Robotics club more than obstacle course
To anyone who accidentally wandered into Hillsboro Middle School gymnasium Saturday, the Vex Robotics competition probably looked like a dog competition with Mars rovers.
Competitors participate in a skills class, earning points for tasks like flipping plastic flags, and octagonal plastic pieces. Alliance battles, or bracket tournaments, pit two robots against a pair of opponents, and they compete for the objectives.
Each section is further split into automated and driver rounds, with students using video game-esque controllers in the latter.
The skills portion is better than alliance because individual performance is more consistent, Hillsboro junior Jacob Denholm said.
“Bracket play you can either do really well or really poorly, depending on who you’re matched with,” he said. “A lot of the time I prefer skills because I control it completely and I don’t have to worry about getting a claw-bot as a partner.”
The claw-bot is Vex’s base robot. First-year competitors Sanareigh Bell and Trudy Hein used the based model, but they would have changed the design given another opportunity.
While many competitors work solo, they operate their robot as a pair. Doing so allows them to divide responsibilities, which is easier than operating solo, Sanareigh said.
“That would be difficult to remember where everything is and not screw up a lot,” she said. “It’s hard for me to drive on my own.”
The club requires months of work, as students have been working since the fall assembling their robots and programming commands.
Vex stands apart from other extracurricular activities because age and physical ability are of minimal importance. Sanareigh and Trudy are seventh graders, but they were Hillsboro’s top finishers in the alliance bracket, taking eighth.
Hillsboro’s lone award winner was Jacob, who took home the judges’ choice. Saturday’s competition was easier for the third-year competitor because he already qualified for the state Vex competition.
“Today I’m here for practice and to do as well as I can,” he said. “If I wasn’t qualified for state, I’d feel a lot more pressure because this would be the last tournament I could qualify.”
In addition to Vex, qualifying students can move on to Technology Student Association state, and eventually nationals.
Two of Jacob’s teammates also qualified for Vex state, but neither was present Saturday.
He is unsure of what direction his education will take after high school, but Jacob knows it will involve programming.
“I’ve worked a lot on programming, probably more time than I’d like to admit,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also very frustrating when stuff doesn’t work.”