Robotics Club is an ECA that runs every Friday lunchtime in the computing lab. The ultimate goal of the Robotics Club is to produce a team of Year 8 pupils to enter an annual VEX robotics competition. The club started in September and took part in its inaugural event on Friday 17 January in the very well-appointed engineering department over at Cranleigh School. The Year 8s with the help of some Year 7s worked throughout the Michaelmas term selecting a robot to build, building it, learning to drive it and also learning to program it. We entered a friendly event in November and placed a very respectable 3rd out of 9.
VEX: Vex robotics is a global competition that has both a junior and senior strand. The junior competition that we are eligible to enter takes place in an 8’ x 4’ walled arena and each year VEX produce a new game that is designed to test problem solving and team work skills. This year’s competition is called Squared Away and involves the manoeuvring of large plastic cubes and balls. The final placement of these elements gives a score. There are three strands to the competition. The principal strand is a teamwork strand where two schools place their robots in the arena and using a remote control similar to an Xbox controller have one minute to score as many points as possible. The other two strands are called Skills and are solo efforts, one again uses the remote control and in the other, the robot has to be coded to work autonomously. Regional winners go forward into national competitions which in turn feed into the global finals that take place in America every year, this year in Las Vegas. You can read more about this year’s competition here: https://www.vexrobotics.com/vexiq/competition/viqc-current-game
Friday 17 January VEX Regional Competition at Cranleigh School
Mr Sharps, Tom and William headed over to Cranleigh with our robot and box of components to represent the school in our first regional competition. There were 19 robots taking part. Once we were set up in our pits area the first job of the day was to have our robot go through scrutiny to ensure that it was compliant with the rules and regulations regarding the dimensions of the robot. We received some very bad news at this point, we were told that the lifting arm on our robot was too high. This came as something of a shock having not altered the design since the friendly competition and we had also exercised option to build a VEX stock robot rather than design our own, on the assumption it would guarantee compliance. We were not alone; a number of schools fell foul of this same issue. This left us with a very short window of time to re-design the arm of the robot in order to pass the scrutiny process and be allowed to participate in the day. The boys rose to this challenge exceptionally well and it is no exaggeration to say that we got the robot through scrutiny with 30 seconds to spare before we’d have been disqualified.
Unfortunately, in order to pass the scrutiny process we had to retard the arm on the robot from lifting. So much so that we were unable to lift the cubes high enough to score the higher points available in the game. We therefore had to completely disregard a term’s worth of planning and come up with new tactics on the fly, in the heat of competition. We would also have to re-program the robot to perform completely new tasks in the autonomous skills challenge. Something that took the better part of the term to code had to be completely written off and coded again from scratch in between competition rounds and gaining time on the practise table to test and de-bug the program.
I (Mr Sharps) was not allowed to be hands on at any point, it is against the rules for the adults present to help the children beyond motivating and offering suggestions. I did help a bit with the re-design when I saw that other adults were helping their respective schools and I could see the deadline looming, however almost all of the redesign work and 100% of the coding was completed by William and Tom in very testing circumstances. After the 7 rounds of the teamwork competition we placed 16th out of 19 teams. This was a very respectable position given the challenges presented to the boys on the day. It was very tight in terms of score with the teams around us and I could not be prouder of how the boys rose to the task in hand. They were fantastic ambassadors for the school.
In terms of the skills challenges, we were one of only seven or eight schools that entered the programming challenge which in itself speaks volumes as to how we approached the competition. Given that the program was written in a very short space of time, with minimal allowance for testing and debugging it executed very well and even scored.
Roll on next year, we learned an enormous amount from this year’s competition. Tom and Will are going to have important roles mentoring the up and coming Year 7s in what to expect in a competition environment and hopefully they will have access to similar clubs at their senior schools. In the accompanying photos, our robot is the one with the registration number 70333A.
Mr Sharps, Head of IT and Internet Safety Officer