Cumby’s ‘Space Cowboys’ take on the the big schools in high-tech competition and come home winners
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

The Cumby Space Cowboys robotic team, which included (left to right) Dayton Gifford, Ariel Greene and Jeffrey Smith, recently took home the "Most Elegant Design" award and ranked fifth overall at the 2005 Collin County Hub competition in Allen. 
Staff Photo by Patti Sells

Nov. 3, 2005 -- The Cumby Space Cowboys engineered their way to winning the “Most Elegant Design” award at the 2005 Collin County Hub Competition, besting 19 other robotics teams for the coveted prize Saturday, Oct. 22, at Ereckson Middle School in Allen.

�It made me proud that we were one of the smallest schools there, and we showed them we could compete with the big schools,� said team member Dayton Gifford, a junior at Cumby High School.

While larger schools from places such as Garland, Plano and Allen had up to 50 members working on their team, Cumby had a lot less. Like three.

Some of the schools even had cheerleaders, mascots and bands present, according to chemistry and physics teacher Lee Gifford, who accompanied her students to the event.

Cumby High was also the only Class 1A school that advanced to the semifinal round, ranking fifth overall at the end of the day.

Gifford said that this is the third year she has taken students to compete at the BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) Program, “designed to show youth how engineering can be fun through a sports-like technology contest.”

Teams are each given a mish-mash of identical parts and various materials with which they are to build a remote controlled robot using specific design requirements in a given period of time. The completed creation must be programmed to accomplish certain tasks during the competition.

�It just looked like a box of junk to me,� said freshman team member Ariel Greene, referring to the container carrying the humorous caveat, �This is a Robot. Some assembly required.�

�I was thinking, �This is never going to happen.��

The students were given six weeks to design and build a working robot, a Web page, an instruction notebook and research paper. The “Most Elegant Design” award is given to the team that can best demonstrate and prove they did, in fact, build the robot themselves.

�They won�t even be considered for the award if the judges think adults did the work,� Gifford said.

According to Gifford, what helped her students win the award was when their robot malfunctioned during the event -- as many did -- and the Cumby team grabbed tools and set to work repairing the automated entry themselves.

�We saw lots of teams around us where the coaches were saying �Get me this, get me that,� as they [the coaches] fixed the problem with the students standing by watching,� explained Gifford.

She, on the other hand, was running in circles, panicking.

�I was no help at all. I just stood there saying, �Can you fix it? Can you fix it?�� she added, laughing.

�We were the only school there that the teacher didn�t know how the robot worked,� said senior Jeffrey Smith, captain of the Space Cowboys, participating for the second time at the competition.

�Jeffrey really has an engineering brain,� said Gifford. �He really has a knack for it. He jumped in and was able to correct the problem with the help of his team.�

Gifford said all the judges commented on the Space Cowboys’ robot and were extremely impressed by the students’ work. Their robot was the lightest, weighing only 7 pounds, and was considered the most dependable.

�It did the job it was meant to do without a lot of extra stuff on it,� said Jeffrey.

�This year�s BEST scenario was entitled, �Trouble at the Hubble,� where teams would maneuver their robots pretending to repair the Hubble space telescope�s new gyro/battery units and de-orbit rocket engine.

Four teams consisting of two missions specialists -- one to manually work the extension arm while the second controlled the transmitter that guided the robot which would remove and replace defective equipment within three minutes -- work together to complete critical tasks. Robots that complete the mission the quickest are  awarded all future (pretend) servicing contracts.

It turned out that Ariel was the one to beat in the driving competition with 64 points, which outscored all the guys in the event.

�I�m very proud of them,� said Gifford. �I couldn�t have done half of what they did.�

Gifford said she and the Space Cowboys owe a big thank you to their sponsors Gina and Ferrin Long, owners of the Spotted Mule, and Sandra and Arlie Bryant of AB Machining, both local businesses which shut down for periods of time in order to teach the students how to operate equipment such as lathes, drills, plasma cutters and other tools to make their robot.

�This project has really raised the level of interaction between our school and our community,� said Gifford. �We have business owners and parents that have mentored and acted as positive role models for these kids, and they have become so deeply involved that we have other projects planned.

�The BEST Robotics program is the most rewarding project that I have ever been involved with as a teacher, because I have students discovering the fun of engineering for the first time, and it�s opening doors to a new world. It has increased their pride and confidence in themselves, which will result in bright and secure futures.�

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