Robotics Challenge

We attended the Vex Robotics Competition at the Plymouth High School Gym on Saturday. We have attended a few times in the past and it is always interesting.

I’m no expert, but here’s what I have gleaned from a few competitions I’ve observed.

  • The competition is put on by Vex Robotics.
  • The competition is multi-level where you have regional competitions with winners that can proceed on to State, National and World competitions.
  • Each year the challenge is different and the components allowed for building the robot challengers are different.
  • There is an autonomous challenge where each robot must perform without active guidance and a guided challenge where the robots are remote controlled by their teams.
Smith Field – one of three competition fields. In this picture, the field is set up ready to add robots.

The competition on Saturday was multitasked and was called “Spin Up”. Two teams of two robots competed – a red team and a blue team. The field of play is approximately 10′ x 10′. In two opposing corners there were two goals – a high goal and a low goal. In the alternate corners there were spinners with blue and red sides. scattered around the playing field were yellow disks that were collected to score points in the high and low goals.

Robots were sent to the spinner corners and they attempted to turn the spinner to show their color. Then they also had to defend the spinner so the other team couldn’t turn it back. Meanwhile they were also collecting disks and for lack of a better term, were spitting them into the high goals. To make that more interesting, the red high goal was over the blue low goal and vice versa. This meant that a missed shot scored for the other team. A score in the high goal was worth more and was safe from removal, but there was also the ability to remove disks from your opponents low goal, reducing their score. There was also a skill demonstrated where the robots shot out a string with a ring on the end, which appeared to be a strategy to tangle up your opponent, but that wasn’t clear and not all of the robots did this.

Battle Bots Competition

For those of you familiar with Battle Bots, this is a much less aggressive competition, i.e. no flame throwers, chain saws or axes, but there was still some mixing it up between the robots as they jockeyed for position and attempted to get the better of the opposing team.

There was obviously a lot of strategy, variation of design and some teamwork that made differences. Most of the robots spit the disks from fairly close and one at a time. One robot we watched tossed three disks at a time and didn’t miss until the upper goal was so full that disks were falling out, while another shot from across the field with pretty decent accuracy. Some had no trouble climbing over the small curbs defining the low goal, while others used that curb as a stop to set up their shots. The decisions between offense and defense were interesting as well. They were not allowed to “pin” their opponent, so a strategy of pushing and blocking was generally employed. We observed one team that would time a bump of the shooting robot just in time to throw off its shot, with every miss being a point for them in the low goal.

My understanding is that while most teams are school sponsored, that’s not a requirement. There were some teams that were quite obviously wearing school colors and were adorned with school mascots, while others were more creative in their team attire. Whether school affiliated or not, there was obviously a lot of non-traditional learning going on. Aside from the obvious STEM connections, the teamwork and strategy demonstrated were impressive. After qualifying, teams must form teams with other competitors in order to move forward in the competition. This is a process of evaluating their opponents and assessing skills that could add to their own. Negotiating and selling skills were employed!

There were several hundred spectators there. Most assuredly, the majority were family members of the competitors, but I would recommend taking the time to watch a competition, if you get the chance. We had no horse in the race, but enjoyed the competition just the same. These kids are future engineers and programmers, and seeing those skills put to work at the high school level is impressive. Well worth the time and price of admission (free)!

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