Robotics team faces the final frontier

Robotics team members cheer on their robot during their recent competition in Fort Smith.

COLBY QUALLS – Hoof Prints Editor

As match three of the Frontier Trails BEST Robotics competition finished, the coaches of the participating teams of the two previous matches were summoned together. Steve Brummett filed with the other coaches off stage waiting for the judges to address the technical problems that arose during the matches in question. He rocked back and forth on his heels as the once noisy gymnasium was hushed. The call would determine the course of the rest of the tournament.

A voice over the PA system asked the coaches to come onto the court where the matches were being held. The coaches shuffled restlessly into a line that spread out in front of the main table.

“We have called you all down here for urgent business,” a voice over the PA system said. “It’s time for you to show us your moves in a dance competition.”

Mr. Brummett’s cheeks changed shades from white to scarlet. His head whipped around in unison with the other coaches. Even though some of the other coaches proceeded to “break it down,” Mr. Brummett slightly bounced up and down in rhythm with the music. This bizarre occurrence set the care-free tone for the tournament in general.

Other members on the team found the trip to be disheartening though. Caleb Miller, a senior on the team, was one of many that sincerely believed they would qualify for the national competition in Orlando this year. Only the top four teams in the robotics competition and the top four teams in the BEST competition are able to advance. They were approximately ranked tenth in both categories out of 40 or so teams.

“I really thought we were going to do better this year,” Caleb Miller said. “The challenge wasn’t really harder than last year. It was about the same.”

The change of controllers was also believed to be in their advantage. During the previous competitions, the controllers were similar in shape and function as those used for toy cars. The members found them to be bulky and considered them as foreign appliances. In this competition the controllers were identical to the same used for the Xbox system. A majority of the designated drivers of the robot not only used the Xbox system, but used it often. Caleb would sometimes be late for his scheduled practice time because he was in the middle of a Call of Duty game.

“They (controllers) were more like an Xbox like I was used to,” Caleb said. “That made the competition easier and us more confident.”

The team was awarded second place as having built the most robust machine, but it was not quite the finish that many of these seniors hoped for. Most of these seniors have been involved a year shy of the formation of the team. That is why they specifically wanted to finish with a showing in the national competition.

Caleb has been a member of the team for three years. Throughout all of the time he has spent in robotics, he claims the experience of the trips is once in a lifetime.
“I got to meet a lot of new people,” Caleb said. “It was just fun getting to work with everybody from different states.”

Out of the 24 members on the team, eight were seniors. All of the seniors had been involved with the team for more than one year, and most were considered as pivotal contributors in all areas of the competition. Out of the remaining 16 members, nine are freshman. They were all first year members since the team generally accepts freshman as the youngest grade level. This means that next year’s team will have a gap in experience and seniority which could ultimately be detrimental around the time of Crowley’s Ridge BEST.

“I am willing to come back as a mentor,” Caleb said. “If they need me.”