Every year, BEST Robotics Inc. organizes a competition for more than 10,000 students at more than 700 middle and high schools. The nonprofit organization encourages kids to learn about robotics and pursue careers in engineering. During the 2008 competition, students were challenged to develop the best way to assemble an aircraft using robots.
Every year, BEST Robotics Inc. (BRI, Dallas) organizes a competition for more than 10,000 students at more than 700 middle and high schools. The nonprofit organization encourages kids to learn about robotics and pursue careers in engineering. Teams compete in a robotics game based on an annual theme.
According to George Blanks, executive director of BEST, and director of K-12 outreach in the college of engineering at Auburn University (Auburn, AL), each school is provided with kits of equipment and parts, and a set of game rules. Then, they are given six weeks to design, build and test a small radio-controlled robot.
Winning teams from local competition sites, or hubs, advance to regional championship sites. “Engineers and other technical professionals from local industries serve as team mentors,” says Blanks. “They advise and guide students through the design and construction of their machines.”
Last year, the theme of the competition was “Just Plane Crazy.” The game was developed by BRI’s Kansas Hub, which is located in Wichita, KS, home to several aircraft manufacturers, such as Bombardier, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Spirit AeroSystems.
“Several different concepts for the game were considered, but the winning theme was aircraft assembly,” notes Larry Frutiger, codirector of the Kansas BEST Hub and a retired Boeing engineer.
Frutiger says the project was driven by the growing demand for commercial and general aviation aircraft. “Record sales have contributed to sizable backlogs for aircraft manufacturers,” he explains. “More manufacturing capacity is needed to meet present and forecasted demand. Engineers believe that part of the solution will lie in factory automation, and by streamlining existing processes.
During the 2008 competition, Frutiger and his BRI colleagues proposed that robots could be used to solve this problem. They formed a hypothetical company called BEST Aircraft Co. and challenged students to develop the best way to assemble an aircraft using robotics. The aircraft models were generic in nature, with a two-foot wide wingspan and two-foot long fuselage.
“The students learned many basics about aircraft manufacturing,” explains Frutiger. “They learned aerospace terminology used [in the industry] and key aerospace design criteria.
“The game is really a learning tool,” Frutiger points out. “The teams learn about the engineering process and they learn how to apply basic math and science principles, such as force, torque and center of gravity. They also learn how to work in a team environment, in addition to basic communication skills, such as giving an oral presentation and writing a technical report.”
Four teams at a time competed against each other in a round-robin tournament. Each team had to demonstrate how many tasks their robot could perform in a limited amount of time. For instance, each robot only had three minutes to exit the starting position and activate a switch to turn on lights in a simulated factory; navigate around or reposition foreign object debris; enter a mock warehouse and collect subassemblies of the aircraft being assembled and deliver them to the assembly line; and completely assemble each aircraft.
Using Robots Is 'Just Plane Crazy'
May 5, 2009