Last weekend, and the week preceding it, my daughter and I attended the 2012 VEX Robotics World Championships at the Anaheim Convention Center. This is my fourth and her second year working at the event and it was the most rewarding yet. I was very happy with the venue this year. The hotels were very close with plenty of food and entertainment options within walking distance.
This year’s event really showcased how much the teams have grown over the years. The level of engineering that went into the bots and the quality of the competition exceeded my expectations and made for a very exciting game.
The doors opened mid-day on Wednesday and teams continued to trickle in through Thursday morning. By the time matches started that afternoon nearly 600 teams had checked in and passed robot inspection. Inspection is an important part of any robotics competition, mostly to ensure a fair competition, but also to ensure that the robots are safe for the players and other robots.
VEX is run similar to other robotics competitions with a series of qualification matches split between 7 divisions. There was one college division and four high school divisions: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This year middle school stepped up to two divisions, Spirit and Opportunity. I spent the weekend working as the senior field tech on the Engineering Division with an awesome group of people.
With just shy of 100 teams in our division we ran 248 matches between mid afternoon on Thursday until lunch on Saturday. The divisions are set up with two fields, so while one match is playing we can reset the field and get the next alliance ready. We dedicate one field technician to each field to assist the incoming teams and watch for robot or field problems during the matches. My job was to float between the fields and offer help to the teams who had technical difficulties during the match. Most of the time the issue was as simple as a loose battery connector or flaky USB connection. Bending the contacts or replacing the WiFi key usually solved the problems.
Just before we broke for lunch on Saturday the top ranked teams picked two additional teams to join them in an alliance for the elimination matches. These matches are played in a single elimination ladder with the best two of three matches advancing to the next level. It is not uncommon to see a round go for 3 matches, but we saw two occurrences where it took 4 matches to decide the winner. As I said before, the level of competition was intense this year. We awarded the division champion and finalist trophies just in time to accompany the winning alliance to the VEX Dome for the finals.
Each division sends their field manager, emcees, and a field tech to assist their winning alliances through the finals. Not that these teams need very much help. They already know exactly what needs to be done to get ready for a match.
In the end the Engineering Division Champions went all the way to become the 2012 High School VEX Robotics World Champions. The three teams were 569, NHRC, from Murrieta, California; 2W, The Robosavages, from Vancouver, British Columbia; and 2900A, SymbiOHSis from Onehunga High School in Auckland, New Zealand.
Videos of the competitions were streamed live on Ustream, and are archived on the VEXRobotics channel. Watch through the College Division on Saturday to see our editor, Ken Denmead, guest emcee a couple of matches. Once I get the match video from the event I’ll be sure to post a few of the more intense competitions and at least one of Ken.