MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Robots are taking over Myrtle Beach for the third year in a row. The Palmetto Regional First Robotics Competition is underway, and teams from as far away as Canada are here to compete.
This robotics competition could take our students as far as the international level, but first they have to win this regional tournament, and go against more than 60 other teams in the process. Eleven of those teams are from Horry County, made up of our very own students.
"Before I joined the robotics team, I didn't know what I wanted to do but now I know I want to major in Engineering," said Carolina Forest Robotics Team Member Nichole Campbell.
Campbell credits her future plans to joining the team, three years ago. In fact, after graduation, she's heading to Clemson to become an engineer. She said the experience is life changing, for all.
The three-day competition really began six weeks ago when teams began building their robots. Teams made up of students, teachers and mentors devote their time to creating a robot. The goal is to come up with a masterpiece they think will win based upon the challenge they receive. This year's challenge is based around recycling.
Today and tomorrow students will put their robots to the test with the goal to ship off to Nationals.
Teachers involved refer to the event as a "cooper-tition," because although it's a competition, it takes cooperation and a group effort.
"Everyone in this room can go pro," said Carolina Forest High School teacher Nathan Ernest. "It's not like most sports where a kid really excels and only one or two on the team will go to college. Every single kid in here can go onto engineering, can go on to do math, can go on to build stuff, so that's a really cool thing."
The efforts heading into the competition give students a chance to work closely not just with their teachers, but professionals who devote their life to this type of work, every day.
"It prepares them for the way the real world works," said Carolina Forest Team Mentor from Metglas Joe Boggs. "They don't have enough time, they don't have enough money, they don't have enough manpower, they don't have enough materials, they don't have enough ideas, but they have to make it work."
To help them make it work, Boggs mentors the Carolina Forest robotics team. Students say it's mentors like Joe who boost this experience. It gives them a real life look at careers in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM, which is what the competition is built around.
While building robots and getting this hands on experience, students learn critical thinking skills, teamwork and efficiency. Boggs says preparation for this competition shows students what life is like when they leave the classroom and enter the real world. He said he's witnessed these students go on to study engineering in college or even work for big companies like Boeing.
"It's really fun, we always, we learn from mentors, it's set up like a real business so we learn real life skills for a job in the future," said Campbell.
The robotics competition this year will also offer scholarships for students, from colleges and corporations.
The Palmetto Regional First Robotics Competition is benefiting not just the students, but also the city of Myrtle Beach. It is bringing in teams, and their families into the area; thousands are expected to show up.
Myrtle Beach actually tied for Los Angeles for the largest regional first robotics competition in the country. The event is drawing in 66 teams from eight states and Canada. According to city leaders, the event is not growing, simply because we're at capacity. The focus is to keep the event coming back.
Boggs sees the return of FIRST Robotics as a win for the entire area. You see, Myrtle Beach is known for our beaches, sporting events and tourist attractions, but this event is opening it up to gain a new title. If we keep up this event, Boggs thinks Myrtle Beach could one day be known as technology center. It could be the first of many technology type events to come to our area.
The event is held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. It is open to the public Friday and Saturday. There is also an online live stream if you prefer to watch from home.