By Lucas Widner
On Saturday, Nov. 4, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s VEX Robotics Club and the URI (Undergraduate Research Institute) hosted Arizona’s first VEX U (University) robotics competition of the season in the Student Union Lower Hanger, with twelve teams from around Arizona competing. ERAU has hosted this competition for the last three years, with significant growth taking place every year. Only four teams attended two years ago, then nine teams last year, and finally twelve this year.
ERAU’s Gold, Blue, and White teams competed and finished fourth, seventh, and twelfth, respectively. The Gold team also won the design award, which is given to the team that followed the engineering design process the best and documented their work throughout the season.
Team PYRO from ASU went undefeated during their seven qualification matches and became the tournament champion by winning their way through the playoff-style tournament matches, only losing to ERAU’s Gold team once partially due to a controller malfunction.
Team PYRO won the skills champion award for earning the highest score in the optional driver and programming skills challenges, and they also won the excellence award, which is the highest award given at a VEX competition to the best overall team based on performance, professionalism, documentation, and skills scores.
This was the first competition Grand Canyon University’s new THUNDR1 team has competed in, and they finished eighth place overall, learning a lot to help them prepare for their next competition.
Dozens of spectators came to the Lower Hanger and watched the matches that ran from 10:30 a.m. to almost 4:30 p.m. Volunteers from various student groups helped reset the field after each match, judged and refereed the competition, help the teams get checked in, and helped make this event run smoothly.
Members of each team were constantly seen running around the room getting fresh robot batteries, carrying their robot to the practice field for testing or to the queuing table before their next match, or talking to other teams.
This year’s VEX Robotics game, called “In the Zone,” is played on a twelve-foot square field with foam tiles covering the floor and a small fence around the perimeter. The goal is to score as many yellow plastic “cones” on either the high fixed or low mobile bases of your color, either red or blue, and move the short mobile bases into scoring zones in opposing corners of the field, competing directly against another team during each two-minute match.
The first forty-five seconds of each match is autonomous control only, so the drivers are not allowed to control the robot, then the autonomous winner is chosen who gets bonus points.
The driver then takes over with an PlayStation-style game controller for the final seventy-five seconds and scores as many cones and bases as possible.
Additional points are awarded to teams that return to their colored tile at the end of the match. Each team competed in seven qualification matches against random opponents during this competition, which are similar to the regular season in most football leagues.
Then, the teams were ranked by their performance and the top eight teams moved on to the playoff-style tournament matches. There are also programming and driver skills challenges, where one team at a time has one minute to score as many points as possible from an autonomous program or under driver control.
The robots are built primarily from steel and aluminum parts resembling those from Erector Sets, and must start each match inside an imaginary 24-inch cube, but then can expand once the match starts. Each team can use up to 12 electric motors per robot, in addition to pneumatic pistons.
Teams can use as many sensors as they want, and can 3D print small parts for their robots as well. Programming is done in a variation of the C language called RobotC, which is specially adapted for robotics use.
Each team is also required to document all of their work in an engineering notebook, which shows that they are following the engineering design process correctly.
ERAU will be hosting another competition on March 2nd and 3nd in the Activity Center and Eagle Gym that will be open to seventy high school teams and twelve university teams and offer multiple qualification spots for the VEX World Competition in Louisville, Kentucky, in late April and early May.
This will be the second year of hosting this competition, with an incredible turnout of over a thousand participants and several hundred spectators last year.
Any students who want to learn more about ERAU’s VEX Robotics Club or the competition can contact club president Lucas Widner at [email@example.com].