(the) Best Robotics Competition


If you give a mouse a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk. If you give a team of geeks a box full of parts ranging from aluminum to plywood to motors to RF interfaces, they will build a robot. Introducing Best Robotics, a volunteer group that gives schools a box of hardware and 6 weeks to build a robot that will compete against other schools for the title of champion.

This past Saturday the17th, the OKBest regional competition was held and I, HaD writer [Jakob], was lucky enough to be invited personally to not only watch – but compete. Check out our full breakdown after the jump.

First an explanation of the competition. Each year the ‘goal’ changes but always includes several of the same concepts. Remote controlled robots must pick up different items for points, assemble something for multipliers, and signal a tie breaker. This year the robot’s task was to scavenge and collect tennis balls, racket balls, soup cans, beach balls, and 6inch PVC pipe sections – easy right?


Well not when those tennis balls are catalysts, racket balls are water, soup cans are energy, beach balls are CO2, and the PVC represents benzene. See where we’re going, if not think chemistry. It gets harder when you learn almost none of those game pieces are in play unless you send an IR signal to the game field. We haven’t even gotten to the 2 foot size restriction in all 3 dimensions and the finite parts list. Those who want to read more about the game and rules this year can find it here.


So how did I get the chance to compete? Well, being team captain really helps. Meet team ENHS. The past two years we’ve come nearly in last place and this this was our third, and potentially final time to partake within Best; it was time to stop being the underdogs.


Our robot design included an undercarriage ‘stomach’ and frontal ‘mouth’ that could be raised and lowered to capture the tennis balls, racket balls, and soup cans. We decided against attaining CO2 and benzene after finding we could achieve a max score of about 21 million points without them. The control system, programming, and IR commands were all handled by yours truly – while the rest of the team did most of the construction – and painting.


The great thing about Best is that if you don’t have an engineering degree, or even know what a motor does. There are awards that can actually get you to first place by best documentation, most enthusiasm, best T-shirt design, most interesting interview, and several others. But it still exposes people to robots and their construction, hopefully to influence them towards a career in technology.


So how did we actually do? 5th place overall out of 12. Not to bad considering last year we got 18th out of 17 teams (we don’t know how we managed that either). Win or lose, the experience, knowledge, and fun we gained from the competition will last a lifetime. The competition however will not, as funding for Best has declined over the years and our region next year will not play host. Hats off to the best year of Best.

32 thoughts on “(the) Best Robotics Competition

  1. Back in high school, we had a FIRST team, but it turned out to be pretty damn expensive after a couple of years, so we thought we would give BEST a shot. All I have to say is dear god it was an awful competition. Most of the robots were held together with hope and duct tape, and the “competition” we went to was held in a gym in some st. louis school, with maybe 10 teams. We showed up with a robot that we felt looked like crap, and then soon came to realize that we were the only team there that had done any sort of machining, or knew what the hell “tolerance” was. Some of the other team’s bots repeatedly fell apart due to duct tape failure, had bearings that did absolutely nothing, etc. The following years, we merged a couple FIRST teams together so we could keep building challenging robots.

  2. I would like to defend the BEST competition. It’s not really just a FIRST clone, as Devin says, but it was actually founded in 1993, one year after FIRST was founded. The two programs have completely different ideologies.

    The BEST competition is completely free for schools to participate in, and every team is forced to use the exact same kit of parts. This forces the teams to be creative in their solution vs FIRST where teams with bigger budgets can often do better (not always).

    Also, the BEST competition brings in elements of engineering that I believe FIRST leaves out. Every team is required to turn in a design notebook, complete with the engineering process and drafts. Also, each team has to present their design in a 20-minute oral presentation. Finally, they have to build a table display (much like a trade show). These are additional elements that FIRST neglects.

    I have competed in both, and I thoroughly enjoy both, but I feel like the BEST competition is a more significant competition than it gets credit for.

  3. Given the overall pathetic state of technology knowledge in the US, this type of event should be encouraged and improved upon instead of whining that it isn’t another battlebot post.

    An awful lot of students (and graduates) in the US can barely read a ruler and figuring out the decimal equivalents for the common fractions is rocket science.

    Its a real shame what this country has become – we no longer lead in much of anything (except whining and debt) and I’m not talking about Cole who put together some constructive comments.

    It amazes me how many posts are from a bunch of whining losers. Put some effort into some constructive critisim or shut up.

    The above photos show some bots that are WAY ahead of most science projects and if you’ve got kids hooking up motors, learning about circuits and using their brains its alot better than sitting on the couch playing grand theft auto.

    This competition sounds like it could be a good first step before the FIRST competition which takes alot of time, money and effort.

  4. I was in the OK Best competitions for 4 years and i have to say it was the funnest time i ever had in high school…. that’s the thing though.. its a high school competition and i have to say even though they are held up by duct tape alot of the time the fact that they move and somewhat function is astonishing. the parts list is very limited at that. you get pvc pipes, a few sheets of wood a couple pieces of half inch thick metal, 2 rolls of duct tape and that’s about it aside from the electronics. you can include parts not given but its supposed to be parts that every team can acquire easily i.e. aluminum cans.

    But to put this back into perspective again, it is alot of high school kids, most of which have never even held a rc plane remote control, let alone played with servos or had to cut something with a cnc before. the first 2 years the girls on our team actually melted our batteries because they charged them to long lol

  5. I have to agree with Mike ant Tyler. From the three years i participated in South’s BEST in high school and reffed it in college, I can say that it is a wonderful experience to go through. Yes, the robots are not perfectly machined, or all metal, but the point of the competition is to get the students involved with all aspects of engineering.

    In addition to what Michael mentioned, there is also a CAD modeling of the robot that has to be turned in. When I got to college, many people had never even heard of computer aided design, much less, know how to model a part.

    Besides, there are not just high school teams competing. The last preliminary round that I reffed, around eight of the twenty-one schools competing were middle schools! Since when has anyone heard of middle schools participating in a robotics competition? I certainly would have loved to have the experience as a middle schooler.

  6. I think that this has been filed incorrectly. From what I understand, BEST and FIRST robotics tournaments are more like RC car events. The “robots” are driven by human control, i.e a person with a control like used on an RC vehicle. I believe that this has become a huge issue. More and more people are believing that robots are just robot looking devices that are driven by humans.

    For some real robot action, check out the Botball program, where all of the robots are autonomous, meaning that they operate entirely with out human intervention, just based on pre programmed code.

  7. @Bob Jones

    I agree with your point, and do believe that simply calling a remotely operated device as a robot incorrect, however, claiming these program mislabeled wouldn’t be entirely true. I have no experience in the BEST program, however, 4 years of competition in FIRST leads me to argue this. In the FRC competition (big teams) teams are encouraged to have their robot participate in a period of autonomous (or hybrid operation much like those used in space vehicles) that begins each competition match. This traditionally lasts from 10-20 seconds. Teams are then rewarded with large point bonuses of they can score in said period autonomously.

    On another note FIRST also holds a Lego league, for students from grade school to middle school. In this competition, the robots are made from lego’s mindstorms kits, and all of their operation is done autonomously.

  8. I’ve also participated in BEST. For a high schooler, yeah, it’s a unique experience, but I can’t say it was too impressive. As cole said, most the the “robots” were quite raggedy… except for the 1-3 teams which no doubt had at least a class period per day to work on it (never mind team = 20+ people = one class), and their “robots” were thusly well-built, complex machines that did what needed to be done well. Something of a shitshoot for the other teams, who used duct-tape.

    I, however, made sure ours had at least one LED. All 3 times I ended up doing the electronics, because there is only one way to do it (make a dual motor controller out of two servos) for a grand total of two reversible PWM outputs [motor controllers], and two reversible digital outputs.

    I suppose the abominations we created could be called “robots”, but I was honestly hoping for something more like FIRST… programming, and more time for proper design.

  9. @zigzagjoe

    I’m currently a participating member on my school’s BEST team, and as of last year they’ve given us much more control. The kit now includes a “BRAIN,” so now there is much more output, and plenty of programming opportunities.

    As far as BEST versus FIRST, my team usually views BEST as FIRST lite. On the other hand, I think it’s a competition where the emphasis isn’t based on funding or building the most complex machine. Instead, it’s about managing very limited resources (only 4 motors and 4 control axes) to play a complex game. I find it especially interesting to see how other teams solved the same problems we worked on the last 6 weeks.

  10. zigzagjoe:

    … make a dual motor controller out of two servos) for a grand total of two reversible PWM outputs [motor controllers], and two reversible digital outputs.

    Can you or someone elaborate on this? I’m not sure what you are creating. Are you hacking servos or using their output to control switches or something.


  11. Well I remember doing this for the 2005 competition, some of the robots were quite interesting, Our small team only managed to get the robot done the night before the competition and almost all the work was done that night, it didn’t look pretty but it got us 3rd place. The competition was to make a mechanical arm and ours was just enough to do the competition a pcv arm that moved a “hook” out and a second motor that moved the hook up and down. It was fun to make, but not very challenging.

  12. Thanks zigzagjoe,

    We did the same about 15 years ago when we built a large radio control ‘boat’ to spray herbicides on lakes and ponds. It fit in the back of a pickup truck and was custom made. I should go back and take some photos for this site. We bought a cheap RC car to get us going initially. We put micro switches into the drive train and stearing on the RC car to control the boat’s stearing and pumps. Worked well for a while until we got a DTMF decoder board to fire relays.

  13. I’m from bryant arkansas and team this sarturday competed in the little rock hub’s competition and won 1st. maybe its not the most glorious or exciting robotics competition out there, but it”s still was fun and an awesome learning experience for those who have had no prior experience with robotics.

  14. I am from watertown SD and I also just competed yesterday in the hub in north dakota with about 22 teams, my team taking first. My sister was in the FIRST robotics, but my school stopped doing it after two years because of how much money it costs. I don’t see how so many people can cut down the BEST program, it gives any school a chance to be able to compete. Sure there are a few robots held together by duct tape, but most were well engineered in my hub. Maybe I will see you at the Frontier Trails regional competiton Thomas Fleming.

  15. Hello Thomas Fleming,

    The IR is surprisingly well documented and is easy to utilize. I however don’t have access to the actual code I used at the moment – so bare with me. But it is in the documentation Best provided.

    You treat it exactly as a servo. First by initializing the servo (I think its setservorange) to 180.

    Then whenever you wish the IR to send a command, you use setservo with a value of 0 to 1024. Once again you’ll have to look up exacts. But a value of 200 is release catalysts, 600 is energy, etc.

    I hope this helps, and hopefully someone else can instruct you further.


  16. Sam,

    Yes, there is two ways we got to test. The first is simple unplug the IR transmitter, and plug in a servo. If the servo moves to the correct position, then your IR is programmed correctly.

    The second way was on mall day. One of the volunteers had her laptop wired to a receiver similar to the one on the gamefield. We were able to test with that (and actually found out one of the IR transmitters was broken!).

    You might try and use an IR modified camera or other technique. Best of luck.

    Also remember, you can only plug the IR transmitter in one way, if you plug it in backwords, it will fry itself!


  17. Here in America we have poor schooling because we have BEHAVIOR SPECIALISTS running them, not educational advocates, or even a concerned mother, but no a BEHAVIOR SPECIALIST. We dont need any more ‘battle bots’ Thats the kind of shit that gets thrown at us so we just sit and watch television and think.

    If we were to think and realize the sad state of .. well our state is in, and perhaps maybe just ponder as to how the monetary system is built on, we would all go revolt and revolutionize, educate, etc…

    Its cool row row battlebots i r ‘tupid american.

    P.S. Wheres the girl in a bikini and flashy lights? I dont take interest to anything if those arent included!

  18. @Oct 25th, 2009 by MIke notes the progression upwards (from ducktape and fried batteries). And “compared to what?”; anything that gets kids DOING stuff, anything, rather than just becoming mindless, consuming, corpulent couch potatoes has to be good.

    I don’t expect people with no experience of building anything much, nor of the world generally, to produce BattleBots with AI from a standing start. Going to the stars starts with a kite.

    As an old engineer my protip is learn to *improvise*

  19. As an engineer with a Master’s Degree and having a son who participated in both competitions I have to state that BEST and FIRST are entirely different. BEST encorages the team to use a limited supply of parts and supplies and to let the students compete with their plans and knowledge. FIRST encourages the team to get the most engineering help, the most money, and the best facilities together and those are the teams that typically win. FIRST often becomes an adult project. Both programs are great and give good experiences but give me an student who has built a winning robot with the parts from BEST over a student who might have participated in a FIRST team and won with lots of $$ and adult engineers. I need engineers that think creatively, with cost constraints and can get the job done even with limited resources. That is the true engineer.

  20. As a student participant of OKC Homeschool and the 4-H Ninja Munkees robots teams. I have one thing to say. BEST and FIRST are nothing alike. They both teach you separate things yet both focus on Engineering fields. There are times during both seasons that I sit there wishing for the other. But in the end I have learned a great deal of information from both. I personally prefer these robotics competition over something like battle bots simply because I can reuse my robot after each round. Even if I loose..

  21. Oh man, BEST was so fun! I did that back in high school and our robot was so haggard. Haha.

    My friend and I were a little dumb… We had a “prototype” for a while and then about a day before the competition we decided to take it all apart and re build it a little more solid… Ended up just breaking it.

    Finally got it working the morning before the competition. Haha.

  22. I competed in BEST for 6 years and was team captain for all 4 years of High school, having the 2nd highest score in the nation my last year (when compared to the other regionals). I also competed in FIRST for 2 years, both of which I was captain.
    But enough bragging ;)

    As already stated in previous post, FIRST and BEST have a lot of differences. Yes FIRST is more prestigious and normally more impressive to watch (120 pound robots speeding around a huge game field at 10fps are amazing) But the winning teams I have seen rely heavily on professional engineers to help them build their robot. I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing, it does teach students a lot about how engineering works.
    But at times, the robot becomes just as much the coaches project as it is the students.

    BEST is much more student oriented. Both our teams are 90% student ran. This works great in BEST, however it poses more difficulties in FIRST because we are competing against teams with both students and professional engineers. We enjoy the challenge, but it would be difficult for a new FIRST team to be run this way. Which in my mind, is a definite shortcoming.

    As for the complaint about the robots in BEST being mostly ductape and scraps, and I have only one thing to say… Have you been to a FIRST competition? There are always a handful of robots that are just scrap bits of aluminum welded together with some motors thrown in. Which in my mind is a lot worse than a ductape BEST robot. At least the BEST team didn’t spend $6,000+ on their piece of junk robot.

    Now in FIRSTs defense, it gives students hands on with technologies used in the engineering field that they would have otherwise, which is a huge advantage for their future.

    So I guess to sum this all up, they both have their pro’s and con’s, and in a lot of ways compliment each other… So don’t hate. :D

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