Need Advice for Starting a Team

I am a homeschool mom with an engineering background and would like to start a VEX EDR team for my children. We have two other friends interested to make a team of four. My family is planning on financing the parts…We are thinking of starting with two classroom competition super kits. We thought this would allow us to make two robots with some flexibility in available parts. Two robots are needed, right? Are two of these kits overkill? Should we wait to see what the new competition problem is before buying and then tailor what we buy to what we think we need for an initial design?

I really have no experience with how teams go about building the robots. Does everyone just get together and come up with a design and then begin building together? Would we set two people aside as the builders and send them home with the parts and let them build at home? I am thinking though that everyone will want a hand in building it.

Please politely shoot holes in our plans. Any advice, feedback, or heads-up on things to consider is welcome! We plan on beginning to build this summer. Thank you!

In addition to the parts listed I would definitely add at least one partner joystick and some extra 393 motors and motor controllers. Depending on next year’s challenge 3 wire servos might be useful, and I would probably look into getting some aluminum parts if the game has any sort of lifting a robot.

Hello! You sound like us - except the part about homeschooling. I’m even a mom that’s an engineer. Two years ago, we started a team with neighborhood kids and family friends. The first year we had one middle school team (with 5th graders and 8th graders). This year, we have two teams - one middle school and one high school. We started with one kit then ordered parts as we needed them. I would not advise ordering two kits - because you will end up with lots of stuff you don’t need and the kits are not very economical (not much cost savings).

First place to look is the engineering notebook design rubric. This pretty much lays out what your design and build process should be. By thinking you can just send parts home with the kids and expect to see a complete robot is oversimplifying things quite a bit. You will need to come up with your approach then implementation. There will be lots of roadblocks, trade offs, and thing that don’t work in the real world that seemed to work in your head. The role of a mentor to help guide and focus cannot be underestimated. Regular meetings are a must if you want to accomplish anything.

Each year, there are a number of discrete tasks that need to be successful in order to have a complete robot. This year you must (1) collect balls and deliver them to your propulsion system (2) propel balls into the goal (3) lift a robot. You must also design a base that can fit your system and drive around efficiently. So I would recommend breaking next year’s challenge into discrete parts and have your team work on them (can either do it serially or have a few kids work on one element and another group work on another element). That being said, I would not recommend trying to build two robots - one will be a huge challenge as it is. Unless you have enough kids to field two teams (8 to 10 kids).

We broke out our programmers early and trained them in programming and had them learn how to program the sensors. Carnegie Mellon has an excellent on line robotC tutorial. You build a little practice robot and learn the language by implementing exercises. I taught myself robotC in a few days by going through the tutorial (I have minimal programming background).

You will probably need a partner joystick (but not right away). This year there was a 12 motor limit - so plan on having at least that many motors and motor controllers. Some motors and motor controllers will die, so have spares (again, you will not need all these on day one). We have never implemented using servos - so don’t buy any until you know you need them. In fact, your approach of seeing what the challenge is before buying parts is a good one.

You will need tools. In addition to the Vex wrenches and screwdrivers, you’ll need a saw, hammer, a dremel tool. Goggles.

I’ve written a novel and could probably write more - but these are my top few suggestions. Curious to see what others say.

Good luck! I have two girls in Vex and have told many people that participating in this program has been the highlight of my parenting experience so far. Hopefully, you will enjoy it half as much!

I forgot to mention that you will need a copy of RobotC or EasyC in order to program the robot. I would recommend RobotC because I find it easier and more intuitive to use, and the forum support for it is much better.

You only need one robot for a single MS or HS team. One super kit would be enough for one team. If you want to compete with two robots and two team numbers, I would still only purchase one super kit and a Claw-Bot starter kit. Super kits are a great value, but if you purchase two you will just end up with two sets of certain sensors you don’t even use one of. Place a second (or third) order for additional steel and aluminum, and other parts once you get further into the season.

A second Cortex can be helpful (not necessary) if you want to teach programming to students later in the season when some of the team is modifying the robot and some are sitting around with nothing to do. Only 2… maybe 3 kids can fit around a robot to work on it.

Don’t forget programming software. I would recommend RobotC.

Review the Design Award Rubric on pg. 35

Review the Excellence Award Rubric on pg. 37 of that same document.

The students notebook should start with evaluating the game. Have them describe and evaluate the game in their notebook. This will get them started on the path to designing their robot. It’s tempting to skip the notebook… don’t skip it. It might even be worth it to have all the kids keep their own engineering notebook.

I would have the students build together after they make a plan. If they are motivated, I would send the robot home with someone and have them finish some of the building the group already has started.

Especially with a rookie team, if I were their mentor, I wouldn’t hesitate to prototype concepts to show the kids. Don’t build it for them, make them build the systems that go on the robot, but it’s helpful if mentors can show the students concepts instead of just telling them.

Be sure they use bearings. We take something like that for granted, but rookie kids will often skip bearings the first time they start building.

The main things you will want in addition to whichever kit you go with will be motors, motor controllers, and aluminum. I definitely would not buy any servos (sorry brennanRavan). I would wait until after the unveiling of the new game (April 22) to order additional parts, though. I generally dislike the kits because as Gear Geeks said they come with a lot of parts you won’t want. I imagine it’s best to start with a smaller number of parts and then learn what parts people like and which they don’t. You can look at the forum and find a number of lists of parts people recommend or look at robots and see what parts they use to get an idea of what to order.

As Adam T said you only have 1 robot per team, but you can form 2 teams if you want.

Yeah, pretty much. Some teams meet altogether at people’s houses to plan and build etc. Some teams meet altogether as often as possible and then let one person have the robot in between meetings, so that they can get more work done.
It sounds like your situation with meeting and having someone take the robot home may be somewhat similar to @sazrocks. Maybe he can offer some more specific advice or comment on how well it works.

Also, despite what others said about RobotC and EasyC (especially if you are on a budget) there’s always PROS as an alternative.

i would not get the competition super kits. There are too many wheels, sensors, unusable metal angles, and gears. Instead, order separate parts.

For four kids, one robot is enough.
You should get:
12 Motors and motor controllers.
1 Cortex
1 Joystick - No partner control, they are very unpractical because they rely on communication on a split second basis to successfully compete.
2 Sets of assorted high strength gears- this gets you 60t, 36 t, and 12 t high strength gears- the competition kit ones are thin and easily strip
1 4 pack of high strength 84t gears
4 4" or 3.25" omni-wheels
2 4" or 3.25" traction wheels of your choice

3 packs of 2x35x1 aluminum c-channels
1 pack of 5x35x1 aluminum c-channels
1 pack of 3x35x1 aluminum c-channels
1 assorted angle / bracket kit
sensors: ultrasonic, quadratures, limit switches, line followers are the most commonly used.
wires: depends on the year.
zipties- wire management
12x24 1/16" lexan

My advice

  1. Parts - the more parts the better if you can afford it. I would start with one super kit, however. As was stated above, only the college level teams (VEXU) produce two robots per team. I would go ahead and buy the kit right away, let the kids play around with it some. Discuss various ways of fastening and concepts like triangulation, etc. Introduce them to YouTube. You can do searches for VEX Nothing But Net (the current game), VEX Skyrise, VEX Toss Up, VEX Sack Attack, VEX Gateway, VEX Round Up and others. Have the kids focus on the various types of mechanisms and drives. There are a lot of tutorials out there that deal with building and programming as well. One thing to notice is that very few of the best robots cantilever their wheels, they are almost always enclosed. Ask you kids why.
  2. Building the robot - after they have seen the various mechanisms and drives, have them attempt to replicate them without regard to what the next competition challenge is. To me, the build and the programming go hand in hand, although build usually takes more time, the programming is just as crucial. Once the kids have some experience building and programming, then it is time to consider the new game.
  3. Designing for a new game - In my opinion, it is best to sit down and look over the new game and make some strategic decisions about how you will play the game and KNOW the rules. For example, each game often has an element that seems disparate from the rest of the game. In Nothing But Net, lifting your alliance robot is very different from shooting balls into a basket. Which do you decide to do? Or will you attempt to do both? My advice for a new team is start by picking one thing and try to be good at that.
    Then let your chosen strategy drive your design. Prototype different ideas, document (engineering notebook) and once you have a design you like, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. A decent robot driven VERY well can beat an excellent robot driven poorly.
    By the way, I have been a robotics coach for 14 years for one of the more successful programs in the sate of WI. If I can be of any other help, please let me know. This forum is also a great place for advise and assistance. Sorry for the long-winded answer, but there is SO much more that I could share.

Thank you to everyone for taking time to share your thoughts! You guys and gals are great! I am much encouraged!

Don’t forget about tools. You will need to cut the parts down at some point. You or your teammates may have a bunch of these already.

  1. A vice or a ton of clamps. In order to cut the parts you have to get them good and tied down to not move around on you. Can get cheap at Harbor freight or flea markets.
  2. Saw or some cutting implement - many choices here. Hack saw is the simplest and cheapest but you find you really want a dremel in some cases. A small chop saw makes good work of c-channels but once you get to many teams it becomes more necessary. Band saws can work but are pretty dangerous (like dremels aren’t?)
  3. Safety googles and possibly a safety face shield. Much cheaper than you think. Please protect your eyes.
  4. Something to cut the shafts. Dremels and saws work but a bolt cutter works even better.
  5. Upgrade the allen keys. Get some t-handle ones to get some good torque. Fairly cheap on line and sold individually.
  6. A toolbox to hold all this stuff - need to take the tools to competitions because guess what? Murphy comes along too and what can go wrong will.
  7. A #1 size phillips screwdriver - needed for getting the screws off the motors for IME encoders or adding the faster gears inside
  8. Metal files - a flat bastard mill file works best. Again order online cheap.
  9. Pliers and Vice grips - helpful for pulling stubborn shafts out or holding screws in place in a tight spot fingers can’t reach
  10. more of those Vex wrenches. One is never enough. And supplement wrenches with nut drivers.

Everyone typically wants to be a part of the build and the beauty of Vex is it allows you to do that where people do not need hyper-specialization. Build takes 80% of the time. You can’t program much without a robot so that generally comes later.

Be prepared to re-design as well. Attend multiple competitions and see what works and improve your robot over the season. Our teams seasons go like this

September - initial design and start build
October - continue build. Base finished, work on arm or shooter or whatever
November - finish initial build, get initial program for motors and some sensors going
December - start driving. Some early competitions may be here
January - first month of competition. Start iteration 2 of robot
February - second month of competition. Iteration 3. Hopefully you are at states.
March - joy or despair. You are either moving on to Worlds or US Open or your season is done.

I highly recommend tools from wihatools.com - hex and nut drivers that work really well.
26320 - 5/64" hex driver
26323 - 3/32" hex driver

they also have very nice 11/32" nut driver - I like the short yellow handled one. They have hallowed shafts to handle long screws!

We are a homeschool team and started with 4 kids a few years back as well, 7 now as we wanted a better notebook, etc… Parts stuff was described above, so it seems covered. Start with 1 robot for the first year. We went to 2 robots the second year with 2 kids on each, because often the game does have a makeup that allows 2 distinct designs to work well together. Identify at least 1 programmer early on and have them do the RobotC tutorials and virtual worlds over the summer. Autonomous operation can separate you from half the field.
One thing that helped us tremendously was purchasing the arena and having it setup in a basement/garage. This, along with that year’s field element kit, really gives the team a place to coalesce and try out real ideas. It’s just not the same when using the starter kit elements.
Be patient. We started mid-season in 8th grade with a modified clawbot, didn’t win or get picked as an alliance in anything. First trophy was sportsmanship at the end of the 9th grade year. Kind of lonely down there, but it’s not unusual. Got progressively better each year (now 11th grade), moved to 2 robots, both went to World’s 3 years straight and won State Championship Awards past 3 years. Takes time, and money.
The competitive teams work on their robots a lot, daily, so hopefully one or two kids step up as the ones that love the sport and eat/sleep/drink it.
We leave the arena in the basement and it is open 24/7 for all kids. I let the kids build any wild-haired idea they want over the summer to try out new ideas. No idea is bad at this point. Get them on the forum so that they can learn from others. Very helpful.
As a homeschool team you will either fund it yourself, fundraise, or get corporate sponsors. Whatever you do, for example, it’s not cheap. We have spent $16k in the last 24 months, but $6k of that is just for Worlds’ registration. Expenses taper off after a couple years as you accumulate parts. So in reality expect to shell out a few $k the first year. Again, it’s just up to you how deep you want to get into it, but to be competitive with the top 10% you will be buying parts and shipping overnight. We consider it like private school tuition with great results.
Once you have your design finalized, make sure you have some backup parts for tournaments, anything can happen there.
It has been great for the homeschool kids and families, we just started an IQ team so the ‘littles’ can do what their big HS brothers and sisters were doing. They learn a lot from each other, the HS kids were great with the elementary kids, they went undefeated in championships this year and won their State championship, largely because they had mentors in the older siblings to look up to.

I second everything TriDragon says. I forgot about the field. The first year, we cheaped out and didn’t have a field. We tried to build 1/4 of a field. This year, we jumped in and bought the field and it made a world of difference.

I also agree that you need a dedicated space. First year we didn’t do that and robotics took over our living room.

Also need something to organize all the parts in. If not, screws, nuts, and everything else is all over the place.

Also agree it is not cheap. I counted up expenses last year and discovered that we paid over $1000 in shipping alone! Vex shipping is expensive and overnight shipping is even more expensive. But if you need a part and there are only a few days until the tournament, you have no choice but to overnight it ($$$).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you have time ordering from:

http://www.robotmesh.com/

is free shipping over $50. Every little bit helps.

We switched to i-design solutions this year and saved a bundle on shipping.

http://www.idesignsol.com/

Sorting the parts each week to distribute to 34 teams is still a pain…

Good to know. I’ve been ordering directly from Vex. Everyday I learn something new here on the Forum!

You may find that this is a very valuable resource made by VEX to give you the general concept of team structure as you aim to create a VEX EDR team. The resource is slightly outdated, so it is important to note that the current game is Nothing But Net, not Sack Attack. Best of luck to you in your endeavor.

Thank you all for your great insights! Thank you for taking the time to share!!!