Remote for Robots
By Andrew Addessi
In a world where everything from our televisions to houselights are controlled by remote, using technology remotely is natural. Bowling Green State University’s Falcon BEST Robotics Competition, like many other events and competitions, is taking place remotely this year.
However, this fact has not slowed down the passion or determination of the competitors.
"Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, BGSU decided to do a virtual competition this year," said Kari Storm, coordinator, Summer Academic Youth Programs. "It really pushed teams to critically review their robot designs and many of our teams took that challenge and adapted with it.”
The Falcon BEST Robotics Competition is an annual event that takes place at hubs across the country, with BGSU’s College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering serving as a major hub for the region. Over the course of six weeks, teams with students ranging from 6th through 12th grades build a robot and compete on a marketing, design and coding level to complete various tasks.
While the competition is usually held at the Stroh Center, this year's virtual event featured team participation on Zoom. Schools built their robots virtually and practiced coding, programming and designing over video conferencing.
On game day, each team presented their robots and were given a competition file, with three minutes to navigate a virtual game field.
“In spite of the challenges, BGSU wanted to keep the momentum and support for our students and the teams that joined us every year, and we felt we could do it remotely,” said Resmi Krishnankuttyrema, Falcon Best Hub director and assistant teaching professor in the mechatronics engineering technology program.
With uncertainty if schools would resume in-person classes, each hub decided individually if they would hold the competition for 2020, either a traditional in-person event, a classroom event or entirely remote competition.
“Students are coming from so many different areas of interest," Storm said, "Falcon Best is more than a robotics competition. It includes marketing, display, coding and more. This event is a really important pathway for students to connect to a science or STEM career.”
With an emphasis on finding ways to support the teams and coaches virtually throughout the entire process, Falcon Best leaders connected the teams with BGSU student mentors to help with coding and other questions.
In years past, the competition has had a different theme, such as ‘Clean Up the Ocean’ or ‘Off the Grid.’ This year though, the originally planned theme ‘Incision Decision’ was shelved for a later competition.
“The themes are usually based on what’s going on in the world,” said Kip McDowell, assistant director of laboratories and facilities for the college. “With the pandemic, they switched to a whole different model.”
This year's competition was focused more on the educational impact of the robots such as coding, programming and design elements.
Keeping these opportunities available to students, even in uncertain climates, is important for their futures. While this year’s competition required some restructuring, BGSU hopes to get the bots back on track in coming years.