will be completed by adding a “core processor” and “memory module,” according to Li-Jen Shannon, assistant professor of computer science and SET BEST hub director.  

Through all of this, students learn basic STEM components as they come to understand the engineering associated with creating their robot to perform these tasks, aswell as the basics of the inside of a computer in “building” their CPU, Shannon said.

“The CPU is the part of a computer that performs the arithmetic, logic and control functions. The internal components are composed of different combinations of logic gates (hence the“gatekeeper” theme) to perform various logical functions for the CPU,” she said. “The participants must understand how the logic design works in the computing technology.”

Teams are scored on each stage of the course, as well as on their engineering notebook; sportsmanship; a marketing and oral presentation; and an exhibition related to the annual theme. The best overall score wins the competition.

This year’s SET BEST will include 23 teams, seven from area middle schools and 16 from high schools, bringing what Shannon estimates to be more than 800 people to the coliseum on Game Day.

“This event creates the opportunities of discovering interests in STEM to the entire community, including the college students (as volunteers), the participants in middle and high schools, the team coaches and mentors, the parents and friends of the participants, and the local sponsors,” Shannon said.  “The students are able to see how the robots could impact us in our daily activities and events.”

SHSU students interested in filling some of the many volunteer roles needed to conduct the event are encouraged to contact Shannon or visit before Oct. 19.  

More than 120 SHSU students and faculty from the departments of agriculture and industrial sciences, curriculum and instruction, and computer science volunteered at last year’s Game Day as mentors and judges for some of the many categories. Those volunteering as judges will receive online training for the area they will judge.

“I believe that our volunteers really enjoy contributing their time to help out this event, because many students and faculty have been asking about the game day since the first day of this semester,” Shannon said.

Those in the SHSU and Huntsville communities who are interested in seeing the robots in action on Game Day can attend for free.


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