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Robots will climb ‘space elevator’ at Frost Arena

BEST PracticeStudents watch their robot work on a "space elevator" as part of the practice day held for teams in the Jackrabbit BEST Robotics competition. Robots are getting ready to invade Frost Arena on the South Dakota State University campus. It’s all part of the Jackrabbit BEST Robotics Game Day competition that is free and open to the public Saturday, October 20.

Teams from nine schools will bring robots they’ve created from special kits to the arena to compete in a scenario that calls for the robots to complete a certain number of tasks around and on a “space elevator.” The elevators are 10-foot towers that the robots must ascend to complete tasks that include transporting fuel bottles, cargo and solar panels. 20.

The event starts at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony followed by a round robin of three-minute competitions that will determine the semifinalists and, ultimately, four finalists. In addition to the robot competition, five schools have chosen to enter an extra series of challenges in which they will be judged on a marketing presentation, booth, interview and spirit and sportsmanship.

Four teams deemed the best in both competitions will go on to the regional finals at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

While this is the first BEST Robotics competition for SDSU, robot competitions — designed for Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology — in high school and middle school students have been held around the country since 1993. It’s not uncommon at those competitions for teams to bring pep bands, cheerleaders and mascots.

“It’s almost like an athletic event,” said Dean Lewis Brown of the SDSU College of Engineering, which is organizing the event. “There will be music, noise, competition and fun.”

Teams at the first SDSU competition will come from Brookings, Castlewood, the Fellowship of Christian Home Educated Students in Brookings, Kimball, Mitchell Christian, South Central in Bonesteel, Sunshine Bible Academy in Miller, Watertown and Jackson County Central in Jackson, Minn.

The teams first came to campus on Sept. 8 to get a look at the challenging course and receive the supplies they’d need to construct a robot. They returned on Saturday to practice on the course, brainstorm with engineering faculty to solve problems and check out the other teams.

“They’ve spent six weeks working their tails off,” said Kim Prohaska, Jackrabbit BEST Hub Director. “We’d like to see them cheered on by an arena full of people.”

Prohaska is also looking for volunteers to help at the event or serve as judges.

“We’ll welcome anybody who’s interested in helping,” Prohaska said.

The event is scheduled to conclude at 4:30 with an awards ceremony. For the College of Engineering, the awards will be reaped in the future if the event interests more students in pursuing engineering careers.

“We see outreach events like this as a way to keep that pipeline alive with students interested in science, technology, engineering and math careers,” Brown said.

The program’s worth in that area was obviously evident to the roster of businesses that have signed on to sponsor the robotics competition.

In addition to the College of Engineering, sponsors include Daktronics, General Mills, Vision Brookings II, Wells Fargo, First Premier Bank, Avera, Century Link, Lowes, NorthWestern Energy, Premier Source, TV Productions, Xcel Energy, Dakota Tuff Shelters and ReCom Inc.

“Our employers in the region also recognize this as a worthwhile event that might help cultivate an interest in their future employees,” Brown said.

Anyone with questions about the event can contact Prohaska at 605-688-6268 or by email.