Students compete in robotics contest at Wichita State

About 500 students gathered inside Wichita State University's Koch Arena Saturday for the 13th annual robotics competition complete with cheers, music and pompoms.

Students came from 29 Kansas and Arkansas high schools.

The teams had six weeks to design and build a robot using identical kits of materials.

On Saturday, their robots competed in a game called "Bugs."

In the game, four teams at a time drove their robots to pick up "genetically altered" insects — bean bags for termites and Styrofoam balls for flies — to see which performed best.

The "insects" had escaped from a lab, invaded a construction site and had to be caught, the game rules said.

"I've learned a lot about coming up with ideas — just the whole engineering process," Nathan Albert, a senior at Andale High School, said after explaining to a visitor how the arm of his team's robot could extend 3 feet high and 3 feet out and pivot on its base.

By 11 a.m., Albert had competed in two of the day's rounds.

"They have not been going well," he said.

Besides the robots' performance, teams receive points for a notebook they compile, their exhibit and for spirit and sportsmanship.

The top six teams compete in a regional competition at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith, Ark. Dec. 9 and 10.

"The purpose is to get more students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Larry Frutiger, co-director of Kansas BEST, which stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.

And to do it in a fun, sporting-event atmosphere, Frutiger said.

The competition was sponsored by WSU, Bombardier Learjet, Spirit AeroSystems, Airbus, Boeing and Cessna Aircraft.

The event brings real-life applications to material taught in the classroom, said Shelley Broas, a chemistry teacher at Andale High School.

Students are always asking why they need to know something and how they will use it, Broas said. But the concepts don't mean a lot until they're applied.

"You talk about force and gravity and motion," she said. "Now, let's make all of them work together."

Atchison High School student Erin Parsons joined her team only two weeks ago after hearing about the competition in class and seeing the robot being built.

She said she's learned a lot.

"I learned how to make a hand and the best way to engineer it and pick things up," Parsons said.

And she learned about genetic engineering. She helped write a paper on it for a notebook each team was required to compile.

"Before, science and engineering were things I sat through during school," Parsons aid. "Now, I can actually do them myself, and it's ... more interesting."