@Foster, that’s a very important point that you have mentioned Inspire Award.
I think part of the problem is rapid growth of the VRC and increasingly competitive environment.
If in early days, participants were mostly nerdy parents with nerdy kids, who were just happy to do anything robotics and could compete on the family entertainment budget, now it is more expensive and many schools see their trophy cabinets as a way to sustain ever increasing funding needs.
Thus emphasis shifts from the learning and simply participation to winning shiny pieces of metal, the taller the better, and, in some cases, at any cost. I could easily see how this could lead to increased pressure on the students, including to copy or share the robots. It feels just as much as hormone fueled sport as the engineering.
I must admit my own share of guilt here, as I was pushing my team to build DR4B because it is more competitive. Instead, my son spent most of the season trying to get Schlucas to work because he found it more interesting. Result was not as competitive as other robots but, I am glad, it worked out great for him as he learned how to program control loops with multiple degrees of freedom.
I am less worried about handful of trophy hungry teams copying robots screw by screw, than the larger number of teams showing up to local competitions with conceptual copies of the basic clawbot. I don’t believe those kids couldn’t do better if they were shown good examples.
I wish the competitions were run at more relaxed pace and featured something akin science fair or workshop component, where students could have more time to mingle and learn from more experienced teams and/or organisations. Maybe even give judged and community awards to teams with best hands-on workshop or presentation.
At our early competitions I always volunteer to do pit judging for the middle school and try to give beginner teams as much pointers and build tips as I could cram in those 5-10 min, while still listening to their story.
So, back to the problem of the clone-bots.
Count the awards at the typical local competition:
1x Skill Champion
1x Design (Documentation)
I think, it demonstrates clearly that rewarding the raw performance on the field over uniqueness and creativity is built right into the program.
If RECF is really interested in encouraging more girls to participate in VRC as well as avoid clone-bot issues they could adjust awards and competition structure. Even small changes could lead to great results and I suspect most of the EPs would love to have more relaxed schedule. I guess, IQ is better in that regard, but I don’t see how well that carries into VRC.