I have been a mentor/coach since before it was VEX, since before it officially became the FIRST VEX Challenge. We ran a local league using the Edu-Robotics Kits that were designed to be trainers for FRC. We were involved when Radio Shack got the manufacturing rights to the kit and named it VEX. We competed in and hosted FIRST VEX Challenge competitions, then FIRST Tech Challenge (using VEX). However, when FIRST went to the Pitsco platform for FTC, we stayed with IFI and VEX. (Although we did host a FTC event in the first year of the split, we didn’t compete in it.) I have seen the tremendous growth in VEX over the years. We have qualified for the US Open numerous times (but have only attended the past two years). We have qualified for Worlds four times and have attended each time we qualified. We are recognized as being one of the better programs in the state of Wisconsin.
I have really enjoyed the growth of the program over the years. The skills that my students have developed from the program have been tremendous. Not just gear ratios, torque calculations and PID programming, but teamwork, communication, conflict resolution and problem-solving, dealing with success and failure are skills that will carry them through for their lifetime.
It has been great to see the development of the platform over the years as well. When my alumni from the early days return, they are absolutely amazed at what the robots are capable of today. Are there things that I wish were better? Always, but I understand that good engineering involves developing the best solution (product) possible given the constraints at hand.
As for the games themselves, I think that the GDC (Game Design Committee) has to balance the challenge so that it is truly a challenge to the strong established teams, yet also leave parts of the game so that new teams have the opportunity to achieve some modicum of success. Hence, the ability to push stars under the fence. As much as we hate to see push-bots, sometimes that is all a new team can come up with, particularly early in the season.
We are not involved with any of the FIRST competitions. And I want to start by saying that they are good programs as well, however we are in VEX for various reasons. One, bang for the buck. We field six robots with 3-4 students per robot for about the same as it would cost to run 2-3 FTC robots. Two, accessibility. In my opinion, the VRC games have advantages that I prefer see also above). They are generally not overly complicated, particularly regarding things like penalty points, yet are sufficiently challenging for all. Three, I like the continuous improvement model. Our six robots usually compete in at least 5 events plus league each season, beginning in November through February (not counting state, the US Open or Worlds, should we qualify for any of them).
Just my thoughts.