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Auburn hosts South's BEST Regional Robotics Competition December 3-4

By Joe McAdory

Published: Nov 22, 2022 10:00:00 AM

Auburn University hosts the South's BEST Regional Robotics Championship for the 20th time, Dec. 3-4 at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Auburn University hosts the South's BEST Regional Robotics Championship for the 20th time, Dec. 3-4 at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

What happens when dozens of middle and high schoolers come together to compete in the South’s most prestigious robotics competition?

Students collaborate to complete an engineering project. They adapt to working under the mounting pressure of deadlines. Even more, they learn how to express ideas in writing and further develop their mechanical and electrical engineering skills.

The South’s BEST Regional Robotics Championship, co-hosted for the 20th year by the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and the College of Sciences and Mathematics on Dec. 3-4 at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum, brings these skills together into a dramatic weekend full of ideation and creation. The result: robots.

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Students will be judged on their robots' task-oriented performance, appearance, and design plans.

“They will be on their own to design a robot and do whatever the rules require them to do,” said Thaddeus Roppel, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering who specializes in robotics research and serves as faculty advisor to Auburn University’s robotics-oriented Student Projects Club (SPARC). “I’ve seen students literally take wood and cut it out into circles to make wheels. I’ve seen them create gears from plastic – whatever they need to fabricate from the parts they are provided. This event is about imagination, and students at this event continue to amaze me.

“These students are receiving a ton of real-world experience, plus they have to write their design information into a notebook, which is part of the competition process. They will learn how to communicate their ideas with technical audiences.”

Teams of students, representing schools in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, have been asked to design robots not just for show, but they must perform tasks. As part of the floor competition within the coliseum, robots will be asked to fetch and carry specified parts from one side of the floor to the other in timed rounds. Some of these allotted areas require extendable parts, so creating devices with reach will be necessary.

“Much of the game play involves a student’s skill as a driver/operator, and also how well the robot performs mechanically.” Roppel added. “Another fundamental constraint is always the fact that each robot must fit within a certain-sized box to meet the competition rules.”

While the floor competition generates excitement with cheering – and sometimes even pep bands, the overall ranking is determined by a number of categories including the project engineering notebook, marketing presentation, and team exhibit and interview.

Roppel, who has worked in various BEST Regional Robotics Championship roles over the years, encourages students in his robotics courses to work as competition referees or judges.

“Serving in this competition helps our engineering students learn how to better connect and speak with younger people who are coming up behind them,” Roppel said. “This stimulates their interests. It’s a win-win situation for our students serving as judges and the students competing in the event.”

Robotics competitions, Roppel believes, are just an example of the growing importance of a strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics foundation.

“Humanity is on a track that is inherently going to be driven by technology,” he said. “We must recognize that we are surrounded by machines, computer technology and internet applications. To be successful in the workplace moving forward, students are really going to need a solid STEM background. It’s our job to provide students with a strong technical education and exposure to this technology and best prepare them for their careers as engineering professionals.”

Media Contact: Joe McAdory, jem0040@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

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