On March 8, Pete Matthews Coliseum hosted for the first time the VEX Robotics Championship, a competition managed by the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation, in which students pit their creations against each other to showcase their skills in creative ingenuity.
The competition, hosted by JSU, is one of over 550 across 28 countries this year and offers scholarships and experience to middle and high school students with interests in careers in engineering and robotics.
“Robotics is becoming so fast an industry, but nobody can troubleshoot or fix them,” says Gary Hulslander, who teaches dual enrollment at Dekalb County Technology Center, “Demand is high in a field starting at $35 to $45 per hour.”
The competition seeks to foster greater creativity among our future engineers so that they may grow to create new things, rather than simply following instructions laid by someone else.
Hulslander says, “Telling them to put ‘Screw A’ into ‘Hole B’ teaches nothing.” Each team must design and build their own robot as well as troubleshoot and fix problems they encounter without specific instructions or guidance.
“It’s all about skill,” said Hulslander. “Robotics doesn’t discriminate.”
According to Hulslander, even if a team doesn’t win, they have invaluable experience that will aid them in the future when they pursue an education in engineering and robotics.
Experience, he says, sets a resume apart from the rest.
During the Championship competition, teams must each participate in six qualifying matches, the best teams moving up to the semi-finals and then finals.
Teams must showcase their robots in both an autonomous mode, in which the robot is programmed to complete tasks on its own, and a driver mode, in which team members control the robot using wireless remotes. The team members rotate so that everyone gets a chance to drive the robot and display each of their own operator skills.
High scoring teams have the opportunity to pick other teams to form alliances.
Throughout the competition, teams would send members back and forth between work stations to discuss strategy and design advice. One team rescued their allies from an obstacle by lifting the stuck robot up with their own, just in time to score the winning goal in a game to capture the most balls in the teams’ zone.
The top four teams from JSU’s Championship competition qualify for the World Championship in Anaheim, Cal. 750 teams from the world over meet there for the final matches.