Watch BEST in Action!
The idea for a BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) competition originated in 1993 when two Texas Instruments (TI) engineers, Ted Mahler and Steve Marum, were serving as guides for Engineering Day at their company site in Sherman. Together with a group of high school students, they watched a video of freshmen building a robot in Woodie Flowers’ class at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The high school students were so interested that Ted and Steve said, “Why don’t we do this?”
With enthusiastic approval from TI management, North Texas BEST was born. The first competition was held in 1993 with 14 schools and 221 students (including one team from San Antonio).
After learning that a San Antonio group had formed a non-profit organization to support a BEST event, North Texas BEST mentored them in providing their own BEST competition. Thus, San Antonio BEST, the second BEST competition site (or “hub”), was started in 1994. The two groups – North Texas and San Antonio – decided to meet for Texas BEST, a state playoff at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, TX.
In 1995, more hubs were started as word spread: Collin County BEST (Frisco, TX); West Texas BEST (Texas Tech University in Lubbock); and Chicago BEST. Also, that year, Texas BEST – the “state championship” – became an annual event sponsored by Texas Instruments and Texas A&M University.
BEST continued to grow, adding 3-4 hubs annually. In 1997, the 4-year old organization established itself as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in the state of Texas as BEST Robotics, Inc. (BRI).
The growth continued at a similar pace, spreading throughout Texas and neighboring states (Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico) and even further (Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky and even California). South’s Best
In 2001 BEST held its first New Hub Workshop at Texas Instruments in Dallas. This sparked an explosion of growth in the next several years throughout Alabama and the south. In 2003, BEST’s second regional championship was born, South’s BEST, at Auburn University, Alabama. Thirty-six teams from nine hubs in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois competed. Texas BEST featured 60 teams from 17 hubs in five states.
BEST continued to grow as many colleges and universities began organizing hubs. The reach became wider with hubs as far apart as Fargo, North Dakota and New Britain, Connecticut.
Two additional championships were added as the program expanded across the US bringing the total to four. Frontier Trails BEST championship was established in Fort Smith, Arkansas and Northern Plains BEST championship in Fargo, North Dakota.
BEST National Conference
In 2009, the program started its bi-annual BEST National Conference for volunteers and teachers. The conference is held during the summer of odd years and provides a great place to share information. There are typically tracks regarding hub execution, technical training, design process, and other teacher training.
BEST National Championship
In 2010, BEST held it’s first BEST National Championship, taking the top finishers from each of the then 3 regional championships and pitting them head-to-head in a final nationwide competition to find the best team in the country.
BEST has continued to enjoy wonderful growth as a volunteer organization, while maintaining it’s core values of no entry fees, ties to our educational system & its values and student-led design/construction.
Azalea City BEST was started in 2004 and renamed to Jubilee BEST in 2006. Jubilee BEST is made up of 40 schools from southern Alabama and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Initially, Jubilee expanded rapidly and with the help of the University of West Florida and Gulf Power, a new hub was formed – Emerald Coast BEST. Today Emerald Coast BEST continues to serve numerous schools representing the panhandle of Florida. Robin Fenton, the Jubilee BEST Hub Director, has served on the national BEST Board of Directors. Each year, Jubilee BEST is very successful at South’s BEST, winning several high-ranking awards.
Only one team per school can participate; the school determines student eligibility. There is no limit on the number of students who can participate. Students have the opportunity to play a role on the robot design/build team, the marketing group, exhibit booth presenters, and so much more! BEST mimics industry by developing a product (the robot) and delivering the product to market. Students will all interests and talents can contribute to a BEST team!
Each team designs and builds a high-tech robot to accomplish defined tasks in a game-type format. Six weeks before the competition, the teams gather for Kick Off Day in early September at local hub sites where they receive identical kits of equipment (motors, r/c unit, batteries, etc.) and raw materials from which to build their machines, and a detailed set of game rules. The machines they build cannot weigh more than 24 pounds, must fit within a 24-inch cube, and must be built only from the raw materials supplied to them by the local hub.
Industry and academic coaches act as mentors for the students, encouraging and guiding them as they design and build their robots. In the BEST process, students remain the primary decision-makers and builders.
Teams are organized geographically into “Hubs” consisting of at least eight schools. The BEST program is made possible through a collaboration of teachers, technical mentors, corporate and academic hub volunteers, and funding sponsors. Each hub depends on a business, university, or other organization willing to coordinate area teams. Funding is obtained from local sponsors.
Kick Off Day occurs on a Saturday in September. The local hub brings together the teams signed up to compete and unveils (in many cases, literally!) the playing field, game theme, and rules for the year. Up until this day, the playing field and challenge have been kept secret from the teams. Teams are introduced to the game, the rules are discussed, and the kits are distributed. The event usually lasts a couple of hours. A high school gym or similar facility is typically used, with the playing field being set up on the court.
Mall Day takes place on the Saturday of the fifth week of the competition. The local hub sets up the playing field at a local mall and teams are encouraged to sign-up for practice driving times throughout the day. The purpose is to provide practice, but, typically, teams come to “borrow” (i.e., steal) ideas from other teams about robot functionality (or lack thereof). It’s also a great way to generate interest in the upcoming game. Hubs usually invite television and newspaper coverage to help promote the competition.
Game Day occurs six weeks after Kick Off Day. It is typically a one-day event that merges the excitement of a high school basketball game with the strategy of a chess match and intellectual challenge of a science fair. Bands, cheerleaders and family cheer their teams on in the competition. Many hubs host the game in local high school gyms that can accommodate several hundred and upwards to a thousand guests. The gym floor is more or less divided in half, with one half containing the playing field and the other half containing what is called “the Pit”-sort of like the pit stop in a NASCAR race. Each team is provided a table on which to work on their machine between matches.
Somewhere in the vicinity of the facility is an area where the BEST Award components are judged. The components can include: a project summary notebook, describing and detailing how the team’s machine was designed and constructed); an oral presentation; and a table display. Professionals from industry and academia volunteer to serve as judges. An awards ceremony caps the full day of competition.