Robotics by Caleb McWilliams


Originally Published Winter 2007

Over the deafening noise, Ryan Major could hear his heart beating. For six weeks he had been preparing for this day, and it had all come down to this series of matches. The buzzer sounded, and immediately his focus was on one goal. Over the screaming of the audience, the beating of makeshift drums, and the shouting of teammates, Ryan made the slow but intentional push up the daunting incline.

Just as intense as any sporting event, the OKBEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) competition is a robotics program intended for junior high and high-school students. This annual event is hosted by Oklahoma Christian University and this year included eleven teams from across the state. Representing the homeschool community in central Oklahoma this year were the Oklahoma City Homeschool Robotics Team and Norman’s COACH (Central Oklahoma Alliance of Christian Homeschoolers).

Ryan Major’s team, Oklahoma City Homeschool Robotics, was comprised of two competing robots this year, Spirit and Opportunity. Named after the two rovers of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission, the two robots were designed, built, and tested by the members of the team over six weeks. Team members also worked on a table display, engineering notebook, team t-shirts, buttons, videos, pictures, and other spirit-related activities for the competition.

This year’s BEST robot challenge was based on the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission. A robot had to exit a base; go up a ramp onto the Automated Supply Vehicle; retrieve “fuel tanks” (bottles), medical supplies, food, and “equipment” (colored boxes); and take them to a storage bin on the opposite end. Each round took place in three minutes, so in addition to accuracy and quantity, teams also had to take speed into consideration. After building their robots, the teams convened on competition day to see how their robots compared with others. This exciting event included presentation of the table displays, team interviews, and the tournament.

“OKBEST Game Day is one of the most exhilarating and thrilling events,” said member Karalyn Finnell. Friend and teammate Kendall McWilliams agreed, “I love it every year!” Teams vied to place in the competition or win in other prize categories, striving to earn one of four passes to the regional competition, Frontier Trails BEST, held at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith.

As time in the round slipped away, the audience’s cheering reached fever pitch. Ryan’s robot Spirit got closer and closer to the storage bin where it needed to drop off a bottle to gain points.

Spirit had cleared the ramp, and other robots blocked its way. With seconds left, the audience collectively gasped. Would it make it? As the clock went from 0:01 to 0:00, the bottle fell into the storage bin. The buzzer sounded, the referee threw up his hands, and the audience went wild. Spirit had just scored its first points!

This year, Norman’s COACH won fifth place in the overall tournament while the OKC Homeschool Robotics won fourth. In addition to placing in the tournament, OKC Homeschool won the Founder’s Award for creative robot design and qualified for Frontier Trails BEST by winning first place in the highest award category given, the BEST Award, which includes a team’s spirit, sportsmanship, creativity, documentation techniques, and teamwork.

OKC Homeschool will travel to the regional competition, Frontier Trails BEST, which takes place Nov. 29-Dec. 1. Team members, parents, and coaches, will spend the weekend giving an oral presentation, undergoing table interviews, participating in a Thursday night “mixer” consisting of dancing, video games, and inflatables, and competing in the final tournament itself.

For information about OKBEST contact Larry McWilliams at 405-728-3305 or larrymcw@yahoo.com.

CALEB MCWILLIAMS, SON OF LARRY AND MARGARET MCWILLIAMS OF OKLAHOMA CITY, IS A JUNIOR JOURNALISM MAJOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL OKLAHOMA. HAVING PARTICIPATED IN THE ROBOTICS COMPETITIONS DURING HIS HIGH SCHOOL YEARS, HE NOW ACTS AS A MENTOR FOR THE OKC HOMESCHOOL TEAM.

THE OKLAHOMA CITY HOMESCHOOL ROBOTICS TEAM THIS YEAR INCLUDED COACHES STUART BOYES, JEFF FINNELL, AND LARRY MCWILLIAMS, AND STUDENTS IAN BOYES, JENNIFER BOYES, KEVIN BOYES, GARRETT FINNELL, KARALYN FINNELL, PRESTON FOREMAN, JORDAN KARIM, NATHAN KARIM, PATRICK KELLY, RYAN MAJOR, JOSIAH MCGINNIS, KENDALL MCWILLIAMS, ZACHARY MCWILLIAMS, EMILY ROSE MORTON, EMILY ROSEMARIE MORTON, ARIEL PRATT, ALICE THOLEN, ALEXANDER ROBERTS, AND RACHEL WIGGINS—ALONG WITH HELP FROM NUMEROUS MENTORS AND PARENTS.

NORMAN’S COACH TEAM INCLUDED COACHES ANDY BLACKFORD AND ABIGAIL BLACKFORD AND STUDENTS AARON BAKER, TIMOTHY BLACKFORD, ZACHERY BLACKFORD, TANNER BROGDEN, BRIANNA BROWN, KATRINA HAMMONDS, JACOB JOHNSTON, CHRISTOPHER MANN, RYAN ORLAND, SHAY SCHULTZ, AND CHANDLER VESSELS—AGAIN, WITH HELP FROM NUMEROUS MENTORS AND PARENTS.