FRC or VRC?

Not in a competitive, which-is-better-IFI-or-FIRST sense, or a personal favorite for watching and/or participating in, but rather a hopefully relatively objective discussion. (No poll.)

I had a discussion with a mentor that sprouted from a discussion of FRC vs. VRC in regards to budget limitations and which we would cut if we needed to:

Pro-FRC: FRC’s greater selection of acceptable materials and larger size has a greater potential for learning, and the sheer size of the robot and complexity of the games allow for more students to actively participate in robot design and implementation.
Pro-VRC: VEX’s smaller size and limited materials has its potential in a wholly different area–flexibility of design. To design around these limitations is also a challenge worthy of student attention. And VRC games are arguably as complex as FRC games.
Pro-FRC: True, but VEX parts tend to oversimplify “real-world” possibilities with standardized parts, hence does not fully engage that entire design process (i.e. we don’t often use CAD for VRC)
Pro-VRC: But the length of a VRC season allows for continual improvement and consequently concept development, which, contrary to short seasons of frantic building, is also more realistic.

We concluded that we’d just aim higher for our fundraising goals because both have valuable aspects not present in the other :smiley: Sucks for our PR team.

But is there anything that particularly stands out as a great benefit to either competition?

1 Like

I think you’ve summarized it very well. I find the learning opportunities provided by the two competitions to compliment each other very well… we’ve had teams in FRC for 7 years and VRC/FVC for four or five.

It certainly helps that students in VRC get more “hands on” time and have the chance to rebuild several times over the course of the season. This definitely reduces the pressure… but on the other hand, FRC cranks up the intensity and pressure and that’s good, too.

FRC, with the larger teams and bigger budgets also brings unique opportunities… for instance, I’ve never heard of a VRC team with an entire PR or business team dedicated to “hands off the robot” functions… but FRC certainly branches far away from purely building, programming and driving a robot in terms of the skill set needed for a team to be successful.

Personally, I’ve always put funding FRC as my top priority as our continued successes in that program made our school unique in Western Canada and I loved how it brought together students with such a diverse range of backgrounds. But I also think that from a purely technical perspective that VRC offers better value over the long-term as far as technical/engineering education experiences go… but FRC has all the “wow” power! There’s no easy answer here!

Jason

I think VRC focuses more on design because there is only so far you can go with the build. Sure you can modify parts and everything but when the day is done we are all building with the same stuff. You don’t see to much PR on VRC.

FRC is a much broader competition and has something for everybody some may argue that it is better when it comes to putting students in a real life engineering challenge only because it really does involve everything from design and build to PR and web-design. I think you could also argue that because FRC usually has larger teams it does a better job of teaching teamwork. The materials in FRC are more or less infinite.

I think that for somebody like me who enjoys design and build VRC is a great chance to get some more experience.

Although they seem like very similar robotics competitions they are quite different are i don’t think one is better than the other.

This is a cool thread
~DK

1 Like

I think this very much depends on the team. VRC (well, old school FTC, but it’s close enough that I can debate as a participant in both) does expose you to engineering design and encourages everyone to design within a restricted part limit. A solid FRC program has just as much if not more design, though, with “real world” parts. You can get a moving base in FRC without any real design, but if your FRC program is being run without engineers and an emphasis on engineering design, you should probably switch down to VRC.

This is important to note too. A VRC team should have about 5 people on it. An FRC team requires around 25 in my experience.


I would not say VRC encourages more “flexibility of design”. While FIRST has had rules these last few years that make a lot of the robots look exactly the same, you’re given basically a complete sandbox as to how to achieve certain tasks. You know how in Elevation everyone ended up with exactly the same end effector? Even in FRC when this year conditions were set to facilitate everyone having the same manipulator, there were tons of variations.

That’s actually not true. In a “real” engineering environment, you’ll get impossible deadlines all the time and you do have to commit to a final product. The FRC build season does a very good job of replicating this, so I’ve been told.


Overall, if I had the money, engineering resources, and team to do FRC (which I do!), I would do FRC without question. VRC is GREAT for FRC teams to do as well as teams that want to do competitive robotics but without the herculean resources needed to pull off FRC.

Right now, our club’s priorities are in FRC, with each group (PR/Media/Web/Graphics/Programming/Build) ultimately converging at build season.

However, VRC’s affordability and more numerous competitions has earned it a more prominent position in the club over the last two years. Though there’s some issue with team unity, it’s unquestionable that our VRC successes are as crucial as our FRC successes in getting sponsors etc, and naturally PR feels the most need for VRC.

On the other hand, VRC simply compliments FRC in most other aspects. Decor for the VEX robot is to demonstrate some of the perks of sponsorship. Building the robot is to familiarize with more basic tools and parts and standardized materials before the more complicated FRC robot. Programming uses VEX as an introductory step to FRC.

In general (for our club that is), it’s clear that FRC generates more interest, but the vitality of VRC compared to FRC is a close call, in judging by educational value, audience/sponsor appeal, impressiveness, and convenience.

Ok guys, first off I believe that one has to actually be part of both of these programs to really even begin to compare them. It would be nearly imposable to speculate without the real world experience.

Second, every VRC and FRC team differs thus the experience differs.

Third, I do not think it is possible to directly compare the two programs, so I wont.

With an objective mindset I’ll throw my personal pro’s and con’s, some of which have already come up.

VRC Pro’s

  • Highly cost effective (more bang [in number of students] for your buck)
  • VERY level playing field (most teams can afford all the parts they need, fair play)
  • Not soaked in a bunch of political bull sh*t (hear that FLL GDC? Guess not, LEGO is still bending their arms…)
  • Driven by a corporation (both a pro and con, changes internal affairs significantly)

VRC Con’s

  • Limited Parts! (part of that corporation thing listed above, the aim is to make money, but I can’t really hold this fact against VRC)
  • Not as many scholarship opportunities available, colleges don’t acknowledge VRC yet)
  • Limited reach (as big as Vex is, you wont always find teams to compete against in your area [unless you live in New Zealand of course])

FRC Pro’s

  • Widely accepted by colleges and universities across the globe
  • Large selection of real parts which arguably involves more engineering in the process of building a robot
  • Driven by an organization (both a pro and con, changes internal affairs significantly)

FRC Con’s

  • Got $30,000 dollars for 20-40 students? Not me!
  • Limited number of people who can actually work on the bot! (in most teams, a core of a handful of students do 90% of the work)
  • Polluted with all kinds of unfair advantages (not all of us can have NASA mill our entire robot for free, that’s right PINK)
  • Limited number of events which take a lot more effort and time to setup and run

Now FTC, don’t even get me started. PITSCO, gahhhhhh… The only use for an FTC kit is if one was to melt all the aluminum into Vex parts for use in a VRC event.

_Cody

FTC is a whole 'nother can of worms I won’t get into (the short version: it’s not something i’ll ever get involved with as long as VRC exists, it’s simply outclassed and I can’t afford to have my kit change while doubling in price)

I feel FRC is more of a “political mine field” than VRC is to an extent because VRC is run by people who’ve actually mentored FRC and VRC teams before, unlike the majority of FIRST staff. That being said, any large organization is a political mine field, and who’s to say that we’re not just exposed to FIRST’s uglier side a bit more than the RECs?

I also am compelled to add that there’s no such thing as an “unfair advantage” in FRC… Every team has to wokr for their sponsorship, and while some are a lot luckier than others, with constant effort and hard work any FRC team can get to where they want to be. Yup, even free milled parts. (Shaker Robotics’s trick is to find a sponsor that takes 5 weeks to make only 4 parts…)

Internal concerns aside, FRC is rewarding on a level you can’t quite get in Vex. There’s something to be said for slaving for 6 intense weeks on a 5 foot tall, 150 pound behemoth to call your own. Nothing was more inspiring for me than seeing my first FRC robot on the field competing. I thought to myself “I made that. Wow, with hard work, maybe I can be an engineer someday…” It’s something that definitely exists on a Vex scale, but it’s kind of like comparing lions and tigers to beetles and ants.

I also feel while overused and somewhat mutilated, FIRST’s ethos of “Gracious Professionalism” is a major plus to their FRC program.

I agree with the vast majority of your post, but trust me some teams bend the rules and have unfair advantages.

I personally watched Pink ASSEMBLE their robot at a regional.

WHY?

Because they ran out of time! So what did they do?

Well they slammed the parts they had milled and complete in their crate, then they brought the rest of those parts to the event and started assembly, two days later they had a barely functional robot that could not even score but could technically compete.

They were picked by another seed, played nothing but defense and won the regional.

They extended the six week build time into oh, about two months.

Everything here is fact, not opinion. Ask anyone who isn’t bias that attended the UCF regional of Lunacy.

_Cody

so ur saying that time is VERY limited since you are building such a huge robot in FRC?
and rereading ur post, that doesnt seem very cost wise…
they spent ALOT of money getting things milled and everything, and they didnt even get to TEST out the robot!
in vex we build at least 3 prototypes before we decide on which we like, then we build the good copy of it, and then spend another month making it more efficient…
dont know if its just the “pink” team or are all FRC teams like this?

Everything you just described is perfectly legal. In 2009 you were allowed to withold 40 pounds of your robot and no rule required you to ship your robot in a drivable form.

Considering Pink that year did not do very well, I don’t see why you think it’s “unfair”. They obviously were a lot worse than most Florida teams because they did not have practice time or time to evaluate their robot design; this hurt them for the rest of 2009 as they only even made eliminations once.

You’re given 6 weeks to do whatever, then until your regional to work on whatever you’re allowed to withold. No rules prohibit building a second robot (though occasionally rules exist prohibiting software development using that second robot at particular times, they have gone away recently). Teams that go the extra mile and earn a few thousand more in sponsorship can use a practice robot to get more “drive time” while also doubling the number of hands that “touch the robot” in assembly. It’s a brilliant idea because it basically has no downsides.

Costs are huge, but no school foots that bill. Teams work all year (including the Pink team) to earn sponsorship either in the form of donated machine time, donated mentorship from professional engineers (this is the big one), or “just” money. It happens in VRC too but to a much smaller extent. The exposure to actual professional engineers is part of what makes FRC so special (though not for Pink, as they don’t have a single engineer on their team (!)).


As for how FRC teams design parts and robots with such limited time, a good article to read on how one of the best FRC teams does exactly that is provided here by none other than John V-Neun.

Everyone,

Some of the complaints in this thread are unseemly and unneccessary. Let’s edit them, or at least not continue or repeat them. We have better ways to spend our time.

Many of the comparisons of the two programs seem spot on. Both are great activities for students. I gravitated toward VRC because of:
Hands-on by many more people, including me :slight_smile:
Low-barrier to entry for forming teams
Low-barrier to entry for teams attending multiple tournaments
Low-barrier to entry for holding/running a tournament

I think any group of people able to enjoy doing both are living the good life.

I look forward to increased explicit connections between VRC and scholarships.

Blake

While I’ve never been involved with FRC, I have spent 2 seasons in FLL and 3 seasons in FVC/FTC, so I’m heavily immersed in FIRST. The team attended 2 Championships in Atlanta, so we have a little taste of what FRC is like.

Things I like about FIRST
[INDENT][LIST=1]
*]There seems to be a greater emphasis on process, as well as product. FLL’s Director’s Award (and I imagine the Chairman’s Award) always kept the team thinking about more than just the robot – teamwork and the learning process have been prime. Interviews/judging at FIRST events seems more streamlined and standardized. Our VRC teams keep a detailed journal/notebook, but when the teams have offered it to the judges, at 2 VRC events, they’ve been told, “No thanks, we won’t need to see it.” At one event, there was no interview at all, so the criteria for the Excellence Award at that event were unknown to me.

*]FIRST has somehow managed to incorporate women and girls to a greater extent. While I saw a respectable number of girls at VRC Worlds in 2009, this has not been true locally – at 3 of 4 VRC events we attended, our 3-4 girls were the only girls I saw all day. I do have a female coach “buddy” who ran tournaments last year, but she may not be back this year. Notably absent is the cadre of “team moms” and female administrators (some of whom are technically strong as well) that are prominent in FRC – so far, I have not found the “analogs” of Jenny Beatty, Kathie Kentfield, Jane Young, Jessica Boucher or Kim O’Toole Eckert in the VRC community. These women were an inspiration to me and my girls in the early years, and I’m sure an inspiration to many others as well. VRC (or any institution) should NOT try to recruit women “just to get women” but the question is, “Why do women gravitate to FIRST and not as much to VRC?”
[/LIST][/INDENT]

Things I like about VRC
[INDENT][LIST=1]
*]Cost, as well as accessibility to teams without strong technical mentorship, are obvious advantages. Several years ago, I was offered a $5000 grant to start an FRC team, but I knew that 4 students and a mom and in garage without power tools would not cut it in the technical department. We have more students, still no other tech mentors (besides me), still no power tools, but we’ve been quite satisfied with how we’ve performed, even against better coached, better funded teams. The low administrative fees easily allows for multiple teams at a site, giving the “hands on” opportunity to more students.

*]VRC has an incredible rapid response time – make a suggestion, and it’s incorporated as soon as reasonably possible. There seems to be a minimum of administrative red tape, resulting in not only lower costs, but also more events. I realize that there is a trade-off to this (related to # 1 above), but it seems that overall, VRC is constantly improving and I have no doubt that with time, this issue will be hammered out, too.

*]I love the international flavor of VRC – there is a wide variety of nations represented both in absolute numbers and a proportional sense. No one ever wonders, “Is the big Championship event Nationals or Worlds?”
[/LIST] [/INDENT]

Lots to like about both programs, and though there will never be a “perfect” fit, it’s nice to have a number of good options.

Cody,

You do understand that there are no rules against assembling your robot at the competition, right? The Pink team neither bent nor broke any rules by using the competition to work on their robot, no matter what the extent of the work was. It was both their right and their choice. Many teams do this every year, especially at the Week 1 and 2 regionals.

All,

Let’s get this thread back on the original topic. Anyone who would like to unfairly attempt to denigrate the reputation of any team should take their cries elsewhere.

I guess I should publicly apologize, it didn’t occur to me that this was technically legal in FRC.

I’ll just leave it at that.
-Cody

While FIRST indeed does promote excellence beyond the competition itself, I also find that FRC isn’t exactly convenient for community outreach events. Our FRC team uses VRC robots and offseason projects for community events because of their portability. Yet, I would neither say portability in regards to community outreach events is plus for VRC, nor that having formal recognition of “above-and-beyond” teams is a plus for FRC; I think that regardless of the program, anything that really excites the team members will naturally and inevitably lead to a desire to share the enjoyment with others. I would definitely encourage VRC to adopt an award similar to the Chairman’s Award.

As for the team moms thing, you said too that FIRST “somehow” manages to incorporate more females. Is this a coincidence? I’m not sure if FIRST takes specific measures to incorporate girls into their programs. If anything, I think it might be the scholarships available. Personally, I’ve seen numerous girls at VRC competitions here (Hello, Exothermics), so perhaps again it is a coincidence that the teams in your locale have a distorted gender balance.

I think the Excellence Award is meant to be the analogous award, but as mentioned above, it appears that there is not a standardized procedure for interviewing teams across tournaments. Without reliable criteria, the award will seem arbitrary to teams, and they won’t be as motivated to work on it.

Some women (myself included) are initially intimidated by the technical aspect of robotics, but once brought onto the team through less-threatening means will find that they are capable of enjoying and succeeding at the technical aspects as well. For this reason, I think that certain aspects of the structure of FLL and FRC make them more conducive to attracting girls. FLL has 50% of its scoring on non-technical elements (teamwork and research project), and 50% of its coaches were women while I was a coach. There are some members (and mentors) of FRC teams who devote themselves entirely to non-technical areas (fundraising, team management, travel, etc.) The fact that NEMO (Non-engineering mentors’ organization) has the critical mass to even exist is a testimony to that fact.

In attracting girls, critical mass is important. I spent 3 years coaching all-guy teams until one brave gal (a maverick) joined, and not long afterwards, 3 of her friends were on board. I have no doubt that over time, as VRC ages, the girls on your team (and others like them) will evolve from participants to event coordinators and mentors and coaches. It would just be nice if they (and the guys) would recruit some of their moms to volunteer and coach to speed the process. While having more company would be nice, I’m not dissatisfied with the way things have progressed so far. VRC’s main task the past couple years has been simply to launch a program successfully, one that’s sustainable for future generations. Once things stabilize, perhaps they can start to consider more secondary issues like targeting certain populations. Creating opportunity is more important than parity, and in the long run, both genders are better served if VRC creates a quality program that that’s attractive and beneficial to all.

I believe the girl- and women-heavy ratio in FLL is primarily an age thing. There are more female Cub Scout leaders, too, but this drops dramatically as boys get older and move into Boy Scouts and Venturing.

Look around Worlds, and then look around other teams. There is no shortage of girls in VRC. Exothermic Robotics is four years old, and except for our first year when the team was my two sons and three of their friends, we have always had 20-25% girls, and we now have several women acting as mentors and volunteers. We had girls on the team for a full year before we attracted our first female mentor (the mother of a boy, by the way). Two of our nine teams attending championship events were all-girls teams, and two others were coed. Two of our VEX teams that advanced to Eliminations at Worlds had girls as captains. My opinion is that if teams are all boys it’s because the teams haven’t worked hard enough to attract girls.

The above comment about “critical mass” is right on. In six years of robots I’ve learned that boys join one at a time, but that girls join in groups. Make it non-nerdy and fun and the girls will join.

And unlike FRC, in VRC the girls are not routinely put into the “marketing,” “cheerleading,” and “business” ghettos. In VRC they build, program and drive the robots. (Yes, I know that in many FRC teams girls do engineering and drive the robot, but in my experience ALL the girls on VRC teams are doing technical work and not just some.) I don’t care even a tiny bit about turning engineers into rock stars, but I do believe that robotics competitions are a fabulous way to expose teenagers to STEM subjects and encourage them to pursue technical and scientific education. You don’t get that in the marketing group of an FRC team.

Which leads me to the #1 reason I’m glad I left FRC to pursue VEX robotics after the 2006 season, which is that with a small robot and a team of five or six, everyone is involved with the actual robot and competition process. With FRC a handful of people (including some students) do the real engineering, another handful learn fabrication, and the other 25-75% do support stuff or play computer games. I believe the quality of the experience in learning the engineering life cycle in VRC is not just as good as in FRC, it’s better. When it’s tied into a classroom experience, it’s even better again. Combined with lower costs, easier access, and the more-level playing field between elite and new teams, VRC wins for me. The one place FRC is clearly superior is in advanced construction and fabrication skills. You don’t need to know how to run a lathe or CNC machine in VEX, and if machine tool operation is the goal of a student, FRC is their program.

It’s good to note that I don’t support the VRC because I work for the RECF – I work for the RECF because I believe in VRC and VEX.

Disclaimer: My team has participated in FRC and VRC for the exact same amount of years (going into our fourth season), so I have experience with both. We have also attended both FRC and VRC Championship events once.

I would have to agree…but I understand the need for distinction.

From my understanding, the Excellence Award is much more dependent on robot performance in all areas of the competition (i.e. skills challenges [if offered], qualifying matches, and elimination matches). Unfortunately (IMHO), an award that focuses so much on the robot performance is unnecessary (since there are already awards for such a performance in each category).

Although I firmly believe in the concept of the FRC Chairman’s Award (as I would much rather instill excitement and interest in STEM for people of all ages not just because it will help improve our world, but also because it is FUN stuff), I do understand why VRC may not want to simply copy this award. However, I would suggest it recognize a team that focuses more on the “whole” process of being a team and how well they work together to solve the problem. It seems such a shame that judges don’t examine a team’s design/engineering notebook or take time to interview the teams to determine how well they worked together. Such a dependence on the robot performance really does shift the focus off of some of the most important educational goals of teamwork, problem solving, and quality communication.

I do urge VEX to try to re-think the Excellence Award to incorporate more of these criteria.

I have noticed on my FRC team when girls come to join they almost always ask to be placed on PR or Fundraising. I can only think of one time that a girl asked to join as part of our build team. Some of the girls who join PR or Fundraising end up converting to the build team after a season or two.

In VRC as we already determined there are far fewer teams who have PR teams or Fundraising teams so in joining it is likely that you will be joining a build team right away which judging from my personal experience is not a common thing for girls.

I have found after working with the few girls that we have on our build team that they add a huge part to the engineering process. The girls i have worked with look at every situation in a different way than the guys and often times this will lead them to discover a new design idea that ends up working very well. The same thing happens when there is a slight build discrepancy and we need to figure out how to make everything fit, they guys on the team all seem to look at it one way and the girls on the team see it differently. I guess what i am saying is that without girls on the team you are only seeing 1/2 of the picture.

Everything mentioned above was based off of my own personal experience with my FRC team.

~DK

Girls in FRC, and how to be accommodating for them, is always a pretty complex issue that a lot of teams struggle with. You really have to encourage girls to pursue build or electrical, because it’s really easy for a team to subconsciously push girls away from those aspects, and some may be a lot more intimidated by it than many guys would be. I wouldn’t say VRC is “better” in that aspect just because it lacks a Chairman’s aspect, though. I would say VRC’s small team size lets you do an all-girls team much more easily than an all girls regional in FRC which is pretty cool.

I haven’t looked too closely at the Excellence Award, but I heard it was analogous to the FTC Amaze award, which does have some “Chairmans-y” stuff in it, but you need to have a great robot to win it, which generally means the event winner gets the trophy anyway (in my FTC experience…)

The cool thing about FRC is that you can make VRC teams. :smiley: