Twin Tweaks ...
BUILDING A ROBOT CAN BE A DAUNTING TASK ...
BUT THERE'S NOTHING MORE INSPIRING!
68 SERVO 01.2012
yester-season to act as an encouraging proof of concept.
Fortunately, one of the tools that we used with Team
1079 has evolved into something bigger and better over
the last few years, and should be the perfect way for old
and new teams alike to entice new members into joining.
As the founding members of Team 1079 began to
graduate and we needed to inspire a new wave of team
members, the FIRST VEX Challenge (FVC) was being
introduced. The VEX Robotics Design System has been a
perennial favorite of ours ever since we first used it in the
Science Olympiad competition as covered in the July ‘05
issue of SERVO.
The VEX starter kit runs about $200, and the FIRST
VEX Challenge gave teams a rigorous and structured
academic contest that was similar to FRC. The smaller scale
of the FIRST VEX Challenge was a great way to convince
hesitant students that they too could build robots – the up
front costs are lower, the parts seem more familiar, but the
thrills of competition are still undeniably present. The 2006-
2007 season of the FIRST VEX Challenge featured
challenges as difficult as any FRC game – the Hangin-A-Round game challenged teams to negotiate a huge Atlas
ball that dwarfed the robots and to hang on a bar in the
middle of the field. The Team 1079 contingent for the
FIRST VEX Challenge was a mixture of veteran team
members entering their senior year, and rookie freshmen
and sophomores. And while these students may have gone
into the FVC a bit unsure of what kind of contribution they
could make, they came out of it inspired and excited to
build a full scale FRC robot.
The most powerful thing a mentor can share with a
new team is simply the knowledge gained from experience.
A good example of that might be knowledge about the
smaller scale events mentioned previously in case a new
team is looking for a more manageable challenge to help
them get their feet wet. A mentor who is on top of all of
the changes and improvements in the FIRST program is
critical, because the smaller scale competitions available as
part of the FIRST family of programs have evolved
significantly since Team 1079’s golden years. After a few
years, the FIRST VEX Challenge became the FIRST Tech
Challenge (FTC), and the VEX Robotics Design System was
replaced by a modified LEGO Mindstorms kit. Fans of VEX
need not despair, however, because the VEX Robotics
Competition lives on. LARobotics spotlights and supports
events for both the FIRST Tech Challenge and the VEX
Robotics Competition, and the existence of several ways for
prospective teams and competitors to get involved can only
be a good thing.
The FIRST Tech Challenge is based on a modified
version of the LEGO Mindstorms kit. The NXT brain is used,
but new structural components — called TETRIX — are
available. TETRIX parts are more substantial than their LEGO
counterparts because they are made from aluminum
instead of plastic, and robots for the FTC are motorized by
TETRIX motors and servos. In many ways, the FTC is simply
a meticulously scaled down version of the FRC. Teams are
given a kit of parts and a limited time to build and test their
robots. The games are competitive and task-oriented, much