Sweet Water robotics headed to regionals

The Sweet Water Advanced Technology team consists of Brett Davis, Robbie Gates, Brittany Huckabee, Fabian Ledezma, Nathan Lewis, Christian Washington, Ryan Black, Chyna Ernest, Tanner Luker, Damaious Norwood, Shelby Thompson, Kelly Byrd, Cody Cassity, Destiny McGarvey, Dustin Pritchett, Patience Smith, Grant Walters, Nadia Washington, Jaslyn Williams, Branson Davis, Grace Lewis, Melanie McGilberry, Kaytlind Thompson, Wynn Thompson and Savanna Thurston.

The Sweet Water robotics team is headed back to regional competition after placing second in the Jubilee BEST in Mobile last weekend.

In only its fourth year of existence, Sweet Water Advanced Technology – as the team is known – took second place for BEST Robot behind Davidson High School, a placement good enough to advance the team to the next level of competition, South’s BEST Championship, at Auburn University Dec. 1 and 2 where the team will face 55 other squads from eight states.

“Most of the team work is done on Thursday afternoons around football, band and cheerleader practice. The team is designed to work like a company with different branches working independently. So if one of the groups, say the presentation team, wants to meet during break or after school, they will meet amongst themselves. Some of the students on the team are in my STEM/pre-engineering class, so they are allowed to work on the robot during that class,” program coordinator Kevin Byrd said of the time that went into putting together this year’s robot.

The competition provides students with a box of materials such as PVC pip, screws, assorted hardware, an irrigation valve cover, piano wire, a bicycle inner tube, an aluminum paint grid, a BEST Robotics Advanced Instruction Node programmable platform and a micro-energy chain system. Students are given six weeks to design and construct a functioning machine that can perform specific tasks in three minutes or less.

The runner-up finish in the BEST Robot competition marks the third consecutive year the SWHS team has achieved the designation. Sweet Water’s BEST team also came in fourth in the BEST Award competition, the marketing wing of the program that grades teams for exhibit booths, interviews, marketing presentations and an engineering notebook. The fourth place finish is a marked improvement over the group’s ninth place result in the 2011 competition.

Additionally, the Sweet Water team took home the Heart of Jubilee BEST Award, an honor that signifies service to others.

“The program is funded by donations from companies and student-led fund raisers,” Byrd said. “GP was our largest contributed the last two years and provides us with engineering/technical support also.”

The relationship between BEST robotics teams and local industry is a natural marriage as the BEST program is designed to promote student interest in engineering, science and technology while encouraging them to pursue careers in such fields.

Byrd said the program seems to be having its desired effect at Sweet Water where interest in the program continues to grow.

“The team seems to grow more each year. This year we had a lot of interest in the middle school so we started a junior SWAT team,” Byrd said. “That way they could be involved in a lesser capacity since they have different school schedules and transportation needs. The students have really taken ownership in the competition and look forward to it each year. The students that have been on the team for four years are great leaders and our scores indicate that they are only getting better. They have started to compete in all categories that are available for schools such as T-shirt design, website and theme video.”

Byrd indicated the program has allowed students to gain experience with programming as well as putting them in front of the BEST competition judges, which are typically industry leaders from larger multi-national businesses in the Mobile area.