Nathaniel Nisbett didn't so much gain an interest in robotics as he was "born into" it. The 15-year-old local homeschool student has several older siblings who also enjoyed building robots, programming them and taking them to competitions.
Nathaniel Nisbett often traveled along with them to the contests, and now his father, Dr. Keith Nisbett, is the adult leader of an area robotics competition team known as the Rolla Regional Robotics program.
Nathaniel Nisbett and four other teen homeschooled students make up the group who participate in the Botball organization, which supports education in robots, engineering, computer programming, critical thinking and proper business communication and documentation.
In addition to Nathaniel Nisbett are 17-year-olds Cheyenne Dalton, Drew McCluskey and Cordell Williams as well as 15-year-old Ryan Williams. They are from St. James, Vichy and Edgar Springs area, but during Botball season, they meet after school in Rolla at Missouri University of Science and Technology, where Dr. Keith Nisbett is the associate chair and an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
The university allows the team to use a workshop in Toomey Hall on campus to build their robots and practice programming them.
Nathaniel Nisbett, Dalton and McCluskey have been on the team since last year, while Cordell and Ryan Williams are new members this year. Ryan Williams joined the team, having no knowledge of programming and now he does. Dalton got involved in the program because of her friends.
The team has an Instagram account where the public can follow its Botball successes. The team's user name on Instagram is @the_stupid_team and is based off the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
The team also has shirts with "Keep It Simple, Stupid" printed on them.
Despite being a young and new team to the Botball organization, the team has already racked up quite an impressive amount of honors and recognitions.
"We’re defending champions at the Greater St. Louis Regional Competition," which takes place at the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Illinois, campus, Dalton said.
The team received the following awards in both the 2015 and 2016 contests:
n First place in seeding
n First place in double elimination
n Judge’s Choice Award for documentation
n Judge’s Choice for the Spirit of Botball
n Overall Champion ship
The team then went onto to the Global Conference on Education Robots (GCER) held July 5-10 in St. Augustine, Florida.
At the global conference, "we placed sixth out of 56 teams in the seeding rounds, tied with multiple teams for first with a perfect documentation score and placed 10th overall for our combined total (seeding, double elimination and documentation)," Dalton said.
The documentation is comprised of three lengthy writing assignments, with deadlines before each competition, a team slide graphic and an eight-minute on-site documentation judges at the competition.
She added that the team's awards also included a sixth place trophy and the Spirit of Botball award.
At the global contest, the team made friends with several international teams, including some from Egypt, Poland and Austria.
Dalton said the team has been described as "the glue that holds all other teams together."
There are about 344 Botball robotics teams worldwide, and about 17 compete in the St. Louis regionals while approximately 55 participated in the global competition.
Nathaniel Nisbett said many other teams he sees at competitions can only do one action at a time, whereas he has programmed the robots to multi-task.
Team members say they are always making changes to their robots and testing them several times to make sure they will act consistently.
Dalton said the first year that the Rolla Regional Robotics program won so many awards, they credited it to beginner's luck. They now credit their many awards to having homeschool students make up their team.

About Botball and the game
The Botball organization is different than the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics program that Rolla High School teams participate in.
Dr. Keith Nisbett said there are similarities between the two; they both have a Junior Lego League for younger students like FIRST, but one major difference is that in Botball, the older groups compete using robots that are entirely autonomous, whereas in FIRST robotics, teams use a mixture of autonomous programming as well as remote controlled robots.
Making the robots autonomous — meaning they follow a predetermined program — requires a lot of forethought and planning but also the ability to include changes in that programming to counter other robots.
The game board is 8 feet by 8 feet with two mirror image sides. The starting box for opposing sides are diagonal from each other.
The middle section, which is approximately 1 foot across, stretching the length of the board and dividing the two sides, is considered “no man’s land” offering points that can be scored by both sides during double elimination rounds.
The uncontested seeding rounds allow the teams to score as many points without another robot on the board. Game time usually lasts about two minutes.
Double elimination rounds follow seeding rounds and are set up with two teams’ robots playing on the same board on opposing sides.
The seeding rounds allow for teams to show off their maximum scores, while the double elimination rounds display a tougher competition packed with strategy rather than a lot of points.
The average score of the best two out of three rounds of seeding determine double elimination lineup. The highest scoring teams receiving “byes” for their first rounds and play the lowest seeding scoring teams first.
This year’s board had a theme based on the movie, "The Martian." Varying points to be scored were placed across the board representing different aspects and challenges proposed in the movie, some of which included “rough” terrain (an elevated section of the board) and cubes with “solar panels” and “dirt” on top.
The object was to remove the “dirt,” represented by poms, without knocking off the thick, cardboard “solar panels" and gathering “compost” poms and placing them in a potato bin full of “potato” poms.
The board dimensions and material list are provided at the beginning of the season.
The themed objects are included in a kit along with the limited mechanical materials, including a specific count of Legos, metal pieces, gears, wheels, servos, sensors and motors. This kit is identical across the globe for all competitors.
Nathaniel Nisbett said there is a menu system in the team's robots' programming that will ask the robot yes or no questions based on different things that occur during the competition.
A few businesses sponsored the team this past year, including Phelps County Regional Medical Center; the Henry A. Jubel Foundation of Spartan Light and Medal Products in Mexico, Missouri; Mott Family Dental; and My Father’s World.
For more information on Botball, visit www.botball.org/what-is-botball.