Every year, I try to volunteer at the VEX Robotics World Championship. This year I volunteered as a Field Technician. When the field or robots have trouble connecting or technical issues, I was there to help troubleshoot the problem. As an added bonus, a robotics team that I mentor called the DiscoBots also competed in the event.
The VEX World Championship has grown tremendously over the last few years. The event had over 15,000 people from 24 different countries. Many of these robotics teams did not speak English, but that mattered little in the grand scheme of celebrating science & technology. The event is organized by the RECF and supported heavily by many sponsors like Innovation First International who designs the VEX Robotics platform.
The robotics teams at the event play a game that changes every year. The game this year, called “Sack Attack” involved robots collecting beanbag sacks and depositing them on elevated goals. With 200 sacks on the field and only two minutes of play, the teams were challenged to build a machine to pick up the sacks efficiently. The best robots picked up sacks quickly but also featured sophisticated autonomous routines using sensors to effectively pick up sacks without human control.
Surprisingly, the robotics teams from New Zealand took home the big awards at the event. The “Kiwis” from New Zealand won the main competition and the overall top skill score category. The DiscoBots team from Houston that I mentored went on to become Tournament finalist at the event! Shown to the right is a picture of the 2013 DiscoBots VEX robot name “Mini-Jockey”.
In addition to the competition, VEX added event more excitement to the event by announcing a new product line called the VEX IQ platform. The new platform has many similarities to existing Lego robotics platform including easy to snap together plastic pieces. Adding competition the plastic robotic design space opens up a new avenues for younger children. Historically, the FIRST Lego League and Lego Mindstorms kit were the only option for kids in the elementary range learning about robotics. Now with VEX IQ, students have multiple options for robotics education at a young age. Shown below is the “Brain” of the VEX IQ system.