Should VEX U have less restrictions?

An opinion about VEX U was expressed tonight about the nature of VEX U, its rules and its restrictions on what teams can use for their robots. While I do agree that the deletion of said post was reasonable, purely because of the location the post was made in, I also agree with what was said and I think it’s something that needs to be discussed by the community on a public forum where everyone can chime in.

The poster stated that he believes that VEX U has too many restrictions, and there is plenty of merit to this thought. We are all college students, many of us studying engineering, many with more money available to us than high school students. The VEX U program is much less restrictive than the high school program, of course, but many of us in college would like more room to use our more advanced minds than we had in high school. While designing robots and strategies for this year’s VEX U challenge, I still feel a sense of restriction as to what we are allowed to use and do, and how we are allowed to use our engineering muscles.

The other side of the coin is that the GDC and everyone else involved wants to keep things fair and within reason for everyone involved in the program. Some teams may not be able to afford the extra 3D prints, machined pieces of sheet metal, sensors, etc. that we are offered. This is really the only con I see to the opening up of the VEX U rules. Does anyone else have more to offer on this subject?

The purpose of this post is to engage a discussion. If the GDC was interested in opening the doors a little further for us next year, how could they do that without compromising anything the program has to offer? If they don’t feel the need to open the doors for us, then this will be a place for us to express our thoughts on the subject in a civil manner where the requests will be available for all to see. What does everyone else in the VEX U community, either team members or event volunteers or even Karthik, JVN, Paul Copioli, etc. have to say about the future of VEX U?

Does the battery for extra sensors really have to be a VEX battery? There are perfectly good batteries meant specifically for the sensor I’m using that are a lot smaller and a good deal cheaper, but instead I have to have the bulk of not just the VEX battery but also the voltage regulator I needed to get it down to the right voltage.

Also, it would be nice if the 3D printing limitation were in terms of total volume of plastic used, rather than component size, although I admit that would be hard to enforce. Maybe be required to provide the 3D models you printed?

Vex needs the VexU teams to be able to play the same game as the high school teams. The GDC cannot design a VexIQ game, a Vex game, AND a VexU game, as they do not have the resources. It wouldn’t make financial sense making a game for only VexU (note there is little reason for sponsors etc. to support VexU because its primary purpose isn’t to get students interested in STEM because most students doing VexU are already involved in STEM subjects at a tertiary level).

Considering this, the GDC needs to keep in mind that in opening up the rules for VexU they are also making the game easier for us. If we are allowed to use far more parts/power/whatever than high school teams then VexU teams could start “maxing out” the game (which is designed to be maxed out by high schoolers who are limited by Vex rules in 2 minutes) within like the first 30 seconds of autonomous. That results in a pretty broken game, not to mention very boring.

Making considerable changes to the VexU game rules (different time limits, size limits, etc.) could help to keep the game just as difficult, but these sorts of changes take a lot of thought from the GDC to not break the game (although I admit thats obviously not quite as hard as designing a whole new game). An example of a game that WOULD have worked with slightly more open rules is VexU Gateway. It was a VERY different game to high school Gateway, but maybe the GDC realised afterwards that they committed too much time and effort designing it since we haven’t seen a drastically different VexU game since.

Personally I think this years rules have struck a pretty good balance between “opening” the rules and keeping the game difficult enough, but I expect most VexU competitors will disagree with me there.

Which restrictions did you have in mind to remove? Is this purely about custom “parts” as such or also electronics?

Certainly an interesting topic for discussion. In my experience many Vex U teams are not making full use of the custom parts that are available to them in the current rules (whether because of cost or accessibility or lack of incentive to use them I don’t know). That said, I wasn’t at the last worlds so this may be changing.

Certainly something I did not consider, and it makes sense - we could max the game out very easily given less restrictions as to the robots we are allowed to build. For reference - those are the rules I am referencing, the robot rules. Not the game rules.

However, Gateway seemed to me to be a great way to make the game harder for the college students. It was definitely a unique challenge compared to the HS Gateway and I would have loved to participate in it. I cannot speak to the difficulty it may have taken to implement a game with two different versions, but they didn’t seem far apart. The college teams weren’t allowed to open the gate, but I don’t think the rules themselves varied in any other ways that they do not vary between HS and VEX U this year. Perhaps they could make the game more challenging for VEX U next year with such minor rearrangements of the field as they did in Gateway, thus allowing for more complex robots that still wouldn’t be able to max out the game.

I am speaking of the robot rules only. The “Use vex parts” restriction and the small-ish quantity of other parts we are allowed to use.

Interesting point, but maybe teams don’t use them as much because the types of custom parts we are allowed are not as helpful as some new ones could be?

Cody(no point not using his name) brought up an interesting point about the difficulty of constructing the parts that were legal. He asked if he could construct part with the same size constraints and strength by combining two smaller parts together.

I loved the idea. Pretty much wanted a lot of reasonably priced parts.
A lot to ensure creative designs
Reasonably priced to ensure equal playing field
That is the idea of VEX just raised a little which I find to be beautiful idea.

Why not go through with Cody’s plan because as it stands his team was punished for realizing how expensive a part was going to be?

I’ll make this easier, I was the poster, I removed the post (which I know some of you read and/or snagged before I took it down) and the issue in question stated with this Q&A.

I think the issue needs discussed too, obviously. But I’m too livid and caught in the middle of this issue to be involved right now.

But for the sake of a real discussion, a few details need to be exposed.

In the original Q&A:

  • I asked for a slight change in the 3D printed part rules regarding VEX U

  • This was so that cheaper 3D printers could be used to print the larger 3D parts

  • My proposal was dead simple, it solved the problem and let the rules exists as they were with no functional change. All I needed was permission to print a larger part out of 2 smaller ones, a sliced print as I called it. There were some wording issues to work out to make sure that this could be well understood and we were golden.

  • The RECF for reasons beyond me took this and decided to solve the problem by cutting the amount of 3D printed material VEX U teams currently get (as written in THIS YEARS manual) roughly in half

In the post I removed:

  • I explained how the proposed VEX U program has degraded from a truly unlimited, open program as Paul had pitched to the VEX U teams at worlds, to just more of the same.

  • I explained that (in my opinion) VEX U needs to be more open, not less

  • And I (more or less) asked the RECF to understand the needs of the demographic for this program (college students who have done VEX for X years already). Young adults who want a more advanced game, young adults who want to put their advanced design/programming/math skills to use.

The reason I deleted the post:

  • It was too harsh, and would have been deleted anyway

  • Turning this into an outright fight wasn’t / isn’t my goal.

  • This was turning into more of a larger point, one that others need to be able to take part in. In the Q&A only Karthik and I can post.

  • While I want to shake things up, not in this way. Not again. I’ve put a lot of effort into putting out fires I started long ago, I’m not interested in starting new ones. This situation just got to me though. The way the RECF acted on this one truly stunned me.

Please guys, take this over for me. Talk it out, chip in, w/e. This isn’t an isolated thing, it will affect all VEX U teams on August 1st.


While the rules weren’t hugely different, the field was very different, and it was accordingly a totally different game, almost closer to Clean Sweep than high school Gateway. I don’t know if the GDC put a LOT of time into College Gateway or whether they got lucky (probably the former) but it wasn’t really broken or anything. I guess the point I’m trying to make is when you modify a game a lot you introduce a big risk of making it too easy to break, or just broken in its own right.

I imagine it takes a LOT of careful thought and consideration to ensure that any “version” of a game will be good, and its simply not worth it to dedicate that to the VexU program in its current state. By leaving the current restrictions on VexU there are the dual benefits of not needing to design another game, AND making the program accessible for most teams, so I think it makes total sense the way it was. That being said, I don’t have a strong opinion on the recent 3d printing ruling. I dont think a small amount of extra 3d printed material is a big deal, and it seems strange to change the parts allowance partway through the season as teams probably had plans involving the current part allowances.

I wouldn’t say that Paul “pitched” anything at worlds. He was just presenting a possible option and asking people’s opinions, and if I recall correctly only around half of the people at that meeting were actually in favour of the rules being opened more. I definitely didn’t expect the rules to be opened this season.

I think the issue I raised in my other post still stands as well (from what you said you want Vex to design a game specifically for VexU teams right?) but I think you raised really valid points and I don’t think its unreasonable for you to be upset with the ruling.

Keep in mind that when it comes to opening up the rules or not, Vex is in a position where no matter what they do some people will get annoyed, which is never a nice position to be in.

I never called for VEX to design a game for VEX U. I see VEX U as the same game as VEX but with robots that allow students to do more, design more.

I want the game, without the limitations of the system.

Apologies, I thought you wanted a different game to high schoolers when you said:

But it makes more sense if you mean just with more open rules.

What’s your solution to the game becoming too easy then once (if) the rules are opened up?

I was surprised by the answer to your question and I’m sure that it wasn’t your intention to end up with half the volume for the 3D printed parts. The reality is that more money will always allow the potential for a better (and that doesn’t mean more successful) robot, you could spend thousands on custom built sensors and electronics as well as legal modifications to structural parts.

The game doesn’t really get easier with more open parts.

It takes more effort to use those parts. For example, spending 18 hours cadding that 6" x 6" x 3" block we don’t have anymore isn’t less work, it’s more.

But what does happen is the bar gets raised in terms of what CAN be done. Therefore the level of competition goes up. If I know Purdue has strapped three GPU’s to their robot for some vision processing algorithm they spent months developing (and I’m sure if GPU’s were allowed they’d have them), well I better do something about that if I plan on keeping up. Again more work, not less.

Getting 3D printed parts in particular, for me, enables hard mode right? I mean now we get to design robots with the precision of a german car manufacturer. It’s like going from the giant LEGO blocks to atoms for me. I (sadly) stopped playing with LEGO’s years ago. I need more, I’ve exploded that branch to DEATH. And after six years of VEX HS, I think most people on VEX U teams feel similarly.

In short, I completely disagree with the claim that adding parts makes the game easier. Sure maybe to play it against a HS robot. But when everyone gets more? It’s game on.

Guys I really am sorry for causing a stink here. But jesse man, this isn’t fair. I have pages of design notes all hinging on those 12" x 6" x 3" parts. Andrew has days invested in CAD on specifically those parts already. All I wanted to know is if I could catch a break when it came to actually printing them.

And now I feel like I somehow screwed all the VEX U teams for asking what seemed like a really reasonable question.

I never said that opening the rules up would make building the robot(s) easier, that would be obviously wrong.

You said yourself that opening the rules would raise the level of competition more. That means the robots are better, which means the game is easier. I know you then went from the approach of, it doesn’t matter, because the game is easier for everyone. The problem with that is unless its a back and forward game (descoring everything is allowed, or something like Clean Sweep when objects are never permanently scored) then the game simply maxes out and either its very obvious who won from the start, or its a coin toss (Gateway pretty much ended up like this, aside from wallbots). Imagine a game of Toss Up where all of the robots were a lot better. It wouldn’t really change how the game is played, you would just be stuck moving big balls around the field for an extra minute or so… (aside from again, defensive robots/descorers).

Ah you’re worried that the game can be exhausted.

I don’t think even with all the parts available to VEX U teams that this is possible this year. There’s just a lot of ways to score and a lot of scoring elements. However completely opening up the program, as Paul talked about could definitely have this effect, so yeah it’s worth talking about. The VEX U games, if the program was completely opened up, would likely have to be made harder. Similarly to how the posts were raised in Round Up for college teams.

People say this every year. Every year I respectfully disagree. People underestimate how much a year of hard work and trial and error can accomplish. Design convergence is also actually making this more of a problem in my opinion (but that’s another can of worms altogether).

As I said earlier, I don’t think making the game harder is as easy as it sounds. It all depends on how much time Vex is willing to put in, and frankly, the VexU program in it’s current state isn’t really worth that time, which would be better spent promoting/designing/refining the high school competition. I think its possible to strike a balance between giving College teams some cool stuff to play around with and not making the game too easy, and I don’t think we’re too far off that balance this year, but a few 3d printed parts here or there isn’t a big deal, and if teams want those parts (and in fact had already planned to use those parts) I don’t see the problem with your suggestion.

As a college freshman who hoping to start a team this year, I am debating between doing VexU or Create Open. Create Open basically allows you to play a slightly modified version of the current Vex Game with almost unlimited parts. It is also open to anyone so adults can even do it. I think it would be cool is something like this was officially supported by VEX to give teams who want to be able to use materials beyond VEX to compete while still preserving the current programs.

We chatted with a few of the Create “Open Division” teams at the US Open this year, and the freedom and innovation they displayed was very exciting. They had plastic air tanks, larger pistons, more powerful motors, etc… We even saw our first “wooden” robot!

The Create Open division may end up being the best destination for teams that want less restrictions and more innovation–but can’t afford the significantly larger costs of FRC. I hope they are able to grow beyond the Nebraska region and hold competitions throughout the country. This would provide a much needed outlet for more experienced teams wanting to “stretch their wings” and push the limits of their designs…

I’m not in VEX U yet, but is a bit disappointing watching the toss-up VEX U division. IMO VEX U should have innovative complex robots. This would be easier by having more part allowances. Instead I look over and see 15" & 24" copies of the high school robots. Honestly, it makes the VEX U division boring to watch. I could watch a high school match, and see the exact same thing.

You realise that all those high school robots were copies of a Vex U robot, right?