If an adult is touching the robot, you're doing something wrong

Yesterday at our local competition, the head judge used this exact phrase during the opening ceremonies: “Essentially, if an adult is touching the robot, you’re doing something wrong.”

I’d never heard it phrased that way before, and it was like a revelation.

I know that this phrasing is NOT part of the current VEX IQ rules. The rules have been quoted many times here, and the head judge used that official wording as well. " adults should never work on or program a Robot without Students on that Team being present and actively participating." However, that official phrasing has always struck me as frustratingly vague. It doesn’t say that adults can’t work on the robot. And what does “active student participation” mean?

In my career as a coach, I’ve definitely “touched the robot” a lot. The line is blurry, and the slope is slippery. As the deadline nears, and the kids’ interest wanes, “active participation” become spotty. I’ve also had a few dad’s “take over” and pretty much build the drivetrain or lifting arm or whatever themselves, because their kid was asked to build that part of the robot during a team meeting, and their kid just wasn’t interested.

Furthermore, this rule is obviously only enforced for the judge’s awards, and not for the main scored competition. I’ve seen plenty of obviously mentor-built bots (little kids struggling to carry a robot that’s bigger than they are) doing well or even winning the scored challenges.

So, why not make this rule official?

“Adults may not touch the VEX IQ pieces during robot construction, and beyond installing the software, adults may not touch the keyboard or mouse during the process of defining the robot’s program.”

You have us signing an official release at check-in.

Why not have an official agreement that every adult and every child signs at check-in, which states: “No adult touched the robot during the build process, and no adult modified the robot’s program.”

That slope is much less slippery.

And yeah, some adults might lie about this, but I think that having the kids sign such a contract too would give those adults pause. “Am I going to coach my kids to lie on an official contract?”

At our local competition, mentor involvement is the elephant in the room that everyone tiptoes around. The coaches get a kinda nervous look when talking to each other… I’ve had coaches ask me for programming tips, etc.

So why not nail it down and make it crystal clear for everyone?

This will still leave the door open for mentors to design a robot conceptually and then wield their students like brushes to build the design. This goes against the spirit of the competition too, but at least forcing students to build 100% makes it much harder. And students are encouraged to build off-the-shelf designs anyway (like Flexbot), which weren’t designed by the students, right?

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There does exist of the student centered document
https://www.roboticseducation.org/documents/2019/08/student-centered-policy-rec-foundation.pdf/

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That doc is a great resource, thanks! I don’t think that most coaches in our local area are aware of this document.

Also, the document mentions a “pit interview,” but as far as I recall, our team never had a pit interview (we’ve been in 5 local competitions over the past 2 years). I’m assuming a pit interview is where they come around and talk to the kids about how their robot works.

Because dumping $400 (or $1500 for VRC) in parts on a table and walking away isn’t helpful.

We’ve been around this every year. The program is around inspiring roboteers.

Your head judge should read the rules and guidelines ( as posted above) and follow them, rather than off-roading and making stuff up.

This entire “student lead” nonsense at this full level of can’t touch is just crazy talk. If you have parents that really want to do this, put them in a room, dump a kit on the table and go “Figure it out, when I come back in two hours, have a working robot running”. Oh, nope, no instructions, since we all know they were created by professionals, we don’t want that. I bet they don’t last an hour.

Let’s take something that’s hard, make it super frustrating and even more difficult and see how many kids you inspire. /sigh.

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Look, I have seen many adults work on their teams robots and that is not cool. From VEX EDR perspective. I have seen an adult work on their kids robot while they were on their phones doing nothing… Holding a screwdriver or helping them hold things or grabbing them thing in my opinion is fine. But not building the robot for them. Parents should just have common sense about what is right and what is wrong. They should just be encouraging their kids not building for them. it just doesn’t make it fun even for the competitors.

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AND I believe the VEX should enforce the rule more.

That conclusion for the rule is too long. It should not just be for IQ Too! EDR has the same problems. If this gets too out of hand then parents just should not be allowed in the pits all the time or have people watching them. Contracts and all that jazz is just too much. Every team has their own idea of their robot. Copying robots won’t get you anywhere. There should be papers that your school should pass out every year before VEX that go over the rules of what a parent can and can’t do, How kids should act, and other things. Like a code of conduct.

Doesn’t matter if this is Vex IQ, VRC, FRC, etc. we will always have this debate just for the mere fact that this whole subject is not black and white, and will never be. How much involvement should coaches, mentors, and parents have depends on a whole host of factors. How old are the students, what are the goals of the program, how much engineering/STEM do they know, etc.?

One thing I always see is that younger kids don’t have the needed dexterity to deal with the Vex IQ pins and connectors. They don’t have fingernails to get underneath the pins and pry them out, or push them in properly. They need help here, and that is something that should be absolutely reasonable for a coach or mentor to help them on.

I understand that there are some teams where parents/coaches are much more involved than they should be. I was at worlds and everyone was getting to the opening ceremonies in Freedom Hall, when I was walking by this pit where there were no students around, and one parent was there with the robot hooked up to the laptop and she was debugging the program.

Unfortunately, we will continue to see things like this. Hopefully they are a very small minority, and I do like how RECF is looking to address this. At the end of the day, though, the goal is really to make sure that the kids learn something, enjoy robotics, and have a great experience. And hopefully it is something they want to pursue in life.

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I think part of the issue, too, is that there are few other good examples of how to coach in the way robotics expects. No football coach is gathering his team ar practice and saying “OK, they ran the ball for 800 yards and 6 TDs against us on Saturday. What are some other ways we can try playing defense?” :grin: (Well maybe The Huskers are. GBR :wink:) No one would say, don’t touch the ball, coach.

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VEX EDR student here. It makes me mad TO NO END when a FRIENDS parent is working on their team’s robot. You just lose all respect for the team and anyone involved in that. IT’S CHEATING. That specific team made it to worlds last year and we were furious. Imagine being the kid that puts so much effort into your team and robot, and then someone’s creepy parent works on it and THEY make it to worlds. It makes you die a little bit inside when you realize how unjust it is. Don’t work on their robot, don’t let parents work on their robot. Imagine yourself as if you were a hard working, dedicated kid, that got screwed over because their peers were too lazy to do it themselves.

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Here’s some scenarios I’ve seen, from obviously bad to some gray areas where you can’t make a blanket judgement (I expect some will disagree with me on #6):

  1. Mentor working on a laptop in the pits or at the practice field. If I ever see this as an event official, I will disqualify the team for judged awards, no questions asked. (Mentor working in the stands on a laptop…different story, maybe got called from work to fix a problem remotely—it’s happened to me)

  2. Mentor working on a robot in the pits, no students around, or uninvolved student in pit… If I ever see this as an event official, I will disqualify the team for judged awards, no questions asked. (I saw this at worlds once, mentor was cutting anti-slip mat for the robot while kid was sitting in the back of the pit playing on his Gameboy.

  3. Mentor builds half the drive base (to “show student how”), students build the other half to match … nope, doesn’t work for me, but it happens, especially in MS VRC and elementary IQ. Hopefully, with the new code of conduct (if it’s read) mentors will self-police and quit it.

  4. Mentor telling what to do, what to type, etc, when programming an autonomous … Almost as bad as #1 above. It happens alot, especially in MS VRC and elementary IQ. Hopefully, with the new code of conduct (if it’s read) mentors will self-police and quit it.

  5. Kid hands mentor an IQ motor or pieces with pins stuck, mentor pulls pins and hands it back. No problem—happens frequently with elementary IQ.

  6. Mentor helping kids get a stripped screw out of a robot mechanism, kids are there, but are just not strong enough/experienced enough to do it (could easily happen in MS VRC)—Not a problem, as long as the kids are actively there.

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The main scenario I’d like to avoid is a third party who makes an observation, extrapolates and jumps to conclusions based on that observation, and reports to officials without even talking with the ‘offending’ team members to find out what actually was going on.
Way too many Chicken Littles running around.

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The way I see it there should be no senario in which something an adult built, or designed by themselves, makes it onto a finished robot. This includes them building something and the kids copying it but there is no issue with them helping the kids think of a design or help them troubleshoot problems (as long as the kids are doing it and they are just helping). The issue is that it is very hard for vex to police this

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  1. Umm, how about you ask. I’ve sat in the pits, “supervising” roboteers while working on my laptop for work.

  2. I’ve build 1/2 drives, 1/2 intakes, etc. and shown as an example. Need to tell me how this is different from roboteer going to Youtube and looking at drive base, etc and building that. Or looking at the team next to them and building that?

  3. I work with the roboteers on code. I’ve not met many 5-9th graders that are proficient in Python / C++ (Robot C was super easy, they got proficient in that). Are they stuck on the algorithm they are coding or on syntax? We see dozens of syntax/what class is this/why doesn’t this class work/who thought it was a good idea for classes anyway, are posts every month. Just because I’m there I can’t answer them?

Event Partners should always “ask first”, it may be an interesting back story. If nothing else it’s a teachable moment. Just “disqualify with no questions asked” is not helping. You need to make the parent behavior change, not crush roboteers that are trying.

@224x Again, just a reminder, the “hero bots” are designed and built by very talented professional roboteers with years of experience. They are adults. So I’ll jump to your roboteers don’t look at any of the “hero bots”, they come up with everything on their own.

Finally (well not really since I bring this up yearly) , robotics isn’t easy. We are trying to inspire roboteers. We are trying to get them into some kind of STEM based job stream. Why go on a path to make it super hard for kids to be successful. People equate this to a sport. From 5 year old kids kicking soccer balls to Texas High School Football there are a metric ton of parents involved. I don’t see people saying that the GSD should fire the entire coaching staff and leave a random parent involved that stands on the sidelines and goes “Yay Football”

Quite frankly, the biggest driver around this seems to be “Need to go to Worlds and WIN AT ALL COSTS”. I’ll posit a super simple idea: “Get rid of Worlds”. Simple to do, huge cost savings, takes all the blood lust out of VEX competitions.

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Agreed. I’ve been on my laptop in the pits because I’m trying to get real work done while supervise 4 teams because the other coaches are all volunteering to keep the event running.

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Yeah, I guess if whatever the adults build that’s on the robot is posted online with detailed instructions it’s fine, but if only one team has access to this it’s unfair. If only one team had access to the hero bit instructions it would be unfair, would it not?

yea, be careful with this. I do a lot of tech support at competitions whilst my team is competing. It’s an ideal environment for debugging issues that only show when 32+ robots are running.

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Yea, point taken. As I was writing, I guess I had in my mind a “well known and confirmed Dad-bot” team, so there was no question when it happened. At worlds, we would report the question to our judge advisor, who then investigates to confirm.

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Why is this even a debate? A mentor/adult/coach should NEVER be telling you how to build your robot and/or building it for you. They should also NEVER program it for you. Watching videos is different because you are building it yourself. It doesn’t matter if your team sucks worse than the Bengals, an adult should not be helping you with your robot more than you already are. That being said, I understand that mentors/coaches exist for the sole purpose of guidance and leadership, which is when it is okay to lead your students in the right direction. NOT telling them what to do. Doing things for students completely ruins the student-based aspect of VEX, which is what it’s all about. Let them be and let them figure it out with your leadership, do not tell them what to do. That’s the point.

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I think that during the build process the rule should not be enforced because what if the none of the students can put a piece in or take it out? and what if they made a big mistake and had to take apart the whole robot but couldnt because the coach couldnt help them take out a piece?