Lawton kids prepare for future by building robots

Lawton_Electronics have come a long way and those who take advantage of technology most are kids.  Students at Lawton Academy of Arts and Sciences presented an exciting robotics presentation at Cameron University.  It's called "BEST, Inc."  "BEST" stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology and is a non-profit, volunteer based organization.  Their focus is to inspire students to pursue careers in engineering, science and mathematics.

What these kids are learning now will help them, in so many ways, to prepare for the future.  Students at the academy who are involved with robotics classes and clubs have had six weeks to work on a sleek robot named "Bottly the Third".  This robot shoots into the future according to the kids' presentation.  They've designed a robot for use on Mars, in the year 2021, to recieve supplies before astronauts arrive.

"Automated Supply Vehicles (ASVs) land at the Martian base and must be unloaded using robots.  Because of the harsh enviornment on the Martian surface, our robots have three minutes to perform the following tasks:  exit the base and drive across the Martian surface, drive up onto the ASV and load supplies, and drive off the ASV and store the supplies in a storage bin at the Martian base."  These kids won the BEST Award at the state competition.  And, it has now been tweaked for the regional competition.

Justin Smiths, a senior at LAAS says his school has offered robotics for the past four years and he's been a part of it from the beginning.  He says he had no clue how much he would learn about robotics.  But, Justin didn't dive right in immediately.  "When I first heard about this program I thought 'oh, robotics - yeah, right,'" he says.  "But you really get immersed in this.

"You don't really think about how much you use robotics in real life," he says.  "This is stuff that can apply to garage door openers, surgeries that are being done to working on a car.  It does a good job of showing you how much you use in every day life."

Instructor Michelle Smith says teaching robotics takes extra time, but the kids learn so much.  She says there are a lot of robotics organizations all over the US - but there's more to it than that - she says the camaraderie is invaluable and, besides - it's free.  The program covers many different robotics applications including what it takes to market a product.  They study publicity, fundraising and compete with other teams and schools as well.

Nick Richards, a Lawton builder, volunteers as their technical coach.  He guides and assists the students to assure there are no accidents with equipment like saws and sharp instruments.  "It's rewarding to see their achievement and how they handle their sportsmanship of making their robot work," he says.  "They are learning valuable lessons."  And, since this is an Arts and Sciences school, their academic focus isn't typical - they learn teamwork in other ways.  "Our school doesn't get to compete in sports or academic challenges so this is open to everyone our football."

Justin says he has learned so much from the competitions and presentations and says he feels it will help him prepare for college next year - particularly in his least favorite subject.  "I'm honestly not that big of a math fan and this has really showed me how to apply my math skills more," he says.

Smith says one of the best things about BEST is that the program is free.  And, so many groups can create a team and prepare for the future.  If any public school, home school or even Boy Scout groups want to form a robotics team and participate in BEST, they should contact Michelle Smith at the Lawton Academy of Arts and Sciences for more information.