By Keegan Balcom, VEX Judge
At each VEX tournament in BC throughout each season, students have the opportunity to present their robots to competition judges, typically engineering or computer science professionals. Judges interview the teams, and then confirm teams’ statements by watching game-play throughout the tournament. At the end of each tournament, judges recognise teams for design, creativity and other aspects of robot quality with awards. Two of these awards, the Excellence and Design awards, qualify the award recipient to proceed to the next round (either Provincials at regular tournament play, or Worlds at the Provincials tournament). Other awards include the Amaze award, the Build award, and the Create award. VEX’s descriptions of each of these awards can be found here.
Before we, the judges, get down to discussions about which team (and their robot) have the most creative component or an outstanding design, we evaluate each robot and the design process of the team. There’s four categories, each weighted evenly, that we look to understand: design of the robot and strategy; quality and efficacy of build; application of autonomous tools, and the design process.
Design: The first step in developing an effective design is thoroughly understanding the needs that the design will meet. All too often, this step is glossed over, both by VEX teams and in the professional world. In VEX, this should follow from a gameplay strategy. The judges look for evidence that the team has asked the questions: What goals do we want our robot to achieve? What qualities does it need to achieve those goals?
The design of the robot to achieve each of these goals comprises the largest section within the design component of our evaluation. In this year’s competition, this involves pick-up of game elements, release of game elements, maneuverability of the robot, and in many cases, raising the robot above the ground on a post, a maneuver called “the hang”.
Build: Quality of construction and ability to maintain this construction are essential for achieving success. We look for teams that have intentionally used particular materials for their highest and best application. We evaluate the robustness of the construction, the effectiveness of the frame build, as well as attention to details such as wiring, and elegance of the overall build.
Autonomous: In today’s world of ever increasing automation, the effective understanding and application of these tools can provide tremendous value. In the VEX game, there is an autonomous-only portion of the game for which robots are designed and programmed. There is also the ability to apply sensors to assist the driver while under manual control. Credit is given by the judges for both the design (plan and intention) and the successful application of autonomous tools.
Design Process: Engineering work builds on existing knowledge, mistakes of the past, and involves copious amounts of team work. The design process that judges are looking for emulates this real world work. We are looking for teams to demonstrate a professional approach to design and team organization. We are looking for evidence of data driven iterative design that is recorded in a manner such that it could be repeated without further guidance, and a deliberate project management effort refined for project demands and team-specific dynamics. Both the Design and Excellence awards require a Design Notebook (by official rules), and the awards are always given to a team with a strong design process.