Reflections on the 2009 World Championships

First off, my apologies to all the great teams and robots I didn’t notice or get to watch. I was chasing six teams around the two fields, plus miscellaneous team support (I was the only technical mentor supporting 34 students – and I am eternally grateful to the other mentors and parents who helped), so I can only give a one-person review.

  • The Latin American teams were awesome. I loved the singing, dancing and costumes. Terrific.

  • Safety yellow t-shirts make it really easy to find our students in a crowd. I think we’ll stick with them.

  • There are some dynasties building in VRC. Aside from FRC teams the Robo Wranglers, Cheesy Poofs, and Simbotics who are doing as well in Vex as they do in FRC, there are some programs that either don’t do FRC or do FRC but aren’t “legends of FRC.” Some of the programs (schools or clubs) that are in this category are the Steel Eagles, ACME Robotics, Gladstone, Green Eggs, and Free Range Robotics . I don’t understand how or if the Chinese teams work together, but Shanghai Luwan Teenagers Activity Center was very strong this year, too. (Feel free to add your favorites to this thread – like I said, I only noticed certain teams and programs.)

  • The tournament operations were great. Nearly perfect in every way.

  • I frequently saw students on teams that were playing matches wandering into “VIP” areas to watch. The students (and mentors) usually just showed up, watched, and left, and I never saw anyone being hassled for being in the “wrong place.” This was terrific behavior by the tournament staff. If crowding had become an issue I imagine they might have cleaned off the field, but the way they just let it slide was considerate and polite. This was extremely refreshing.

  • I worked as an inspector and I came away very impressed with the overall quality of the robots. I also managed to see every idea we had thought of for playing the game in the steel, so to speak, which happens to me at every robotics event.

  • Adults and college students – volunteer for a few hours at your next tournament. It really adds to the experience. I probably inspected 50 or 60 of the 260+ robots that were there, and consider it a privilege to have gotten to chat with so many students.

  • The pits were spacious, the facility was big enough, and the hotels were close. Thumbs up. The only negative is that there really isn’t much cheap food in the area, so our kids spent a fortune on meals. The food at the closing party was only $10 (including entertainment!), and was the good deal of the week.

  • IFI invited Botball, Best Robotics, and FIRST to have booths talking about their programs. They also had some educational materials companies and an on-the-spot custom shirt printer doing souvenir shirts. Two thumbs up, and an extra thumb for inviting the “competition” to their event. (I haven’t seen a Vex booth at any FIRST events this year, have you?)

… more as it comes up in my exhausted memory.

I couldnt agree with you more but i would like to suggest they make 4 divisons instead of two.

It took me a while to figure that out. It’s because they couldn’t get the fields far enough apart to avoid radio interference between fields. This has to be why the two field sets were so far apart – to eliminate radio problems. Let’s hear it for Vex Net.

I forgot:

  • There were a zillion practice fields. Woo hoo!

Any college / universities like first? Vex might want to try inviting some of them if they didn’t.

anybody have umm video archives of the championships? It’d be interesting to see the ideas that grew from there.

I already have a couple of ideas flying around my head for next year… some using concepts learned this year… we’ll wait and see…

  • Allan Kuan

Very nice job by the referees and organizers. The staff also did a far better job of getting crystals back from teams than any other tournament that I’ve attended.

My thoughts:

Divisions: Far too few. 721 had a team consisting of three people this year, myself and two drivers. The only real teams we managed to be able to even get some information on were mainly teams we were playing with/against. I know that there becomes an issue with not enough room for fields due to interference but on the autodesk/IFI/NASA/EMC fields, there could have been two divisions, one right after another and the rotation of the fields between divisions would keep the number of games per team relatively consistent. I hope that reason for having fewer divisions is gone after vexnet comes out.

Advertising: Our team did none pretty much except for the people who came around and scouted us, it feels like we dropped into obscurity. Next year I’ll print up advertising sheets or something. It was a lot more important than we thought it was with the number of teams in each division.

Elevated Fields: I’m at a decent height of 5’9" and my drivers are around as tall. I saw a few people looking at the field through the lexan instead of over the side. They had trouble with seeing the far side as depth perception is pretty hard without an easy reference point since the robot obscures the goal. If the driver’s could have an 18" bench of sorts it would help greatly towards solving this problem while being short enough to pose very little risk even if the drivers do fall. Another problem with the elevated fields this year was looking at the corner on your alliance side. You couldn’t lean out over the field since it was that high and the autoloader blocked the view of the corner.

For next year:
I was thinking about the possible number of points a team could get for next year’s challenge. I would like to suggest that RP, instead of being what your opponent got, for a win be what you got subtract what your opponent got. The higher the difference, the more RP you get. In the case of a loss, you get whatever score you managed to score. That would make RP a lot more meaningful in helping to choose alliance partners

Have a mock match field or two. Since Vexnet is supposed to be out, have some teams line up to have impromptu matches against each other. Teams will be responsible for setting the field back up after playing on it. Not much support is necessary, I’d say to have the teams start the autonomous by turning on the transmitters is simple enough for it to work out smoothly.

As far as RP goes if you were to do it the way you suggest that means that teams would have better ranking for completely dominating the other alliance. Although it is a competition I think IFI is trying to encourage teams to not destroy the competition. Right now if you score real high it is to your advantage to score points for the other team to get a higher RP. I personally like it this way, I think it reminds people that this is a friendly competition.

With the mock field idea you should have been able to do that on the practice fields. Although the tethers might have gotten in the way it’s still possible. I definitely like the idea, I remember doing this a couple of years ago in the FVC. If it was endorsed by IFI that would only make it better.

Although we didn’t end up going to Dallas this year, I was able to watch some of the real-time results and streaming video. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the tournament from the Pacific Northwest contingent over the next little while.

I hope that with wifi technology it will be possible, in future years, to have more than two divisions and have more than six matches for each team.

I know how difficult it is for an FRC team (with dozens of members) to scout a 60-70 team tournament. I can only imagine that it must have been well-nigh impossible for a VEX team (normally with far fewer members) to properly scout a 130 team division. Heck, it is even hard to properly scout a 45 team local competition! Making it even more difficult was that it appeared to me that there were many, many, many teams of roughly equal (read “outstanding”) calibre from which to choose.

I won’t pretend to know the rationale behind having just two divisions (although I suspect RF interference is a big part of it), but I do know that on a purely mathematical basis that as the number of teams in a division goes up, the challenge in scouting does likewise, and as the number of qualifying matches goes down, the randomness of the qualifying rankings does the inverse. More divisions + more matches = less randomness in results.


There was an article written in the Dallas Morning Newspaper about the competition.

I noticed many mascots that were slain by the seemingly famous “Mountain Dew Man” who appeared on the front page of the Metro section of the newspaper. He was easily the most photographed person at the entire event often having to stop for pictures while trying to scout.

I’d agree that there should be more divisions - many talented teams were overlooked because they didn’t advertise and slipped into obscurity. As someone who attended most of the Northern California regionals, I’ll testify that 1337 (for example) completely dominated every tournament they entered - however, they didn’t even make eliminations at Dallas.

On the positive side, IFI definitely did not skimp on the tournament, as evidenced through the “World Championship” robot plates, excess of flags, massive trophies (versus FIRST’s new slimmed-down versions), and the team social. In my opinion, the social was leaps and bounds better than the one in Atlanta, for about a fifth the cost.

Let’s hear it for Vex Net. If that thing works like we think it will, having 40-50 teams a division isn’t a bad idea. With only 6 qualifiers among 130 teams, the majority of the smaller teams(such as us with 3 people) just don’t have the resources to send people around to advertise.

Couldn’t agree with you more, as one of the top northwest teams. Also, a great big thank you to cheesy poofs (specifically b) for giving us the hope and desire to win our last 2 matches =).

The tournament staff did a fabulous job in every way – outstanding job, IFI.

  • The venue was perfect – pits not far from the arena, yet spacious.
  • It was nice to have a whole day to unpack, repair the robot, and work on skills challenges before tournament play.
  • The matches were amazingly punctual, considering the logistics of moving around 280 teams.
  • The staff and volunteers were knowledgeable and gracious.

The facility was very nice, and convenient to the Convention Center. However, after having been to Atlanta, I was completely taken off-guard by the lack of reasonably priced food available nearby. One of our parents had rented a vehicle, who generously did food runs for breakfast and dinner. But I feel bad that he had to travel out to the suburbs even for that, spending over an hour and half one evening to look for food to bring back to the students.

Since the Hyatt did such a nice job with the wrap-party, my suggestion is that IFI contract with the Hyatt to offer mass quantity, lower-cost food for all days of the tournament. If teams get a discount on pre-ordered meals, the Hyatt would have some ball-park figures on quantities. For example:

Dinner package for $25 - Cheap but filling buffet meal on Thursday and Friday with no entertainment, Wrap party dinner on Saturday. That would be equivalent to $7.50 for each of the first 2 nights, $10 for the last night. Keep the buffet open for 1.5 - 2 hours after pit closing.

Breakfast package for $10 (equivalent to $3.33/meal) - Continental buffet breakfast of fruit, carbs, and beverages for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings for about 1.5 hours before the pits open.

As always, driving was a huge factor in the outcome, perhaps even more than I anticipated. Two years ago, we attended the FVC Championship with a robot that was clearly less capable than average, but this time around, we had a robot that was at least as robust and capable as the average bot. However, I had allowed 2 rookie drivers to rotate in (5 drivers total), knowing this would affect our performance. Our team had hoped to place somewhere in the middle (winning between 2 and 4 matches); we actually went 1 -5. We were on the losing end of the 2 vs. 1 robot upset, which was caused by a number of things on our part, including lack of communication between our drivers and rookie jitters.

When I look back, I sometimes wonder whether this was the right decision, but I don’t think I would have done things differently. We have 5 rookies, 5 veterans, and the rookies have actually been instrumental in pushing the team forward in a number of ways, including fundraising and building supplemental items (transport box, low-cost field elements). Had it not been for the rookies, we might not have taken the trip at all. They have invested time and “earned their keep” as much as the veterans. They were awed by the designs of the other teams, and several times, I saw them take pictures and say, “I want to build something like that.”

The team has no lack of talent, but money has always been an issue for us. Travel expenses aside, our annual budget is about $300/year – $100 for team registration, $200 for new/replacement robot parts. I was a bit surprised to learn on this trip that 30% of our team receives free/reduced lunch, and 50% has no parent who has attended college. This is actually much better than the demographic of our county: over 50% receive free/reduced lunch, 88% have no parent who has attended college. However, it makes for some interesting challenges. I know that some teams have done very well selling hexbugs, but I haven’t had a good feeling about doing this in a community where over half the residents have trouble putting food on the table.

At the end of the day (literally), it was worth it. As the students passed around the cell phone calling their parents, I heard again and again, “Even though … was disappointing, … was really cool, and it was a very good day.”

I forgot to mention, the announcers on the Technology field were awesome! One of the students commented, “Those guys are so hyper, it makes me tired just watching them!” Does anyone know who they are?

The announcers for the Technology field were myself (Karthik Kanagasabapathy) and Paul Copioli of FANUC Robotics. We both had a blast with all the technology division teams. The reason we were able to be so hyper was because all the energy and passion shown by the teams was so intense, it became contagious!

I don’t mean to be impatient but my post got overlooked.

**Does anybody know a place where I can see archived footage of the competition?

  • Allan Kuan

NASA has some of the VEX webcasts archived. They are located HERE.

All I see are the 2008 results

NASA typically splices up the webcasts before posting (to save bandwidth). Because the person in charge of that has other responsibilities as well, our team usually sends people up to help out with the splicing.

Because of AP exams and finals, we most likely won’t send people up to the lab before school is out (May 20). Barring issues on NASA’s side of things, I’ll predict that one, maybe both webcasts (Omaha, Dallas) will be ready before June rolls around.

John Mueller

The fact that you were overlooked in alliance selections is just a sign of how deep the talent pool was, and how hard it was to scout so many robots playing so few matches. Any alliance would have benefited having you as their partner. The good thing is that I think next year’s competition is right up Gladstone’s alley – I think it might require a fiendishly complex robot that can do 20 things at once.

Okay. Thank you for a prompt response. =)

I’m finding a lot of interesting reflections and thoughts here. =)

  • Allan Kuan