Regional robotics event draws more than 1,200 to the Fort Smith area

by The City Wire staff ( 27 views 

More than 2,000 students, teachers, parents and event coordinators attended the 2008 Frontier Trails BEST Regional Robotics Competition held Dec. 4-6 at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and the Fort Smith Convention Center.

Nicolas Xiong, 8, was one of those students. He’s from Houston, is home schooled and is in the 10th grade. No, that’s not a mistake. He’s a 10th grader and a contributing member of the Cypress Springs (Texas) High School team (home schoolers are allowed in some events to join public school robotics teams).

“MIT,” Xiong said with no hesitation and no bravado when asked where he plans to go to college in a few years.

Sam Saenz, coordinator of the Cypress team, said Xiong is capable of holding court in design and planning sessions.

“When he talks, the others (team members) will shut up and listen,” Saenz said during the final rounds of competition on Saturday. “He’s brilliant. He takes chemistry and knows it, and is a strong algebra student. He’s an engineering consultant for this team, literally.”

The robotics competition, managed by BEST Competition Director John Martini, not only includes the performance of the robot, but also builds scores based on table displays, team Web page, project summary notebook and robot design.

Student-designed and built robots were tasked to piece together airplane segments into a fully-assembled airplane. The theme of the competition was “Just Plane Crazy!”

Houston, Fargo, N.D., and St. Louis were just a few cities represented at the competition. (See the UAFS event press release here and follow this link for more information about BEST.)

Robotics is more than just competition. It’s big business and a lucrative career field for those with the desire and aptitude for the math and science involved in the design and application of robotics and robotic software.

While the global robotics industry has seen sales declines in 2008, it remains big business. The Robotics Industry Association estimates more than 1 million robots are in use around the world. The RIA estimates that about 184,000 robots are used in the United States, second only to Japan in overall robot use.

Between January and September, 11,503 robots valued at $811.9 million were sold around the world. And while that was a decline in sales — related primarily to the auto sector decline — compared to 2007, RIA officials say non-automotive robotics orders continue to increase.

The robotics competition also was good for the Fort Smith regional economy. UAFS officials estimated about 1,200 traveled to the area for the competition, meaning an increased business at area hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Fort Smith area schools competing were:
Chaffin Junior High School, Fort Smith; J.D. Leftwich High School, Magazine; Mulberry/Pleasant View Schools, Mulberry; Western Arkansas Technical Center, Fort Smith.

Other Arkansas schools at the competition:
Buffalo Island Central, Leachville; Hillcrest High School, Strawberry; Newport Junior/Senior High School, Newport; West Memphis Christian School, West Memphis; Alpena High School, Alpena; Bergman High School, Harrison.

John Martini

John Martini, BEST competition director, monitors the activities.





Nicolas Xiong

Nicolas Xiong, from the Houston, Texas area, stands near his team’s robot.






Jared Holliday, from Wichita, Kan., watches the competition.





Amadeo Ruiz (left) and Austin Davern, students with Western Arkansas Technical Center, work on their robot.






Patt Widders

Pat Widders, dean of the College of Applied Science & Technology at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, explains how the competition is managed.



A member of robot team watches his robot assemble a plane.




Sandy Aaron, Chaffin Junior High

Sandy Aaron, (lower right) a student advisor for the Chaffin Junior High robotics team, and members of the Chaffin team watch the competition.




Mascots from the schools were many and came in all shapes and sizes.





A sign marks the gathering spot for the robotics team from Mulberry.