District Hosts First Okaloosa RoBotic Invitational Tournament (ORBIT)

Students from seven middle schools and one elementary school came together on Saturday, April 12, 2014, for the district’s first Okaloosa RoBotic Invitational Tournament (ORBIT) which was held at the Okaloosa STEMM Center. 

In this competition, students programmed their Lego Mindstorms robots to autonomously accomplish five different missions that included Drag Race, Ball Pickup, Ball shoot, Maze, and Wind Sprints.  Students had the opportunity to fine tune their robots through three runs before competing in the “expert” level attempt in the afternoon. 

“Today was the capstone of everything we have done from starting last August,” said Patti Bonezzi, Program Director, Career/Technical Education.  “We purchased the robots, provided professional development for all of our coaches from Lego, and then we had professional development monthly to help the coaches learn how to do all of these tasks so they could go back to their schools and coach their teams.”

The teams that competed were: Okaloosa STEMM Academy, Ruckel Middle School, Pryor Middle School, Shoal River Middle School, Davidson Middle School, Bob Sikes Elementary School, Baker Middle School, and Bruner Middle School.  Niceville High School students were there as volunteers.

“The robots use color, light, touch, gyro, and ultrasonic sensors to navigate in these events,” said Beth Hanning of the Doolittle Institute.  “In robotics, students learn not only how to build robots to accomplish missions and software coding, but they also learn engineering design because it is very problem intensive.  They have to be good problem solvers.  They have to be fast problem solvers, because sometimes things go wrong at events.  They have to learn to use sensors, understand how sensors work, and know which sensors are the best ones to use.”

In the Drag Race competition, the robot has to travel 50 feet in the shortest amount of time. The robot with the best time is the winner.

The Maze is a four foot square maze with twelve inch walls.  There are no dead ends, but several decision points based on the color of the wall in the expert version.  The robot has to detect when it reaches a wall, find out where the opening is, turn and move through it.  The robot with the best time is the winner.

In the Wind Sprints competition, the robot has to do basketball drills on an eight foot platform.  It begins at the starting line, goes to the first line and returns, then it goes to the second line and returns, and finally it goes to the third line, returns, and turns around.  The robots have to use their sensors to know which lines they are crossing.  The robot with the best time is the winner.

In the Ball Shoot competition, the robot has three minutes to leave the base, carrying up to three balls, travel to opposing corner of a 4x4 platform, put balls into a goal and return to the base to reload.  The robot with the most balls in the goal is the winner. 

In the Ball Pickup competition, the robot retrieves balls.  It has to go out onto a 4x4 platform, get the balls, and bring them back.  The balls have to be “actively” captured.  The robot cannot drag them, herd them, or shoot them back.  The robot with the most balls returned to base is the winner. 

The Niceville High School Radioactive Roaches robotics team spent the last several months working with the First Lego League coaches and the Doolittle Institute to develop the rules and prepare the course for ORBIT.  They were also on hand the day of the competition to help the students with last minute programming issues.  Doolittle Institute presented a mega-sized thank you card, signed by the coaches and 70 students along with a check for $200, to the Radioactive Roaches team for all of the hard work they put into constructing the mission boards.

When asked what challenges the Ruckel Middle School team faced during the competition, Samuel Llewelyn an eighth grade student, shared, “As part of the Drag Racing team, we came across things like one wheel was moving faster than another and our program was not working right.  So we adjusted our program and made compensations for certain things.”

“The maze was challenging,” said Wesley Krist, also an eighth grade student at Ruckel Middle School.  “During the expert level, you had to pull a card – red or blue.  Whatever card you pulled, the robot had to do a 360 when it saw that color.  So we had to make two different programs for each color and sometimes one or the other was working and sometimes they were both working.  So it was very difficult.”

During the intermission, the Niceville robotics team had the opportunity to show the participants the robot they built for their competition this year.  The large, bright blue robot, nicknamed “Atlas,” delighted the audience as it played ball with them.  The robot is programmed to throw, catch, and retrieve a large bouncing ball which it can throw various distances.

In a very tight competition, Ruckel Middle School came out the overall winner with 41 total points.  Bob Sikes Elementary School came in second with 40 points and the Okaloosa STEMM Academy placed third with 39 points.

“I am so proud of them especially being their first year,” said Katie Gunderson, an eighth grade science teacher at Ruckel who serves as the robotics coach.  “We have to give so much credit to Niceville’s Radioactive Roaches who have come over and served as coaches. I could not be prouder of all of the kids that are part of this program.

ORBIT was hosted by the Okaloosa County School District, the Doolittle Institute, Niceville High School CHOICE IT, and the Okaloosa STEMM Center.  The Lego Mindstorms robots and Saturday’s event were funded through grants from The Boeing Company and AT&T. Six professional development sessions were held in preparation this school year for robotic coaches. These were led by Ben Shuman of the NHS Choice Institute and Beth Hanning of Doolittle Institute.

Judges included the Niceville High School robotics team and volunteers from Eglin Air Force Base and the University of West Florida.  Ben Shuman, NHS, and Beth Hanning, Doolittle Institute, served as the Emcees.

Congratulations to all of our winners:

ORBIT Overall Winners

1st – Ruckel MS - 41 
2nd – Bob Sikes ES - 40 
3rd – Okaloosa STEMM Academy - 39


1st – Bruner MS
2nd – Bob Sikes ES
3rd – Ruckel MS

Wind Sprints

1st – Bob Sikes ES
2nd – Ruckel MS
3rd – Shoal River MS

Ball Shooter

1st – Baker MS 
2nd – Bob Sikes ES
3rd – Okaloosa STEMM Academy

Ball Pickup

1st – Pryor MS
2nd – Okaloosa STEMM Academy
3rd – Ruckel MS


1st – Okaloosa STEMM Academy
2nd – Bob Sikes ES
3rd – Ruckel MS


1st – Okaloosa STEMM Academy
2nd – Ruckel MS
3rd – Baker MS

To see a photo gallery of the event, click here.