University Co-Hosted Event Designed for Helping Students Develop Engineering, Teamwork Skills

Jan. 10, 2019

A team from Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas, built this robot that helped the students win their second straight University Interscholastic League Group 2 state championship for 5A and 6A schools. In the Texas BEST competition, the team won top honors for spirit and sportsmanship, exhibit design and construction and software design.

The top 72 robotics teams from Texas and New Mexico came together for the 2018 Texas BEST & UIL State Robotics Championship in which they competed in a recycling scenario focused on cleaning up ocean garbage.

The two-part event, held recently at The University of Texas at Dallas, Dr Pepper Arena and the Frisco Conference Center, is designed to give students in middle and high school hands-on experience in engineering, problem-solving and teamwork. Volunteers from industry and academia share their talents in an effort to engage and excite the students about careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

The Trenton High School team prepares its robot for the competition. It finished second in the UIL Group 1 state championship for 1A-4A schools. 

“Many of the participants go on to study engineering and computer science fields in college,” said Dr. Iolani Connolly, director of the Science and Engineering Education Center at UT Dallas. “We’d like these students to envision themselves studying with us.”

This year’s competition, titled “Current Events,” involved teams that were tested on engineering skills, data analysis and problem-solving abilities. Teams competed in a three-minute match on a 32-foot-by-12-foot playing field that was divided into four sections, where robots had to retrieve soup cans, plastic bottles, microplastics and rubber ducks for recycling, while not injuring wildlife represented by 3D-printed sea turtles.

Robots collected the plastics from hula-hoop net apparatuses that ran along a beam representing the ocean current. The robots placed the trash in recycling bins and then returned to pick up the recycled items for placement in an artificial reef. In addition, field scientists inspected the “stomachs” of the turtles to see whether any sea garbage was ingested.

After a successful pilot program, robotics became an official University Interscholastic League contest in the 2018-2019 school year. After qualifying locally, teams can advance to the state UIL competition.

About BEST

BEST Robotics Inc. is a nonprofit, volunteer organization headquartered in Texas. The idea for a BEST competition originated in 1993 when two Texas Instruments engineers observed the keen interest of high school students who were watching a video of college freshmen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology build a robot. Today, BEST has more than 850 middle and high school teams with more than 18,000 students.

The list of 2018 winners can be found here.

“UT Dallas is excited to support BEST Robotics, which draws together teams of young, aspiring engineers and scientists to engage in competition,” said Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research. “The designs are innovative, and the teams are diverse, showing that the STEM pipeline is strong. The enthusiasm of the participants, fans and staff results in an event that has an energy level that rivals any sporting event.”

This year, Martin’s Mill High School in Martin’s Mill, Texas, defeated runner-up Trenton High School in Trenton, Texas, to win the UIL Group 1 state championship for 1A-4A schools. The robot was lightweight and able to move down the beam quickly. The arm had a double purpose: a net to gather debris and a hand for stacking the reef blocks. The UIL Group 2 state champion for 5A and 6A schools was the same as last year: Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas. James Martin High School in Arlington, Texas, finished second.

“Our team looks forward to the BEST contest each year, and this year was the toughest one we have ever seen,” said Winfield Munns, the Martin’s Mill robotics coach. “This team worked hard in all aspects of the contest.”

Since 2011, the Science and Engineering Education Center and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science have hosted the event. Sponsors included Texas Instruments Inc., State Farm, Lockheed Martin, Collins Aerospace and MathWorks.

In June, UT Dallas will host the BEST Robotics Teacher and Mentor Workshops.

Martin’s Mill High School in Martin’s Mill, Texas, captured the UIL Group 1 state championship for 1A-4A schools. The team also won an award for top robot.

Media Contact: Melissa Cutler, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4319, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]