Blake's Brainiacs: SA BEST holds annual robotics competition

St. Mary's to host students from around Texas on Sunday

SAN ANTONIO – A local organization is celebrating 25 years of inspiring students! San Antonio BEST - which stands for Boosting Science, Engineering, and Technology - will hold its annual robotics competition at St. Mary's University on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. 

KSAT Meteorologist Kaiti Blake stopped by SA BEST's Demo Day last Sunday, when teams of students were preparing for the big competition. 

On Demo Day, teams that will compete on Oct. 28 traveled to St. Mary's to get a look at the course that their robots will have to maneuver. The teams were able to test their robots on the course, and had the week between Demo Day and the actual competition to make some adjustments. 

However, the teams had been preparing long before Demo Day. 

The competing teams - made up of students from mostly local schools - started getting ready six weeks ago! That's when they were informed of what the robot course would look like, what the objectives would be, and what materials they were allowed to use to build their robot. 

One student there on Demo Day was Parker Baillon, a senior at John Jay High School. This was Baillon's fourth Demo Day, as he has been competing in the SA BEST robotics competition since he was a freshman in high school. He was even elected team captain for the 2018-2019 school year. 

But even with a few years of experience, Baillon was still a little intimidated by this year's course setup. "This is by far the most complicated robot we've done for SA BEST, which has made quite the challenge for our team," he said. 

What made this year's course such a challenge? Well, for starters, the robots won't be on the ground! Rather, the robots will be suspended on a beam in the air. 

This year's SA BEST robotics course: 

Of the new challenges this presents, Baillon said, "The risk of being able to fall off the beam has never been there before, where the robot could fall on the ground."

So, why would a robot course be suspended in the air? 

Terry Grimley of SA BEST said it's a real-world simulation: "So the teams are actually simulating working on an ocean. They're riding on what's called currents, which are actually rails made out of 2-by-4's. And, they're recycling trash from whirlpools. The idea is that they bring in this trash with their robots, they assemble it into artificial reef structures, and they then recycle the robot to build fish habitats." 

On the day of the competition, teams will be judged and scored on how well their robot performs on the course. By the end of the day, several rounds of competition will lead to first- and second-place teams. St. Mary's University will provide two scholarships: one to a senior on the first-place team and another to a senior on the second-place team. 

While their skill on the course will determine the winners, there will be some work put in off the course, as well. Teams will be responsible for presenting engineering notebooks detailing the work they have done in the weeks leading up to the competition. They'll also have to try to sell their robots to some judges on competition day. While there won't be any real selling going on, speaking and presentation skills will help the students in the future. "That's what an engineer does a lot of," says Grimley. 

While this competition is a lot of work, it's also a lot of fun. 

Of his experience with SA BEST, Baillon said, "Personally, out of SA BEST, I've developed a lot of leadership skills, and also made a great family, almost, team in robotics." 

"It has really created such a tight-knit group at our school that it's unlike anything I've been a part of before and it's just an amazing experience in high school," he said. 

We asked Baillon what he'd say to a younger student interested in robotics: "Find your local teams, see what they do, try it out. And don't be afraid to just build something on your own and experiment, because we can learn so much by failure. That's the number one way we learn." 

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