VEX bot as checked baggage for Worlds

Last year was our first at Worlds and we qualified again this year. Last year some teams had some nice containers for shipping their bots as checked baggage with the airlines. Could some give me hints as to what works well, plans, materials, corner braces used, latches and packaging used so that airlines can open it check it and reclose it easily so as not to impair the packaging inside the box.

There was a good checklist posted for last years worlds. I searched briefly but couldn’t find it. Since you are the one asking, you could try searching yourself…

Things I remember from the list:

  • remove the wheels, or put robot up on jackstand to keep axles from bending
  • maybe even pull the arm axles remove the arm
  • post a picture of your robot on the outside of the box, with a sign that this is a kit robot for a highschool competition.
  • List the type of batteries (7.2v NiMH, 9v transistor) on the outside box
  • remove the batteries., both 7.2v and 9v. pack them with the leads taped to a piece of cardboard sticking straight out, so it is clear they are not connected to anything when viewed by Xray.
  • Keep coils of spare extension wires bagged separately.
  • Maybe even label and unplug all the wires from the CPU.

Otherwise, we just packed our robot in a thick padded cardboard box, being mindful of the 60" circumference rule, or whatever. Assume 3’ drop onto concrete on one corner. Solid foam insulation board (or styrofoam cooler) makes good packing, its strong for its weight.

I packed a DVM with the leads wrapped around it in my carry-on once, and it was handsearched. 9V batteries are not common anymore, and a coil of wires connected to something with a battery looks suspicious, apparently.

Remember not to use bubble-wrap. when the plane reaches higher altitudes the air pressure drops, this causes the bubble wrap to expand and because the robot has some serious surface area the forces pushing on it are quite strong and you could bend your pieces.

You may want to consider shipping just your batteries, when we brought a pneumatic kicker with us for FRC worlds last year we knew that on an x-ray and even to a non-technical person the thing looked like a bomb. The reason we got it through was that we were able to say that there was no power source and it was therefore not a threat. If you ship just your batteries you could use this same method to convince TSA to let it go on the plane.


Also, use TSA accepted security, eg padlocks that can be opened by security staff during screening, I think they are called TSA padlocks, dunno, anyway we had those on our big metal container, its good to have a big strong metal container to house the robot, but when having it constructed, make sure you leave plenty of room for the foam padding and insulation.

My team usually puts their robots in 20" cardboard boxes with 1" of sheets of foam. We then typically fill the box with as much packing material as we can, including bubble wrap (which we haven’t had a problem with).

Make sure that the box is in good condition or is reinforced with copious amounts of packing tape. One of my school’s teams used a sketchy box last year coming back from Dallas and lost an unknown amount of parts.

I usually carry on my team’s batteries in my backpack so that the robot and parts boxes can be under 50 pounds. I usually get my bag searched by TSA, but they have never had a problem with me carrying a bunch of batteries. It’s also a good idea to check all of your tools, including allen wrenches, because even though they are technically legal to take on a plane, TSA may still confiscate them.

Robot abuse by the baggage handlers as documented by my team going to and from Omaha last year for the Championship of the Americas:

Exothermic has been to Worlds every year since Quad Quandary. Just like the Cheesy Poofs, we use 20x20x20 heavy-duty cardboard boxes:

  1. Remove wheels.
  2. If it’s easy, take off the arm
  3. We don’t put anything in the box with the robot except lots of bubble wrap
  4. Other robot supplies go into other boxes.
  5. We tape a statement on the outside of the box with an explanation of what it is in it, on the theory that it is better to communicate too much rather than too little.

This year, we will probably use the same boxes with sheets of 1/8 or 1/4 plywood slipped into the inside to keep the boxes from getting crushed. The cardboard will hold everything together (corrugated packaging is very strong) and the plywood will add a lot of compression strength (wood is very strong in compression). We’ve avoided building crates because I remain unconvinced that it is necessary, and purchasing them because of the cost.

The packaging problem, of course, is that a max-bot is almost as big as a maximum-sized airline box, which leaves very little space for cushioning material around the robot.

We took 20 boxes of robots and materials to Worlds last year, so shipping would have been very expensive. Likewise, we picked an airline that doesn’t charge checked baggage fees. We love Southwest Airlines.

We’ve only had a problem once with axles bending and that was with a ridiculously heavy robot. We usually put foam blocks under the robot to take the impact force off of the axles if the box gets dropped.

Our teacher built us wooden boxes this year, but because they weigh ~20 pounds they aren’t worth it if we want to bring a lot of parts and tools. It is always better to bring extra parts and tools than to get to Orlando and realize at your hotel that part of your robot broke and you can’t fix it.

We have also had success in putting our parts and tools in heavy duty plastic storage bins, like this one:,r:0,s:0.

Funny, we have those exact same bins, I believe.

Also, we’ve used large Pelican cases to ship our robots for the past 2 years.