On Saturday, January 25, the VEX® Robotics Competition took place at Salt River High School. Salt River High School (SRHS) and Salt River Junior High School (SRJH) both had teams participating.
The VEX Robotics Competition is one of the largest and fastest-growing middle- and high-school robotics programs. More than 4,800 teams from 20 countries are part of it, with approximately 300 tournaments worldwide. With help from teachers and mentors, students work in teams to build innovative robots in hopes of obtaining the most points possible.
Each year, VEX sends what is known as a game or a challenge to its participants. All teams must meet certain requirements in order to compete in an arena that VEX creates every year. A new year means a brand-new challenge.
Some requirements at the high school level are: The robot must measure smaller than 18 by 18 by 18 inches; it must be able to go over a 2- to 3-inch platform and under a 12-inch pole; and it must be able to put a “Bucky Ball” (a hard, plastic, multi-sided ball) into a plastic 24-inch cylinder. At the junior high level, they compete in a smaller field with smaller Bucky Balls. This shows that these robots are able to collapse, extend and overcome these challenges.
Team Mean Machine (SRHS) and The Eagles (SRJH) both met all requirements and participated in this competition. Robotics instructor and Community member Michael Harvey said, “One of the major components of the VEX Competition is you’re given a problem and you’re going to have to try and solve it with no instructions. It’s like the real world; it’s like life. This is what we try to show the kids. They have to figure it out. If it doesn’t work, you have to figure out another way and try to make it work again.”
With 32 teams from surrounding Valley schools in attendance, the gymnasium was full of chatter and conversation about mechanics, robots, and all that it entails. Many made plans to attend another competition next year with improved designs. This competition was also a qualifying event, allowing six teams to be eligible to advance to the Arizona State Championship VEX Tournament on March 1.
The Eagles team consists of all new members who are discovering mechanics and competition on a whole different level. This team of six worked together to create a robot that had a front-end loader–type bucket on it. The students would drive the robot to push balls against a barrier and then use the bucket to pick up the balls and dump them into a basket, to score points. Participants began working on their project one month before the event was to take place. The SRJH team placed fifth out of 12 teams. They won the Best Design award and will be advancing to the state championship.
“This is [the] first year I’ve ever done this. I just like to know how things work. I’m always taking things apart. [This competition] was really interesting and cool. I was nervous [competing in front of everyone],” said K-Ci Barraza, leader of the SRJHS robotics team. “I want to go to ASU and study robotics and become a robotics teacher. We got an award for best design, which was cool.”
Team Mean Machine had three repeating members who are more familiar with how this competition works and its requirements, and two new participants. Many have been a part of the robotics team for a couple of years. This group of students began brainstorming and working on this project three months before the competition.
The robot they decided to build was known as the “Womaya.” The name has no specific meaning. This robot has a dual scissor lift, a motorized scissor lift on each side, and a conveyor belt system to pick up Bucky Balls. The ball drops out of the top side, which extends up. The SRHS robotics team placed seventh out of 20 teams. They also participated in a qualified skills challenge event, which allowed SRHS to qualify for the Arizona State Championships.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to do. But I became curious and started to pay attention more and learned more about everything (mechanics, programming and engineering),” said SRHS junior Aleoni “Aly” Miguel-Patrick. “I [also] wanted to try something new; I always liked robots and wanted to build one to have fun and do [robotics as] a career. I would like to build a robot that would do something for me, like grab me food (laughs). Picking the teams and making the final competition [was the highlight of my day]. It was fun working with the other teams.”
The Arizona State Championship will be held on March 1 at Arizona State University. Both teams have hopes of making it to the World Championships in Anaheim, California, April 23-26.
“I think [robotics] is fun. It’s a great way to teach the kids a lot of skills they can apply later on in their life,” said Harvey. “Watching the kids work and fixing problems as they came up was fun to watch. It makes me feel good [knowing that] the kids are realizing this is a career opportunity and this is something they can do. They can be a part of it,” said Harvey.
For more information about the VEX Robotics Competition or the Salt River robotics teams, call Michael Harvey, robotics instructor, at (480) 362-2014.