Ethics of Competitive Robotics

Hello everyone,

I am a high school senior, and I am in my fourth year of being a programmer on our school’s VEX Robotics Team. While I have learned a lot of technical things, I find myself wondering about this question:

Why isn’t there a rule in the Starstruck Game Manual that says that all robots entered in competition need to be built and programmed by students?

It is a simple case of there is no way you can enforce the rule.
Nobody knows what is really happening inside the lab.

I would rather educate the teams’ mentors and teachers so that more of us understand the correct value system of Vex.

I think meng is correct - it’s impossible to enforce a rule like that.

I know, it’s a tough topic to sort through because there are so many facets to the arguments for and against adult help. There have been many LONG discussions about this on the forum. See, for example, this: https://vexforum.com/t/a-question-about-teams-being-disqualified-for-awards/28944/1

And this: https://vexforum.com/t/adults-doing-everything/32266/1

You can watch the Judge Training Presentation under the Judges Tab and you will see explicit guidance not to award Judged awards to teams for a number of reasons, one being if it is clear only an adult is working on the robot with no students around. Similarly, a team’s conduct and lack of sportsmanship can disqualify a team for consideration of a judged award. So

And they also disqualify “clone bots”. If that rule is actually applied, that will wipe out entire regions of the globe. LOL.

Actually, that is not what the current guidance recommends for judges, it goes to explain to expect clone robots from a club due to their club design process and to use the engineering notebooks to determine which robot is the origin of the design. It is a long audio annotated presentation.

I don’t disagree with the “crash and burn” approach. Last year was my very first year in robotics, and the first year for anyone on my team, and my mentor had very little input. He does no assist with code or building. On occasion he would help to determine why a flywheel would have extra friction and give the team a few ideas of where it was coming from but never fix it himself. I learned the most from the other more experienced teams giving little bits of guidance as the season went on. The “crash and burn” approach led us to to qualifying and competing in the worlds competition our first year.

Oh, well, yes, that notebook thing will certainly clear up the issue.

I don’t like the counter arguments here, it’s not that I disagree with them it’s that they’re crap.

College campuses can’t enforce plagiarism rules in most cases, doesn’t stop them from writing rules against it in their rulebooks.

The fact is, if this is a rule it implies intent and that intent in some cases can be enforced. If VEX had such a rule and a team showed up at competition and adults were doing everything, the judges could make negative note of that, pit volunteers could tell them to stop, and in some cases teams could be disqualified.

As what I can tell, the only way for VEX to make things like this possible is to make every team have to video themselves building, which I think is a bit too far…

What makes so many people convinced that adults can build better robots than students? Hint: the best robots I’ve seen in VRC were all designed and built by students.

The point isn’t necessarily who builds a better robot, student or adult. The actual point is to set up an expectation allows students the most opportunity to learn.

If the kids are allowed to build the robots, they’ll be allowed to learn how to build a top robot. If adults steal that opportunity from their students, then those students aren’t allowed to learn to build a robot at all.

I have seen versions of this post many times on this forum. How big of a problem is this in the US? Are 1% of robots adult built, 10%, 50%? I really think a lot of time is spent worrying about a problem that really isn’t very big. In my state, I haven’t really seen any robots that I think an adult built. Do I think that some mentors are more hands-on than others? Certainly. But build a whole robot? No.

Like people have pointed out, the only people that are really being hurt by this are the people that are doing it. The kids really don’t learn anything. It’s like parents doing their kids’ homework. Sure, the kid gets a good grade, but they fail the test and fail in the rest of life.

I also think that there is a mentality that if a robot is really good, the only way that could be is if an adult built it. There are kids that spend three and four or more years in Vex, they really develop their skills as designers and builders. Yes, it is possible that a student built robot is that good. My daughter really surprised me last year with her ingenuity when she was trying to build a lift for the robot for worlds. She thought of things and built things I never would have dreamed of! And the build quality was fabulous.

I am a student and former home schooler, and I think about this a lot too. I have done robotics for 6 years with practically no coaching.
Like, I didn’t let a single adult touch my robot ever.
My team qualified for middle school worlds by winning the tournament, and the competition was so weak that our second pick was a clawbot. When we got to worlds, however, the team that had had the clawbot at regionals now had a legitimate scoring robot, that their mentors worked on nonstop for all 4 days and probably build completely. It felt like a disrespect for the team that we allowed to come to worlds to cheat like that, but I think the truth is that very few kids can put in the kind of dedication it takes to build a high quality robot that mentors never touched. I started when I was 8 and now am 15, and those 7 years are what it takes for a completely adult-independent really good robot to work.

Hey! Our team had a clawbot with autonomous mode and caught fire at Worlds! Also, thanks for helping them out cutting metal that year. Seriously, I remember that year, and I think you are mistaken about what happened. So, please don’t jump to conclusions. I think there are a lot of factors we do not see.

Are you competing again? Which would be pretty awesome!

Wait, so you remember team 8813 in the toss up season?
Yes, I am in the process of starting my high school’s vex team and we will compete in Starstruck. We have a REDICULOUSLY ambitious robot that I’m not sure I can get working. (think 20 star megadump)
What actually happened at worlds with your team?

Yes, I am the club advisor for the WalshBots 9791[a-z] . They got Excellence that year, so they clearly were not picked by you… Seem to recall your mom doing a lot of scouting and deciding they were not good enough for you :slight_smile: (ok maybe I misremember… adults don’t have good memory). I believe we were bottom of the barrel that year, were it not for the epic battery short, aka SmokeBot, it would be very disheartening. The team is at FHS 9421 and had made it to Worlds each year. They are getting really good. As you pointed out, if the adults stay out of the way, a lot of learning can happen and pretty awesome robots come out of it.

Are you working alone? if so, consider joining forces with Down Cellar Laboratories, they are like minded robot engineers like you.

Yes, she did scout for my team, and sorry about what she said about your team. I take her scouting into account, but I made that decision mostly based on experience. I’m not working alone this year, but I am doing most of the work on my robot, seeing as almost no one will put in as much time as me. I have met a few others like me, the most notable being Vex Robotics God Leland Crowther.