The Vex Robotics Competition (VRC) is an exciting and challenging opportunity for high school students interested in pursuing the world of robotics and engineering. With its emphasis on teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving, VEX Robotics is an excellent platform for students to develop critical skills while having a blast. I personally took part in VEX for six years and won multiple competitions and awards. In this piece, I will guide you through 7 steps for how to enter the VEX Robotics Competition and provide some tips on how to be successful in this thrilling endeavor.

How Does VEX Work?

Before getting into the details of how to succeed, it’s important to understand how VEX works. VEX has three main programs: VEX IQ, VEX Robotics Competition , and VEX U. VRC is most pertinent to middle and high schoolers, in grades 6th - 12th which will be the focus of this blog. Every year, VEX releases a new game (here’s a list of past competitions so you get an idea as to what they look like). Your objective is to build and program a robot from scratch that can complete the required task better than opposing teams. By doing this, you win competitions and make your way to the world-level championship. At each competition, you will play a set number of matches. Each match consists of an autonomous period (15 seconds) and a user-controlled period (1 min. 45 secs.). In autonomous, your robot is required to function without you controlling it. It’s a simple concept, but as you will soon see, it requires a great deal of creativity and critical thinking to construct a robot that can outperform other teams. Ultimately, what you put into VEX  is what you will get out. The more time you put into designing a thoughtful robot will increase your chances for success. Now, let’s delve into how to succeed at these competitions. 

7 Steps for Entering the VEX Robotics 2024 Competition

Step 1: Find VEX Near You

The first step in entering VRC is to find a club near you. These clubs can come in many forms, either directly through your school or a third party. For me, the VEX club that I joined was a third-party club that was local to my area. Joining through a club is the best way to join, as you will have access to mentors and your fees will be much less than if you are an independent team. Joining through a club is also recommended for students in their first season, as you can see how everything works. Once you are much more advanced, you can operate independently and not have to worry about club restrictions.

Step 2: Assemble Your Team

Once you find a VEX club near you, the next step is to gather a team. A good size team for your VEX Robotics Competition typically consists of anywhere from 4-10 students. My team throughout most of the years was around 5 people, which we felt was the perfect amount. This allowed for each person to have a unique role while also allowing for a bit of overlap (programmer, builder, driver). Forming a diverse team with a range of skills can be a great advantage. Remember, this is the team you will be spending the next year (and potentially longer!) with, so make sure you pick people that you like working with who can bring unique skill sets to the table.

Step 3: Secure Funding and VEX Robotics Parts 

This step is a bit more straightforward if you’re part of a club. Typically, you’ll pay a fee at the beginning of the year and have access to (virtually) whatever parts you need. With that being said, VEX robotics parts can be very expensive, so it’s important to be conscious of what you’re ordering and only order parts that you truly need. Building robots is very expensive! For those who choose the independent path, seek sponsors, grants, or fundraising opportunities to cover the costs of equipment, materials, and registration fees. Additionally, ensure that your team has access to a suitable workspace and a computer with the necessary software for programming.

Step 4: Plan and Design Your Robot

Now comes the most exciting part: designing and building your robot. Start by thoroughly understanding the game rules and objectives for the year. This is where creativity and teamwork shine. Brainstorm ideas, create a design, and build your robot piece by piece. Remember, this is an iterative process. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve built a full robot and practically taken the entire thing apart because we realized that there was a more efficient way to do what we wanted. This is also a great time to decide on your team’s strategy and how you plan to compete. Do you want to spend a lot of time on coding autonomously to always win that portion? Maybe you want to build a robot that plays more defensively than offensively? These are all strategies that you should iron out early in the season so you can design and build a robot that follows your desired outcome.

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Step 5: Program and Test

Once you have your robot built, it’s time to program it. The VEX  controller is very similar to a video game controller, with two joysticks and a range of buttons that you can program to do whatever you desire. Though the building stage is what most people focus on, the programming stage is just as important if you want to succeed. Think about how to optimally code your robot and controller to allow you to maximize efficiency. You only have 1 minute and 45 seconds of user control, so it’s important to take advantage of every second and save time wherever possible. If you can program a button to complete an action that you repeat, it will save you a lot of time. This is also an iterative process, as you will go back and find more efficient ways to code your robot.

Step 6: Practice and Refine

Assuming you have access to a practice field, you want to make sure that you are practicing and refining as you go. Every time you make a change in your robot, test it on the practice field to see how it actually pans out. It’s very easy to make a change and assume it works, but when you put it on the field to see how it actually works is when you learn the most. Participate in practice matches and refine your strategy so that you are ready to take on competition day.

Step 7: Compete and Learn

At this point, you are ready to compete in VRC competitions. These events typically take place on Saturdays and will take all day, so be ready to drop any commitments you have. Don’t expect to win at your first competition, it’s going to be a huge learning experience. But, it only gets easier from here. The first competition can be a reality check, but you’ll quickly learn and be able to iterate your robot. Pay attention to how other teams approach the game and adapt your strategy accordingly.

5 Tips for Success

Now that you have a framework of steps to follow, here are some overarching tips for success:

  • Teamwork: Collaboration is key. Effective communication and cooperation among team members are vital for success. 

  • Attention to Detail: Carefully read and understand the competition rules. Small details can make a big difference.

  • Continuous Improvement: Embrace a growth mindset. Learn from your experiences, and be open to adapting your strategy and design. 

  • Network: Connect with other teams and mentors at competitions. You’ll find valuable insights and support from the robotics community. 

  • Have Fun: Remember that the journey is just as important as the destination. Enjoy the process and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

VRC is an excellent opportunity for high school students to explore  the world of robotics and engineering. By following these steps and embracing a growth mindset, your team can not only enter the competition but also set themselves up for success!

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Research and Prepare for your Competition or Fair

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