The name of the game this year is “Tipping Point”.

For robotics students at Great Bend High School, VEX’s game for the 2021-22 season comes with a touch of irony.

Over the past three years, Jake Hofflinger’s students in his production engineering and robotics class have worked with components provided by VEX Robotics in the hopes that they could attend, and possibly win, a tournament competition.

This season, however, “COVID has pushed back the order for new robots to April, so we can’t attend any robotics meetings this year,” Hofflinger said. Last year, the Panthers missed competitions due to travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

Intrepid, the students continued, hoping to field a competition-ready robot.

“Every year we bought the playground and put it in my classroom,” Hofflinger noted. “We can build the bots, even if we can’t go to competitions.”

Know your VEX

While most competitive seasons span part of the year, the competitive robot season, as defined by VEX participants, spans May to May, all year round. . VEX, which has provided robotic platforms for all levels of students since 2007, has grown to more than 20,000 teams in more than 50 countries by 2021.

The competitions are divided into three basic levels: VEX V5, for middle and high school students; VEX IQ, for elementary and middle school students; and VEX AI, for advanced high school and college students. In each of the three leagues, students are offered a new challenge at the end of the world championships in May. Students then begin to design, build, program and drive a robot to the best of their ability.

Last year’s challenge was “Change Up,” where robots met on a 12-by-12-foot playground. Four teams, two aside, scored points by stacking balls in goals to form a row. The game was “changed” because bots could knock balls down on the other side of a pile.

In this year’s challenge, the alliances meet on the playing field dotted with mobile ramps and dashboards with branches. To score points, the robots attempt to put rings on the scoring posts, getting one point for landing in the base, three points for a low ring and 10 points for the high ankle. For the first part of the game, the bots must rely on their own programming; for the last part, team pilots can score more points using a controller.

In each case, VEX provides the components to the teams for assembly, as well as the elements of the playing field for practice. The robots operate on their own proprietary “C code” which students must learn, program, test, and execute.

In class, the game continues

This fall, Hofflinger’s classes were introduced to VEX by first building a “test bed” for the components they will be using. The test bench introduces students to hardware, software and components. Later, they’ll configure the controllers using “Robot C” software, Hofflinger said.

Students first perform experiments with a variety of sensors and types of motors and then answer questions.

In the second version, the test bench is used to fabricate motors and LED light arrays to create specified patterns.

In the third version, the students build a “Claw Bot” robot, which is able to run on downloaded programs and can be operated by a remote control.

In the final phase, the robotics club members build a robot of their own design, with its own custom programming, Hofflinger said.

“These would be the robots that we would prepare for the competition,” he said. “I have two seniors who have been involved from the start, who are disappointed not to compete.”

The club, however, are moving forward with plans to receive a new V5 robot package next April, meeting over the summer to prepare for competition in fall 2022.

Hoisington MS preparation

for his own meeting, spring season

Meanwhile, at Hoisington Middle School, the seventh and eighth grade students in Anne Selfridge’s robotics class were eagerly awaiting the ‘Tipping Point’ game on the field.

“We spend the first nine weeks learning the game and the second quarter making changes,” she said. “In the last three or four weeks we’ve been practicing running the game.”

HMS teams will compete in their first tournament in Garden City on January 15, then return home for the Cardinal Classic tournament on January 29.

“I imagine there will be changes to our robots in the two weeks between these competitions,” Selfridge noted. “This will be the first time that we can get a good overview of what teams from other schools are doing.”

Classic Cardinal

The HMS Home Tournament serves as a qualifier for the Kansas State Tournament hosted by Hesston High School in the spring. The in-person competition has a capacity of 50 teams, with seven registered teams available per organization.

“We are really looking forward to this event,” said Selfridge. “I have students who work with robotics every day at school, all the time they can. They come after school and would work weekends, even in the summer, if they could. For them robotics is very important and they work very hard on it. “

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