Riverside Association of Robotics and Engineering (R.A.R.E.), the robotics team at Riverside Christian Academy, reached the semifinals in the Lipscomb/Nissan Music City BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) Robotics Competition held recently at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena.

Nearly 400 middle and high school students participated in the national robotics competition, sponsored by Lipscomb’s Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering, that allows students to apply the math, science and technology they learn in the classroom to the design and construction of their robot through teamwork and real-life problem solving.

Joshua Arndt has been volunteering to coach the team since 2007. This year, R.A.R.E. competed with its smallest team ever, but what they didn’t have in numbers, they made up for with innovation. Senior Sam Brunton, a member since 2015, brought his experience to the design, build and competition. Annalea Mayer, a seventh-grade rookie, brought enthusiasm and willingness to learn.

This year, 14 schools participated in the BEST competition. Over the past six weeks, students designed and built robots to carry out a specific task. The 2019 BEST theme was “Off the Grid.” Students imagined a world where the national power grid has been destroyed, debris litters the ground and robots are needed to clean up the litter and repair the equipment.

The students, a new generation of “power linemen,” acted as pilots of the robots, directing them to load “payloads and equipment” to be installed on “the grid.” The BEST pilot/robot teams work together to rebuild the local power grid by reinstalling power lines, picking up debris, and installing power transformers in residential neighborhoods and at the substations.

“Their robot was simple when compared to the other teams, but they were still able to be competitive,” Arndt said of the R.A.R.E. team. He described how the students used their adaptability and innovative thinking, skills developed through the BEST program, during the competition to switch gears on their strategy, which resulted in the semifinal finish.

The team recognized early in the competition that their current approach to the task was yielding only as much as 60 points per attempt, so they decided to focus on the tougher task of “autonomous delivery” of insulators to try to earn 200 points per attempt, Arndt said.

“After all, if it failed, they weren’t any worse off,” he noted. “Following that strategy moved the team up to eighth place, which wasn’t enough to make it to the semifinals, but they were selected to be in the wildcard match based on their engineering notebook score.”

R.A.R.E. won the wildcard match, which got them into the semifinals.

“Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the finals, but they did feel great that they were able to make it to the semifinals, especially against the bigger teams,” Arndt said.

The massive BEST game field was spread out over the majority of the Allen Arena floor. Cheerleaders, mascots, pep bands and up to 2,000 friends and family members cheered on the competitors. The public was also invited to watch the competition. Many schools set up colorful, interactive display booths exploring timely engineering themes.

“Walking into a BEST Robotics competition, you first see the game field featured on a stage with four teams competing at once with their teammates and all the parents and mentors cheering them on like any other sports event,” says Mary Metelko, Lipscomb’s Music City BEST hub director. “All this excitement and energy to celebrate and enjoy their engineering achievements! As an engineer myself, it is fantastic to see young engineers in the making.”

BEST robotics is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization whose mission is to inspire students to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology through participation in a sports-like, science and engineering–based robotics competition. It began in 1993 with 14 schools and 221 students, and today it has over 850 middle and high schools with over 18,000 students participating.

In addition to the robot contest, teams compete for the best engineering project notebook, marketing presentation, team exhibit and interviews, as well as spirit and sportsmanship. Only three teams will move on to the regional competition in December at Auburn University.

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