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Breakdown does not stop robotics team in competition

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Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 8:58 am

Triumph over adversity is nothing new for Moulton Middle School students who have participated in the BEST Robotics competition at Northwest-Shoals Community College for the last two years.

Last year, defective software had team members pulling out their hair before competition even began. This year the robot malfunctioned during the competition. The students, however, overcame the difficulties to place third in both competitions.

Autumn Smith, Bubba Apostol and Tina Huang were on the team last year. All three think this year's competition was more difficult than least year.

The competition is not just about robotics. All teams must design and construct a robot to complete a specific task. The students must organize like a company trying to win a bid. The company has company officers, a design and construction team, a marketing team, public relations team and spirit coordinator which included mascots and cheerleaders. The teams must compile a 30 page engineering notebook which explains in detail how the robot was built. The team even made a television commercial for its robot.

This year the team had to build a robot with a workable arm that could climb a notched metal pole to deliver the payload.

The teams have to use only the materials provided by the competition. All schools receive the same box of construction supplies. The items can be modified, trimmed or cut. Everything needed to build the robot is in the box.

There is no construction manual. The whole idea is for a student team to design and construct its own robot. BEST stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.

The students had to move quickly into the project to be able to complete it in time. They received the box of materials on Sept. 22 and the competition was Nov. 3.

As soon as the box of materials was opened the students divided into teams  for design and construction and marketing. Even though the marketing team  may not have been involved in the actual robot construction, the team members had to know how it was done to answer questions from the potential buyer.

"This is something the marketing students could not fake," Robotics teacher Amy Sterling said. "The marketing people had to be involved in the process or they couldn't answer questions."

The first year of competition, the team didn't have a cheering section like the other teams.

"We were more prepared this year," Smith said.

Sterling said teachers Sonya Kilpatrick and Jonathan Layman volunteered to help.

Bubba Apostol was the company CEO. Paul Logston was head engineer. Megan Moland headed up marketing while Lauryn Robinson concentrated on public relations. Tori Letson served as the spirit coordinator.

It is a given that students involved will learn more about engineering and science but students also learned valuable lessons that can be used in almost any career path they choose.

"I learned teamwork," Moland said.

Marketing a product is important in any business. Logston's mother worked at NASA and she helped with marketing ideas.

After seeing the cheering squads in last year's competition, Moulton Middle School was prepared with spirit this year.

There were cheerleaders and space alien mascots.

Anyone who expected the robotics competition to be serious and quiet was in for a surprise. Cheering sections were on hand to cheer on their teams.

"My mother said it was the most exciting thing she had ever seen," Moland said.

Moulton Middle School competed against 17 other schools including technical schools and was the only middle school to make the final round of competition.

"We were in second place until we had an equipment failure," Sterling said.

When the robot broke, the team did not throw up their hands and quit. No, the team stayed the course, working to repair the robot and complete what tasks they could with malfunctioning equipment.

That determination impressed the judges. After the competition, Sterling received a letter from one of the judges praising Moulton Middle School's professionalism when faced with adversity.

Even with the break down, Moulton Middle School won more awards than any other school at the competition. They were disappointed they did not get a spirit award since they had cheerleaders with shakers and pom-poms and mascots.

Following is a listing of the awards the team won:

•Third place BEST Award;

•Top Gun Award;

•4th in robotic competition;

•3rd for engineering notebook;

•1st place in marketing presentation;

•1st place in team marketing exhibit;

•3rd in web page design; and

•best mascot and best costume.

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