Additional Materials in VEX

I wanted to put together a thread to discuss the concept of allowing plastics, 3D printed parts, metal or other additional material into the future VEX games.
The VEX-U division allows a certain about of 3D printed material, so feel free to comment on the results of those rules.
3D printing is a great way to challenge students to develop CAD skills and enhance the design experience.

What are possible rules that VEX could incorporate into allowing additional materials?

The best thing I can think of is allowing team to be able to have more functional plastics under R7f. Maybe, just maybe let that be a "you can have x inches by y inches by *z[/z] inches of certain types of plastic that can be any any shape (3D printed, plates, etc.).

The against argument is pretty compelling - most teams don’t have the time or resources to be 3D printing parts, especially resources (read: money). This would give an unfair advantage to richer teams.

VEX has to strike the balance between being cash-friendly and giving a great STEM-experience. FIRST goes all out great STEM experience without much regard to money whereas VEX has to be a little bit restrained. 3D printing may be toeing the line a bit too far.*

I’m offended :stuck_out_tongue: Jk. But either way, with good strategy, driver practice, and reliable robot, you can go far.

If vex teams up with colleges, maybe they can create vouchers for the college to 3d print designs you send them. That should build relationships for Vex, which possibly means more outreach, more teams, and more scholarships

I wouldn’t mind legalizing the use of other metals. Variety of metal can add some interesting design elements for the future. Plus, I’ve heard of a few teams which get metal for free, or even a low price. This just creates the problem of manipulating the metal

The voucher idea seems like a great one - in order for it to work VEX and RECF must find participating / partnering colleges in all regions which as said previously, would be great for scholarship and such.

Here’s one idea to think about:

Reduce the number of motors allowed to 8 (or keep it at 10, doesn’t matter really); then a team can choose to either have two additional motors on their robot OR have two 3-d printed parts with restrictions.

More trade-offs to consider when engineering the robot. It will make teams wonder: do I REALLY need those 3-d parts?

I’m really very averse to increasing the cost of Vex robotics. I think it’s already quite high and sadly some of the comments above with regards to high strength components and aluminium are pretty much spot on. I agree that the top performing teams do have greater access to the high performance parts. One reason for this that hasn’t been outlined is that wealthy teams can afford to try things out and break parts. They can also afford to try a design that will require cutting metal, because they can simply acquire more metal the following season.

With the above in mind:

  1. I would not like to see a choice given to teams (ie, 8 motors OR 3d printed parts) as this means that the less well off teams are bound to their decision for multiple seasons while the wealthy teams can simply make the decision again each time they redesign their robot. This disadvantages the teams who can only afford to make the decision once.

  2. I would be very cautious with introducing the ability for high school students to create their own 3d printed parts. Teams that do not have access to a computer for doing CAD work or teams that do not have access to printing facilities will be disadvantaged. I would also worry that some teams may end up simply asking their mentors or associated universities to design custom parts. To me this would be going far beyond what some school teams are able (or would wish) to do.

  3. I was having a discussion today I commented that Toss Up would be a whole lot easier without the restriction on controlling 3 balls. However, I don’t do Vex because it’s easy. I do it because the rules make it challenging. I don’t think we need to make the competition easier.

  4. There could be a lot of value in getting high school students to CAD parts that they would like to print, as it would give them CAD skills. However, are we actually likely to get students who haven’t already touched any CAD software picking it up to produce one or two custom parts? I fear that we may simply end up with students who can already CAD, doing a little bit more of it (and probably not anything particularly complex), while those students who have no interest will not touch it.

My favorite part of the college ruleset is either the sheet metal allowance or custom electronics.

Sheet metal is cheap, hand-workable, and the tools are cheap too. Sure, there might be a team willing to waterjet their pieces, but much of the advantages from that can be replicated with a hole punch, tin snips, and patience. I think there’s a lot that can be done with sheet metal, especially if you’re creative. Speaking from personal experience, when all you’ve got is a waterjet, everything looks like it can be made of sheet metal.

Custom electronics would also be really neat. I’m pretty sure the current rules restricting modifications/custom components are more due to safety than anything else. Not only would they be cheaper, but if students can utilize custom sensors, there’s the potential for a lot of electronics education. If nothing else, using a custom potentiometer would lead them to learning that it’s just a variable resistor (Which you might not learn in class until second year university!). Of course, Vex software/electrical is pretty simplified, so that might be a bit of a stretch for most school teams. I wouldn’t mind a stronger electronics background on top of the mech. stuff I learned from Vex.

The cost of CAD software is negligible… individual students have access to for full-featured copies of a range of Autodesk software, while quality apps like 123D are also available.

The cost of computer hardware is negligible as well… most computers that are running EasyC or RobotC could also create small parts in Inventor or 123D.

The cost of 3D printing is also pretty low, even if you send your part off to Shapeways.

That said, one of the great things about VEX is that with a file and a hacksaw (and, ideally, a vise) you can build an exceptionally competitive robot.

I used to make a point of building my VEX robots not in my (well-equipped) shop at school, but rather on my kitchen table at home just to force myself to look at the VEX platform from the point of view of a physics teacher/student rather than a shop teacher or student.

There is a certain purity and simplicity in the VEX rules right now… 3D printed parts might be cool, but the current formula seems to work very well. I’d be hesitant to mess with it.

There is, of course, absolutely nothing prohibiting someone from putting 3D printed parts on an off-season robot… I plan on converting my VEX robot to run on a Raspberry Pi and drive it over the web. I’ll also have to print a few parts for my VEX gripper (broken) and maybe will waterjet a few parts… just because I can. :slight_smile:

Don’t let 100% of your VEX building revolve around VRC… doing something just because it is cool will make you a better engineer/designer. Show the world why VEX needs 3D printing by doing something outlandishly awesome and maybe the world will follow you.


I, honestly, don’t think allowing more types of hardware/construction material is “good” for VEX, as far as the competition goes. Working within the constraint of VEX products is part of the fun of this competition–remember GER’s mechanum wheels they custom-made? Or how about the high strength chain made from shaving down tank tread? Or the planetary systems made back in Gateway?

These sorts of innovations are fun because they are using parts in ways they were not meant to be used. This sort of MacGyver-esque nature of taking limited components and re-purposing them for good use is part of the challenge of VEX. Thus, I don’t believe more allowances should be made (at the High School level) for custom structure/hardware pieces.

HOWEVER: It is unreasonable to expect teams to “hack” together a working sensor. I think, that if other materials were to be allowed in VRC, custom electronics should have a higher precedence over 3D printing. Cameras (although I heard–years ago–that one was in the works), lasers, hall-effect sensors, smaller encoders that don’t rely on I2C, etc., would increase the STEM/learning impact of VEX significantly, but would not “edge out” the lower-tier (funding or skill). Sensing equipment is only useful for the first ~20s (max) of a match, so this doesn’t create an “unfair advantage” for any party.

My $0.02.