PROSPER — The Van Alstyne High School Robotics team competed at the CoCo BEST Robotics regional championships at Prosper High School on Saurday, Oct. 21 and earned fourth place in the overall 1-4A division. The team from Denison took first place at the area tournament, but the Van Alstyne Robotics team did not leave empty handed as they returned home with the Founder’s Award for their project at the end of the competition and will be going to the state tournament in December.

“I’m an engineer, I work for (Texas Instruments) full time,” said Van Alstyne Robotics head coach Brian Karguth, who is enjoying his first year coaching the robotics team. “I teach engineering up at the school one period a day and I helped with the robotics team in Denison last year and my son and I had a good time doing it so I decided to get involved and do it this year.”

Karguth said the robotics team has been putting in a lot of work to make it through the six-week long competition season which kicked off in September.

“They give you six weeks to build a robot out of specific things that they give you,” Karguth said. The team had to use the provided materials to assemble their automaton, and each team needed to demonstrate a knowledge of the engineering design process in their work.

“It’s trying to teach kids how to use engineering and get them interested in science, technology engineering and mathematics, so it’s a STEM activity,” Karguth said.

Karguth spoke of the importance of cultivating a new generation of engineers as the United States technology industry is currently experiencing a shortage of Americans who are interested in going into the fields of science and engineering.

“That’s why we have to import a lot of people from around the world, at (Texas Instruments). Where I work we can’t find enough qualified people to fill all the needs and we have a shifting economy,” Karguth said. “We are shifting towards technology — everybody has to know how to do that stuff and this is a good way to get people interested in it because its competitive activity and it’s more like a sport than just something academic.”

Texas Instruments is a company that has become synonymous with the advent of the digital age; it is the biggest sponsor of CoCo BEST, the Collin County hub of the competitive robotics organization.

“This is not something we came up with this is something people have figured out over the last 20 years or so that this is a good way to get kids really excited,” Karguth said.

The BEST competition process is split into two parts, the first part being the robot field competition where the machines are put to the test against obstacles and objectives which fit into a theme. The particular theme this year has possible life-saving applications for the future.

“This years’ theme was firefighting, we had to rescue a mannequin which represented someone who is on the floor incapacitated,” Karguth said. “We had to put out a fire which is where we fling balls at stacked cups which represented flames and we had to try and remove some hazardous drums. That’s the competition part of it which is the active robots.”

The second half of the competition centered upon the engineering and conceptual aspects of the robotics competition where the teams are tasked with a number of objectives. The first of which is creating a mock business that will be used as the face of the team in order to ‘sell’ their robots. Karguth said the teams, “had to create their own company and they had to create a show booth, they had to do an engineering notebook which basically documents everything they did.”

The teams had to come up with pitch presentations in which the product is presented with a sales pitch in front the judges. The teams attempted to convince the judges to buy their product and were graded on each part of the competition, after which the scores were added to determine an overall rank.

“We actually made it to state based upon that whole package,” Karguth said, “we did not win the robotics competition, but we placed in the top four in the other stuff so basically we go to state because we had the whole package.”

“We are the Collin County local hub,” he said. “I knew one of the guys who founded BEST in 1992 I worked at TI Sherman and one of the guys who founded it was in my group.”

“I think it’s the enthusiasm of the kids,” Karguth said. “My own son is in the team this year and a lot of his friends are on the team and I’ve know these kids for years and years. It’s really cool to see them get excited and enjoy doing the stuff. Hopefully this will spark them on to want to get an engineering degree in college or do something in technology.” Karguth said one of the best aspects of the experience so far has been the diversity of the groups of students who have taken an interest in developing and advancing robotics and mechanical engineering.

The next step for the team will be the state tournament which will take place Dec. 7 through 9, as the Van Alstyne Robotics team will compete for a state title at the 2017 Texas BEST and University Interscholastic League State Robotics Championship in Frisco and Richardson.

For those interested in learning more or becoming involved in Texas BEST robotics, details and competition brackets can be found online at Karguth says he enjoys passing on a love for engineering and technology that will carry over into academics as the students determine which courses they would like to focus on following high school through the competitive spirit that Van Alstyne has embraced throughout all of its sports programs.