Updated: Dec 14, 2021
The VEX Robotics Competition is a way for students to embrace their inner engineer by creating a robot that performs certain tasks on a small enclosed field. Every year, there is a new theme and a new challenge. Middle and high school students design robots from scratch in order to complete the tasks efficiently within the designated time period. VRC (VEX Robotics Competition) is a great way for students to discover what they are interested in from a young age.
The competitions change every year with new mechanics and ways to score points. This year, the competition is called Tipping Point. In Tipping Point, there are two teams (known as alliances) of two robots which compete to score the most points. They compete on a 12x12 foot field with two alliance goals on each side and three neutral goals in the middle. There are also purple rings laid across the ground in a way shown in the photo above. Scoring can be accomplished in numerous ways: A ring placed inside a goal is 1 point; a ring placed on a short pole is 3 points; and a ring placed on a high goal is 10 points. There are opportunities to score even higher: A goal of your alliance’s color or a neutral goal in your alliance zone is 20 points; a robot elevated on their balance beam is 30 points; and an elevated goal is 40 points. For the first 15 seconds, robots must move on their own without human interaction, referred to as the autonomous period. The other 1 minute and 45 seconds is the driver control period, where the team driver can manually operate their robot.
Robots in VRC are made out of metal and screws, like a real engineering project. However, some of the most crucial parts include other components, such as a cortex, motors, and a remote control. The cortex is a CPU unit with a touchscreen display that connects the rest of the robot parts. The motors of the robot aid in moving each component of the robot (wheels, mechanical arms, etc). The remote control is what drives the robot during the driver control period. The remote closely resembles a controller of an Xbox or a PlayStation. The cortex on its own does not have any power, so it requires an attached battery. Additionally, in order to establish a link with the remote control, the cortex requires a wireless receiver known as the NetKey. All of these technological components need to be attached to the robot except for the remote control.
It can be argued that VRC has a steep learning curve, but there are key strategies that can maximize your robot’s efficiency. Although it is not required, making a base with wheels is by far the best approach to starting your robot. You can find many examples of other robots built by others online for inspiration. After the base, there is room for more creative interpretation, as you can add just about anything in order to make your robot succeed. In most competitions, there is a lifting aspect to it; your robot must lift a certain object and move it to a structure or area on the field. Therefore, a lift on your robot can prove useful in the game. Common lifts used are 2-bars, which are quite basic; 4-bars, which allow the item being lifted to stay the same orientation as it was when picked up; and 6-bars and 8-bars, which can elevate items extremely high. In order to pick up an object, you will need a grabbing mechanism. A common way to do this is by using a claw; there are pre-built claws offered by VEX themselves but most teams make their own for more freedom and flexibility. However, a lift and a claw aren’t the only ways to achieve success in the VRC field. For example, in Tipping Point, many teams have double prongs that lift up goals in order to move them to their side of the field. Some teams have even ignored the rings in order to focus on the goals. What makes VEX so unique is the amount of mechanisms possible. Everyone has different ideas, and when these ideas are implemented, they create an amazing final robot that reflects the talent and scope of the team behind it.
Students learn a lot about engineering and design through VEX Robotics, and it can foster creativity in the kids’ minds. Robotics can teach children and teenagers alike about good teamwork and leadership skills as well, which are essential in today’s world.