After six weeks of intensive building, coding and planning, high school robotics teams from Franklin and Christian Life Academy are ready to take the main stage at the regional BEST Robotics competition Friday and Saturday at Grove City College.
This year's theme, "Off the Grid", will test students' ability to maneuver their robots through a course destroyed by a hurricane, reset power lines and remove debris within three minutes.
While the robots receive most of the limelight surrounding competitions like BEST Robotics (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology), what sets this one apart from others is the sheer amount of avenues a student can take to be a part of the team.
From marketing to engineering a display that can be used for years to come, yet be taken down and set up easily, to documenting every student's every move, the Franklin and Christian Life students have worked tirelessly until every aspect of their BEST team is ready to go.
Franklin High School
Walking into Franklin High School's newly minted MakerSpace, a hallway at the end of a wing consisting of four connected classrooms, is like walking into the office of a startup business in Silicon Valley.
Students zip from room to room laden with paperwork, computers, controllers and pieces of equipment that will someday make a robot.
"It's really two different competitions," said the Franklin BEST team's head of social media outreach 16-year-old sophomore Carson Hittle said.
"First is selling the robot and second is running it," Hittle explained.
With the two aspects of the competition occurring on back to back days, the team is literally all hands on deck every day from the time the students receive their materials from BEST Robotics to the time the competitors return at the end.
"The work is never done until after the competition. If we were down just three people we were behind," freshman Lane Harrah, who serves as the team's head of electronics, said.
To keep everything running smoothly and on time, the construction of the team mirrors that of a business with department heads and even a CEO the students vote in at the beginning of the project. Just like in a company, the department heads take care of their teams and then meet with each other and the CEO in meetings.
"Community is probably the biggest thing of BEST," said Braden Reagle, 16, this year's CEO.
Reagle, who has been involved in the BEST competition for five years and has held a number of leadership positions in various aspects of the team, said the position has helped him become a better leader, something he will need in the coming years as the junior has already committed himself to the U.S. Air Force to study aircraft and aerospace engineering after graduation.
Another department head who said the experience has not only helped her learn to lead but also come out of her shell is 16-year-old Erin Janidlo.
"It's getting me a lot of skills I can use elsewhere," Janidlo said. "I'm normally a shy person but now I can go up and talk to people," Janidlo, a junior, added.
Freshman Izzy Ramfos, the head of documentation - an entire department dedicated to documenting the safety of students during the project - said keeping the records in an organized fashion has helped her keep the rest of her life organized as well.
The team has not only prepared students for their eventual jobs but has helped them understand the logistics behind working as a team and the plights of one department to another.
"I think engineering has the roughest job of them all," said Harrah, whose team is in charge of programming the brain that controls the robot. "You can have the best brain in the world, but without the body, it's useless."
Christian Life Academy
The Christian Life Academy robotics team consists of 26 students in grades seven to 12.
Anna West, a student who has been an engineer on this year's team, said, "I've learned a lot of practical things and how to use simple materials to make something complex."
This year's CLA robot is indeed complex, green and goes by the name of Surge.
Students on the team design, build and program their robot using materials they received at the competition kickoff day six weeks ago at Grove City College which is when they first learned this year's mission.
But the competition is not only about robots - each team that competes must create a company and market its robot to the judges.
The students run a booth advertising their robot and company, give a formal presentation marketing their idea and drive the robot on an obstacle course to complete a mission, said Jacob Black, a junior at CLA and the CEO of SkyWire Cooperative, this year's robotics company.
"We often go with corporation or company but this year we decided to go with cooperative which is for the people and by the people. Those who buy the product have a share in the company and can give ideas for improvement," Black said.
He added that the team also turns in an engineering notebook explaining the design of its robot and how it works. The team will also be judged on team spirit and T-shirt design, Black said.
Mike Fair, a mentor for the team, said "The ideas and work are theirs (the students). They are very creative."
Black, reflecting on his six years of experience on the CLA robotics team, said, "Teamwork is the most important thing. There's so much you can't do it by yourself so it's important to work as a team."
He added that his experience with the robotics competition had given him a desire to go into business after high school as well as helping him improve his public speaking and problem solving skills.
"You learn things you never would have thought you would learn," Megan Montgomery, the CFO, said about the robotics competition.