BEST is a regional and affordable competition concentrated on the development of vital skills that will be put to use in for other competitions. We began participating in the annual BEST competition in 2008 and have successfully qualified for the Texas BEST Championship numerous times. One of our major goals is to fully embody the meaning of BEST by utilizing our skills and our knowledge. This includes giving our members the opportunity to participate in numerous technology-based competitions, allowing them to interact with other intellectually driven students, learn from professionally established adults, and become more enthusiastic about all aspects of science and technology.
This year’s game, Warp XX, is space-themed. The only range of motion the robot has is up and down, as it is fastened to a pole. It has to grab certain objects at the bottom of the pole, and score them at the top. Some of these objects include 4 wiffle balls (3 points each), 2 softballs (1 point each), 2 bottles (combined 16 points), 1 T-Structure (8 points), 2 solar panels (6 points each), and a habitation module (10 points). The wiffle balls start with the spotter, and travel via a hula hoop mounted to a lazy susan. The spotter moves them close to the pole, the robot grabs them and scores them in a bin at the top of the pole. The softballs start near the robot and have to get to the spotter via the same hula hoop. At the top of the pole and displaced to the side there is a magnet with a bottle attached to it. There is also a bottle at the bottom of the pole; the robot must swap the two bottles. The solar panels have a hole in them and must be placed at the top of the pole such that a PVC pipe goes through them. The habitation module is scored in the same manner. The T-Structure is scored by having the two ends of the T resting on parallel PVC pipes. There is also scoring opportunities for reaching the top of the pole, ending the match (3 minutes long) at the bottom of the pole, and for scoring various combinations of objects as bonus points.
Defining the problem is the first step to our engineering design process because it allows us to clearly state what our goal is. Although it may seem obvious, this step is crucial to the group's understanding, as it serves as a constant reminder of what we hope to achieve without imposing any idea of a solution—which ultimately allows for greater flexibility in the rapid concept generation process. It functions by examining the situation in need of a solution to determine what problem needs to be solved and what the limitations are to solving that problem such as size, materials, cost, weight, or many other such factors.
For BEST 2012: Warp XX, our problem definition is as follows:
Collect and place the various items from their starting positions to their end positions by maneuvering (climbing) up a vertical field.
This stage of the engineering design process immediately follows the problem definition, so that our goal is fresh in all of our members' minds who can then brainstorm solutions to meet that goal. The single most important concept we stress and ingrain into the minds of our new recruits during this stage is the idea that brainstorming has no limits. No solution or partial design will not be thrown out due to it sounding too ridiculous.
For BEST 2012, our we officially began this stage at the meeting immediately following kick-off, although many of our members were already having moments of inspiration and excellent ideas during the kick-off. At our team president's house, we all sat down and devoted an enitre meeting to simply generating ideas to overcome our challenge. Much of the discussion was about how to climb the pole, with ideas ranging from a cog that meshes with the holes in the vertical pole to using a winch drum to wind the safety rope as the means of propulsion and the pole for stability.
Transitioning from a multitude of concepts for solutions to building a prototype requires some sort of decision process to determine which solution will be most feasible within our limitations. We used a decision matrix to help us with this determination, tabulating out each concept and all of the factors by which it needs to be evaluated. This allows us to quickly and easily compare all of our concepts algorithmically so that the solution with the least chances for failure is selected.
Prototyping is the most hands-on of our engineering process, and the one that most members help out with.
We meet at our workshop every day after school and on Saturday afternoons. During most of these meetings, we spend our time building these prototypal concepts and refining their designs.
Perhaps the most important step, solution evaluation is the critical moment when the team assesses a specific solution's successes and failures, how it achieved the original goal by solving the defined problem or how it did not. If the solution was generally successful but with some minor errors, we go back to our prototyping phase to improve those details in order to get as close as possible to a completely successful solution. If, however, the solution completely fails to solve the defined problem, we then go all the way back to the drawing board with more rapid concept generation, but this time now keeping in mind why the last attempt was ultimately unsuccessful.
After our initial brainstorming sessions, our first idea (and prototype) for climbing the pole was a cog—a simple gear that would fit into the holes running up the pole and push its way up. However, after practicing at Test Drive, we observed a number of winch systems that coiled the rope around a can or pvc pipe which worked much more effectively and reliably than our cog. They were much smoother, about the same speed, and could be adjusted for torque and/or speed (by changing the diameter of the winch). After some careful consideration and crucial decisions from a design standpoint, we made the switch to the winch mechanism. This required us to make some minor adjustments on the wiffle ball collector, but the same concept of the arm (like a tennis ball collector) functioned just as well. Around the same time we also made the decision to omit the four-bar linkage which was going to hold an extendable claw to grab the solar panels and the T-Structure. We ruled that simply having the extendable claw rotate would be far easier and much less weight than the linkage.
The Westwood Robotics team is made up of a diverse set of students all striving toward the same goal, to inspire new opportunities through technology. Our team consists of students of all grade levels, from freshman to senior. We also feature a few students from other high schools and even some middle schools. Westwood Robotics members come from various backgrounds and range in many different ethnicities. Our members also have a wide range of interests; including band, orchestra, dance, soccer, lacrosse, and everything else in between. Our club offers a large parent network and mentor system. Our mentors and parents are more to us than just chaperones, they offer us guidance and act as our support system and as our instructors. To say the least, the Westwood Robotics team is a group of intelligent individuals with great potential.
Our club was founded many years ago, back before any of our current members were at Westwood. Ancient records revealed that at this time in our history the Westwood Robotics Club had participated actively in the early years of the BEST robotics competition, although we do not know much else. Just like many great civilizations before it, suddenly the club and its glory vanished, leaving very little behind. In 2007 Collin Buchan and Eric Wood joined up to resurrect the club, determined to keep it from fading away ever again. Before long many other students started following them, and within the first month they had the manpower they needed to realize their vision of the club's future. Harnessing the finest brainpower Westwood had to offer, we were once again on track, taking on the annual BEST challenge in stride. But that only served to fan the flames of our passion for robotics, and before long we were hungry for more action. The club evolved into a powerful engineering force almost overnight, and the very next year Westwood students ascended to the next level by qualifying for the Texas BEST championships. In the years following, a group of students who had learned under these two passionate revisionists continued out their legacy, even though they had both graduated. Westwood robotics has continued to qualify for the Texas BEST championships since then, currently for three, going on four, consecutive years. This dynastic success comes regardless of the hardships the club has suffered, including strife within the school causing several switches in teacher-sponsors and constant relocations of the club’s arsenal of tools.