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NLS to host two-day robotics competition

Elizabeth Clawson, far left, and Eugene Schreder of The Avengers team from Paynesville make adjustments to their robot Saturday during a BEST Robotics demonstration at the Kandi Mall in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Thanks to support from the school, businesses and the surrounding community, students from eight communities will compete today and Saturday in the first annual Minnesota BEST Robotics competition at New London-Spicer High School.

The BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) competition is free to schools because the sponsors pay the costs and volunteers work to make the event happen, according to New London-Spicer Superintendent Paul Carlson.

"That's key for an organization like this," he said. "We are fortunate to be able to do that."

There will be a variety of competitions, and students from NLS will be joined by students from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Digital Synergy -- a Willmar-based group, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Paynesville, Parkers Prairie and ARCHER -- a home school group based in Circle Pines.

The competition is much more than robotics. Starting at 3 p.m. today, students will make marketing presentations, plus be judged on an exhibit displaying their theme. Along with building the robot, the students are required to write a research paper and complete an engineering notebook, Carlson said.

This year's game, "WARP XX," is aimed at the futuristic concept of a space elevator, a proposed transportation system to transport cargo along a cable from a planetary surface, such as the earth's, directly into space or orbit without rockets.

The robots will make practice runs from 3:30 to 7 p.m. today and then prequalifying runs are from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, with the semi-finals and finals from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The awards ceremony starts at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The Saturday events begin with an opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m.

The events are free and open to the public. Concessions will be available.

Six weeks ago, the students were introduced to this year's game and received two kits, one including the engine, software and other technologically advanced equipment, plus a kit of consumable products like PVC pipe, nuts and bolts and the like. They are required to use only those supplies to make their robot, Carlson said.

New London-Spicer students have been competing in two robotics competitions for the last five to six years, Carlson says. The other competition, FIRST Robotics, is recognized by the Minnesota State High School League. FIRST does not put a limit on what students may use or spend to build their robot. NLS expects to continue with that competition as well as the BEST competition.

In contrast, the BEST competition robots are limited to what students receive in their kits, putting the focus on their skills. Carlson noted that a vast array of volunteers, including engineers from area businesses, have stepped up to make the competition happen.

Area BEST teams previously competed at the closest BEST location in Fargo, N.D. By adding the hub in New London, Fargo becomes a regional center, allowing students from the upper Midwest to compete in the national BEST competition. The nonprofit organization is based at Auburn University and has been operating annual robotics competitions nationwide for 20 years.

The students tested their robots, and the volunteers tested their refereeing and scorekeeping skills, in practice sessions last weekend at the Kandi Mall in Willmar.

The goal is to make the local BEST competition an annual event, Carlson said. The local hub has been embraced by the local teams and supported by the folks in Fargo, he said.

"We want to keep it going to provide more opportunity for kids," he said. "I think we can make it an annual event."

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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