Nail-Biting Robotics Competitions flare up as the ashes of the pandemic swift away late this year. All over the UK a major Robotics Organisation named Vex and seen the number of competitions rise rapidly at the start of the 2021-22 season. This is happening after a year off inaction due to the famous virus we’ve all heard about – Covid-19. I was able to go to one competition just last week and I got to see all the amazing robots that teens all around the world have been constructing and the great clashes that these robots fought in!

Vex EDR is a branch of the Vex Organisation – they set up games every year in which teams from all over the World have to build up metal robots to use and place components in the game in order to secure the most points and take home the Win. Vex EDR in the UK is only for year 10 and above. Schools and Organisations all around each country host regional competitions for many other teams to come head-to-head in order to win places in the National championships. The top few teams in each country will then fly around the world to the World Championships where the best teams will fight with each other to claim the greatest robotic prize in the world – Vex World Champions. This year the game is named Tipping Point and each game has 4 teams – two on each side (called alliances) who verse each other in a 2v2 match.

Image of the World Championship 2019 My team and I, MTS_Eclipse, went to one of these first original competitions just last week. We drove over 2 hours at 6am in the morning from Northwood all the way to Coventry where the competition was being hosted by King Henry VIII school. The moment we got in, it was bustling with teams already working hard on their robots and strategy, the whole room was buzzing with excitement and anxiety. Each team was given their own table to place their robot and work on. Each robot then had to undergo Inspection to make sure the robot fitted within the size limits – these were 18 by 18 by 18 inches.

After Inspection, we all had to prepare for our 2 practice matches. These were mainly used to check out our own robot was functioning well while we also scouted other team’s robots to see their strengths and weaknesses before the main Qualification rounds. In this period, we also had to make any last checks and changes on our Engineering sketchbook which is the timeline of the team’s work. I, being the head of our team’s sketchbook, scanned through it several times to check for any errors before handing it in for examination. Our team managed to win both our practice matches and our robot manged to work well which gave us a lot of happiness and relief.

Photo taken by my iPhone, given permission by Head Judge and Host.

After the practice matches, we moved onto the main qualification matches. Every team had to play 8 matches with a randomly selected partner in their alliance – the teams with the most wins rank up the highest. The random selection meant that even the best teams had to rely on their partner to win and made sure that every win was up for grabs – whether you’re a year 13 veteran or just joining in year 10! It also meant that teams had to meet up with their alliance partner and discuss their combined strategy for the game. This really helped teams bond and get to know each other – this is what makes these competitions so fun as you can end up making friends with random stranger you didn’t know anything about! Now obviously, these friendships are important on the side but its what happens on the field that catches everyone’s attention as massive robots clashed with each other for the goals and points that would win them glory.

Photo taken by my iPhone, given permission by Head Judge and Host.

After hours of nail-biting games, all 8 qualification rounds had finished and the teams were all ranked. Our team, despite being new to Vex EDR, managed to come 5th out of 20teams – we had won 6 out of our 8 matches while just losing two. The other two teams from our school managed to place 1st and 8th. After these, all 20 ranked teams now are able to select an alliance partner that they will team with for the rest of the competition – the top teams pick their partner first and a deal is signalled by the handshake between the two teams. We decided to partner up with a fellow school team – MTS_Ares who ranked 8th – because we knew them well and we believed our robots could work well together. We managed to win the Quarter-finals after a very tense match scoring 121-146 to us! With the semi-finals now in reach, we prepared our robot for another mighty clash.

“The pressure on us just increases each game, each one becomes tougher to win, each one brings us a bit closer to the glory of qualifying for the National Championships” Aaditya Bhandarkar, Chief builder in our team.

It was time for the Semi-finals, we got off to a great start, securing goals and rings and taking an early advantage. Mid-way through, however, Disaster struck as one of our wheels axels had come out the motor and the robot struggled to drive. This cost us massively and we ended up just getting beaten at the end, it was an infuriating loss but we accepted it gracefully since we knew losing was also part of the game and we’d just have to learn for the next competition. Luckily, the 3rd team from our school – who ranked 1st – managed to win the Excellence award, the highest award a team can get and the only way other than winning the tournament to earn a place into the national championships! Overall, the competition was still a success for us and we all learnt a lot. We loved the atmosphere of the whole competition and seeing how driven everyone has emerged out of the pandemic. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds but we know there will be a lot of fights, tears and laughs!