Making a Difference to Inspire Wonder in STEM via VEX Robotics
Figure 1 - The variety of components students use to build robots.
When you consider the growing and fast-paced tempo of our digital revolution, the evolving world of robotics is an exciting technology that has received the attention of many young students. VEX Robotics has developed a competition where students team up to complete a task in a specific amount of time. Each team is responsible for designing, building, and programming a robot using only VEX Robotics equipment. This year’s tournament challenge (held Dec 2nd 2017 in northern Minnesota), “In the Zone”, was played out on a 12’ x 12’ square field. Teams competed in timed matches, scoring points by stacking cones in goal zones and parking robots. Throughout the tournament, teams worked together in an alliance to outscore an opposing alliance. The tournament included practice rounds, qualifying challenges, and elimination matches to determine the winners and select the finalist who would advance to their local state championship tournament.
Digi-Key had more than 20 volunteers help our local Pioneer Robotics group host the Northern Minnesota regional VEX competition where 47 schools from around the region competed to go to state. Seven judges, including myself, interviewed all the student teams and asked them to describe their robot’s construction and design. Each of the teams kept logs in an engineering notebook where they described in detail how they came up with their design, showing notes and problems along their journey to their final robot design.
During the review and interview process, it was very rewarding to see the kids so excited to share their experiences around building the robot and how they would change things to make it better. Some of the students shared interesting details about how they wrote code to program each of the motors to control the robot’s path to succeed (VEX controllers use a form of C programming language called Robot C). It was good to see so many students working together as a team and getting into the construction and programming aspects of modern technology. As VEX Robotics continues to grow each year, inspiring new designs and gaining more students, we look forward to helping increase the experience and the cause to move STEM to new levels.☺
Figure 2 - One Digi-Key employee, a judging volunteer, participates in interviewing a student on the creation of their robot design.
Figure 3 – Two teams competing to stack cones to gain points and win the round.