GTRI Mentors Show Their BEST in Robotics Competition

Published: December 1, 2011

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Two high school teams scoring first and second places in the BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology) Georgia Robotics competition on Oct. 29, 2011, have something in common: Engineers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) serve as team mentors.

Principal Research Engineer Tom Collins helped mentor the Fernbank LINKS team from DeKalb County Schools to a first-place finish, while Research Engineer Bob Baggerman’s Grady High School team took second place. In 2010, the Grady High team took the overall top prize.

With more than 700 participating schools, BEST students strive to build radio-controlled robots over a six-week period. During the competition, the teams’ robots complete a series of challenges in a 3-minute drill. Teams also take on the role of corporations, in which they are judged according to several categories: T-shirt design, presentations, Website design, exhibition and sportsmanship.

Mentors and coaches serve as the main problem-solving resource, helping to guide BEST team members in the design and construction phase. “I’ve mentored this team since 2005, and we usually advance to regional competition,” Collins said. “This year, though, we swept the top two awards—Robot Performance and the BEST Award, the highest honor awarded by BEST.”

Collins considers this year special, in terms of honoring part-time GTRI employee and Georgia Tech student Liam Rattrey, who was killed on Memorial Day. “He was a team founder, so this year we included several homages to Liam,” he said. The 30-member team’s robot, Scottie Junior, was named in honor of Scottie, the robot when Rattrey was the team’s student leader in 2004. “That was the first time Fernbank LINKS participated in BEST.”

According to Baggerman and Collins, several Georgia Tech students and GTRI employees have competed in the BEST Georgia program. Undergrad students Keller Tomassi and Thuy Dinh from Fernbank LINKS worked as summer interns, and Scott Chambliss with Grady High is a Georgia Tech student. GTRI Research Engineer Kevin DeMarco also participated in high school robotics programs.

In addition, the daughter of GTRI Principal Research Engineer Lora Weiss, Kristin, is a member of the team. Weiss, who also coached the team, specializes in, among other things, autonomous unmanned vehicles. “Tom has invested countless hours in his role as mentor,” Weiss said. “He persisted with these teenagers, and was unyielding in his encouragement and support. He has earned their respect and is a true role model.”

Four teams from Georgia—North Cobb Christian High School and North Forsyth High School along with Fernbank and Grady High—attended the South’s BEST regional competition at Auburn University on Dec. 3, 2011. They faced teams from Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.

Out of 50 teams, Fernbank placed ninth overall, and Grady placed 21st. Fernbank also won third place in the SolidWorks CAD Design and the Most Elegant Robot awards. Grady took third place in the Most Photogenic Robot award. "We had one bad round out of three in the semifinals," Collins said. "Had we performed three similar rounds, we would have made the championship round an competed for a top-four finish."

Collins helps develop hardware and software solutions to problems in robotics, control, electronic warfare, image processing and other computationally intensive applications. Baggerman has extensive experience in the analysis and testing of communications and navigation systems, and has worked on the design of analog and digital radio communications systems.


For more information:

Fernbank LINKS

Grady High School Team