Why is VAIC Registration so Expensive? A Cost Breakdown

Hi Nick,

I do want to clarify that I can tell you are providing constructive feedback to be helpful and I personally appreciate it. And I appreciate your respectful tone. Thank you.

To everyone: Again, I think it is important to remember that this is a Pilot program and that we will learn from this first year and will make adjustments to make VAIC better.




I can’t tell if this is in jest or not, but the only “blame” that’s useful in software dev is git blame. I’m here to point out ideas, not to point fingers. Cheers.


Thank you Dan, and I appreciate the work that’s being put in all around.


Happy to help out. Not often we get to interact with a CEO on an open forum. “Hey Mark Z” can i get you into a conversation"

RECF transparency is @DanMantz best trait since RECF started. +1


Ahhh time does dull memory. Let me refer you back to the V5 initial code release. That didn’t go over well with the masses.

I apologize for using @levipope in this thread, his willingness to stand up and talk about software is appreciated. Sorry Levi for the slur.



Let say people already have tools that do the job. Then, if manufacturers want to successfully sell them new tools, they need to consider {value proposition/quality vs price} and {supply and demand} curves in order to plan R&D budget and bring competitive products to the market. Expensive products will not sell well if they offer no significant value over the competition or what people already have (unless there is a monopoly and buyers have no other choices).

My guess is that the eventual high volume target market that VEX had in mind for their VAIC hardware were High School labs, where they may not have mentors with @tabor473 or @nickmertin level of expertise in AI, and advanced stuff (like on-field GPS, depth vision, robot-to-robot comm, etc…) needs to work out of the box. That must have determined system architecture requirements and R&D budget.

When they were estimating costs and modeling supply and demand, they may have counted on sponsors offsetting the costs in the first inaugural season and they, obviously, had no idea at a time of the initial planning how everything will be turned upside down with the disastrous coronavirus response.

More than six months into pandemic there are still huge uncertainties everywhere. We don’t know much about long term coronavirus health impacts, we cannot predict how virus will evolve in the Fall, and we cannot be certain that people will be disciplined in following any social distancing, masking, and vaccination guidelines. Judging by the first few school reopenings that we’ve already seen - teen and tween behavior may be a source of major risk in spreading the virus.

Even if there is a small chance that herd immunity could happen sooner than expected, it would be foolish to count on it. Time after time covid numbers had turned out worse than expected. Given all that uncertainty and downside potential, it is prudent to increase the safety margins and, for the schools, that could mean to preemptively cancel all optional activities or even cut in-person classes and labs. Many schools already did that and it feels likely that lots more will have no other choice but to do the same in the near future. For VEX that could be translating into collapsing hardware demand and revenues for the next six to nine months.

I wouldn’t be that categorical. Although it would be super nice to have open hardware and software, which could easily connect to and communicate with the third party products. I do believe, that it is a better business strategy in the long run, because it leverages community contributions and gives potential for more diverse customer base than just school labs and robotic teams. But we are not really qualified or informed enough to give advice to people running IFI.

As as a consumer I could definitely say that I would be buying much more of their products if I knew that I could easily re-purpose, re-program, and inter-connect them with third party sensors and micro-controllers. For example, I love EDR structural components, sensors, and 393 motors because it is so easy to connect them to a cheap controller like Arduino or Node MCU, but anything V5, in my opinion, is not worth the money for an average hobbyist because of its closedness.

After all, people who could be the best VEX champions/advocates are current or future engineers who are very good at comparing costs of the potential solutions. This topic is a good illustration that closed hardware and software model just don’t carry as much of the perceived value anymore and don’t seem to have enough flexibility to rapidly adapt to the unexpected conditions.

The bottom line is that VEX and RECF need to keep their business financially afloat while the usual demand is not there. Their bet is that they will still have enough demand at the current price point. If not - they could either decrease the price in the hope to increase the volume, or somehow increase the value of the offering, for example, by opening their source code or interfaces. But that may be conflicting with the business model for the future revenues.

Could there be any other options to make everyone involved with VAIC happy this season?


To be clear, the reason I said speak to your RSM was to get as much information you need to make a decision about to participate or not. As a pilot year, lots of unknowns and decisions were being made about specifics of what would be in the kits. Once finalized, they get published with more details. If you needed to make a decision quickly because your school/organization needed it for the purchase order, then work with your RSM.

Most schools would love to participate in VAIC but when you go to get funding some teams need to know what’s in the kit to be able make the decision for the school. Not all schools can just drop 2.5k and not know what is in the kits. You have to be able to tell the district or whomever you go for funding what it is for. Every school doesn’t have unyielding support especially in these times with funding. It is not like it is anyone’s fault but as you said the list isn’t finalized which is cool and all that you have someone who knows that info and sees the inside works. In the end some schools need to know what’s in that list and see if they would rather wait a year or get in on a ground breaking competition. You shouldn’t judge for situations you don’t understand. If some school is trying to judge risk and reward they need every part of information because I doubt a refund would be an option. If they were to keep the equipment what benefit could they use it for and if they can use these parts for other purposes and still use it for something. I get that they could simply practice for next year and get familiar with the equipment for next year but sometimes you need a little more incentive considering the main focus would probably just be VRC or VexU rather than AI. We know the cost and that worlds will be extra now all that’s left is what comes in the kit and the sooner the better. If the kit isn’t finalized then what is finalized could be confirmed because I was digging for a while to find what comes in it and couldn’t find but what was assumed in this thread. An official statement would put all of this to rest. If the list isn’t finalized I doubt the RSM would be first to know.


I am not sure what you are talking about - it is not judging to give an expedited route to get firm answers for the scenario you describe. If there is insufficient information to make an informed decision, then don’t opt-in. Risk-reward balance will look different from organization to organization.

My original point about getting information expedited through RSM vs VEXforum is that RSM is more likely to get you the information sooner than waiting for a post on VEXforum.

As it stands, it seems they have the number of interested teams for the pilot.

BTW, Welcome to VEXforum!

and RSM are actually the first to know, per Dan Mantz post about how they are trained for this new system. Moreover, the job of Regional Support Manager is first line of direct support for teams/organizations starting from asking questions about the myriad of programs the RECF offers, helping teams get registered for the season, getting teams connected to grants to support their growth, connecting teams to other teams in the region, supporting new EPs, supporting old EPs … and the list goes on. Please do not devalue the importance of the RSM in any team/organization ecosystem either through their direct or indirect support.

A. Please do not assume I devalue them I am asking for what’s on the list so far if possible and this is based off of your first statement.

B. You said that everything was unknown and the kits weren’t finalized which mean RSM wouldn’t know if it isn’t even done yet unless the kits are actually done.

C. Most of those teams are pressured in this exact situation of wondering they should or shouldn’t and this is to help them make the decision so if they aren’t interested it’s not because there isn’t a list of what they get. If I were blindfolded and told to walk across a cliff on a board that was 8 inches wide I wouldn’t want to walk it. This is a similar feeling if you take off the blindfold it is much easier. It’s easy to say when it’s not your money this is a student-based program not a business. This is made for future engineers in STEM fields. If the risk reward is different for every organization it is for the bets to get as much information out as soon as possible as what this forum is for. It is best that every question that can be answered is.

D. RSM won’t always be available and yes many of us have contacted them but this isn’t general knowledge from the looks so calling or waiting for an email may not be always the fastest option when it’s not complete like you said. Also interested teams aren’t signed up as why this forum is so popular. Everyone is being cautious because everyone really wants to be in AI but the 2.5k and worlds fee is a little intimidating. A partial list is really what’s needed and if anyone knows a partial confirmed list that would be great for a lot of teams trying to decide. With asking RSM first it is past that and we have moved up the list from the first line and are now here we can’t backtrack and expect faster results. While Vex is working hard and so is REC we still need a list of something just to get a feel for the waters before feeling comfortable with a decision as some teams may not feel comfortable but still make the decision. Again though if anyone has a partial confirmed list that would be helpful for a lot of teams to gauge how they may feel about it.

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Hello everyone,

The VAIC registration is for 2 robots (because each team uses 2 robots, just like they do in VEX U). At the bottom of this post is a list of items that come in the VEX AI Hardware kit you receive when you register. If you look up all of the items and add the development costs that Dan has already mentioned, you see that it adds up very quickly.

To be clear. This is a Pilot year. We have told all of the HS teams who have applied that the equipment that they get from 3rd party vendors will not be legal next season. I have been on email, voice calls, and video conference calls with potential HS and University teams, where I tell them that there is a startup cost this year that will be repeated again next year. If they want to be part of this program now, they will need to cover that startup cost for 2 seasons. If they are not able to cover that high startup cost, then they should wait until the VEX hardware becomes available next season. At that point, it will be available for sale on their website. The year after that, they will only have software and development costs to cover, because they will own the hardware they need. Before approving the US teams, I reached out to every one of them and confirmed that they understood that the equipment they were getting would have to be replaced next season. In countries outside of the US, we had our international offices call each individual coach (I am not bi-lingual) . Only 2 told us that they would wait until next season to start a team.

For the VAIC-HS program, 50 teams have been notified that they are approved into the pilot season. If any of those teams decide to not participate this season, then we will invite one of the teams that applied but did not get selected (wait listed teams). If you would like to be on a VAIC-HS pilot team this season, you can still apply. But this season is just for teams that want to try it out and have the funding to cover the cost of development. It is always more expensive to buy technology when it first comes out, then to wait for more users. We have people dedicated to making this program successful and are only collecting registration fees from 100 teams. When there are 10,000 teams, that development cost gets spread out and becomes less of a burden.

2x V5 Robot Radios
2x NVIDIA Jetson Nano
2x Micro SD Card with VEX AI Software 20220-2021
2x Power Cable for Jetson Nano to V5 Brain
2x USB Dongle Software License Keys
6x USB A to Micro Cables 18-inch
2x Intel Dual Band Wi-Fi for Jetson Nano
4x Wi-Fi Antennas
2x Cooling Fan for Jetson Nano
2x Intel D435 RealSense Depth Camera
2x FLIR Firefly Camera with Microlens installed
2x FLIR Cable
1x VRC Field Position Code Strip for the VEX Field
1x Opaque plastic field wall coverings


Hi Jim,

First off, thanks for the detailed reply, I (and I know many of the other people here) sincerely appreciate that you and others are responding to the questions from the community. These clarifications on parts and logistics really help those of us on the outside to get a grasp of where the program is going.

I’d like to ask for some clarification on this quote:

Currently, the VAIC game manual appendix has the following provision:


Your quote seems to indicate that this will change for future seasons, at least for VAIC-HS. Could you shed some light on this? Specifically, are there any planned changes to the robot rules for future years of VAIC? (I understand that it is all still subject to change, just looking to get us on the same page).

I also have a question about this:

Does this mean that, at least under current plans, teams will be required to purchase the full suite of hardware and software in order to compete even in future seasons (i.e. beyond the pilot)? Note that I am not asking whether teams are required to purchase new hardware every year; I understand from your post that this is not the case for hardware. Rather, I am asking whether teams will be required to buy the VEX hardware and software at all in order to compete in VAIC. The reason I am asking this is that I would assume, with the release of actual VEX-branded hardware, that it would be sold separately by VEX, and that the associated software costs would be bundled into the price of the hardware, as is done with VEX’s other product lines, rather than the VAIC registration cost.

Related to the above, are any of the the answers different for VAIC-HS and VAIC-U?

Thank you for taking the time to address these questions.


@nickmertin that is an excellent question.

I am going to try to answer this with the knowledge that I have, but @levipope might need to correct me if I get it wrong.

The VEX GPS server is going to be run on the NVIDIA Jetson Nano this season, but will be on a VEX developed server next season. Teams will need that piece of hardware for the custom Sensor Fusion Map software interface. The cameras that are being developed for the VEX AI Vision will be necessary to send this information to that server.

Now, for any sensor you want to add, those are legal, and we expect teams to have many other sensors on their robots along with the VEX camera, GPS Server and VEX Link system (I think that is the V5, but wanted to include it as part of the conversation).

So, could you theoretically run on hardware that is not from VEX? Yes, we are doing that this year.
Will it be legal? And if not why not?

Well, it comes down to this being accessible and competitively fair for all team. Sure, it can be done, just like you could put a V5 brain on a VIQC robot, but it isn’t legal. The REC Foundation makes sure that each team has a base set of standard parts that make the robots similar, and then it is the design and programming that sets you apart. In VAIC and VEX U, this increases to include even more custom parts and custom sensors, but the base set of parts that run the core systems all have to be the same. Where that line is, we will decide when we release the 2021-22 VAIC game manual appendix. And that depends on how teams do with this equipment.

Obviously, when a team uses all VEX components on their robots, there is a plug-and-play ease of use. When they use custom sensors, more knowledge has to come into play. We don’t allow that for VRC but do for VEX U. You are asking a great question of where will the line be…we are asking ourselves that same question, and have been for the past 2 years as we have been developing this, knowing that the question will be answered sometime during this pilot season.

To put all of the teams on the same platform at the start, we will provide those components the first year that they register for the VAIC program, starting next year. Then the second year, they won’t have to buy it again…do they have to use it, or can they go to another system? That is a question for us to evaluate as this program matures.

This isn’t much different than VIQC and VRC. Everyone needs a VIQC kit and a V5 kit. The difference is, for this, we are including it in the registration so that you don’t have to put a bunch of different components in your cart. We have many teachers asking us to bundle the things that they absolutely need. That is what this is doing. Everything you need to turn a V5 robot into a VAIC robot is included in the VEX AI Hardware kit. And this one is the VEX AI Hardware Kit (Pilot Season) and next year will be the VEX AI Hardware Kit (for perpetual use).

Great questions.


Is it plausible that there are 50 high school teams that are willing to drop $2500 on something that could be collecting dust next season and even if there is no guarantee that VEX Worlds 2021 is going to happen?

You betcha!

Is that fair?

No, but neither are so many other things that disproportionately affect students from less affluent communities during this pandemic.

@sazrocks, @nickmertin, and @tabor473, why don’t you accept the challenge and develop open source software and hardware solution using some cheap off the shelf stuff at a fraction of the cost?

I believe in you guys! You can do that!


Your naivety is oddly inspiring

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I have dedicated several years of my life to this.

All the fully autonomous VEX robots I have ever worked on are entirely open source.

My partner on those projects has gone on to develop

and I do my best to help out the PROS guys any way I can.

I spent a summer working on WPIlib, the fully FOSS, library used by FRC teams.

I honestly am not sure it would be possible for me to have more already accepted the challenge.


Edit: combined this post with reply to Taran’s post that he later deleted.

That’s exactly why I said that I believe in you, Tabor. The same way PROS is (almost) open source alternative to VEXcode, you should be able to develop an alternative solution to an overpriced VAIC registration bundle, based on your experience.

Could you find several third party hardware components that are not expensive, adapt open source software for them, and make that recipe available to all the teams?

Then each team can buy off the shelf only what they need.

@Sylvie, it may be rocket science to you or me, but @tabor473 and his WPI teammates are some of the most qualified people on the forum to pull off something like that.

Then, if RECF is serious about their mission of providing education to both the rich and the underprivileged teams alike, then they should certify alternative solution and make it competition legal.

I’m sure that off the shelf components got only cheaper and more powerful since WPI had their fully autonomous robot back then.

My point is that instead of saying: here is the only legal solution, pay up $2500 to play, RECF should create an ecosystem with alternatives, where you can participate without spending a small fortune.


Thanks for providing that insight, Jim.

I understand where you and the RECF/VEX are coming from with this, but I feel the need to point out one thing specifically:

To be clear, I am asking because the current version of the VAIC rules states that what I suggested is perfectly legal, while the current discussions in this thread seem to be going in a different direction. I think you got that, but I’m just keeping this here for clarity.

This is where I respectfully disagree. The base system for a VAIC robot is, as far as I am concerned, the V5 system kit. The proposed VEX AI product line is a nice addition, but I don’t consider it part of the base system because there are other alternatives that, according to the rules, are legal. In that sense, I see them in much the same way as I see the VEX Vision Sensor and Inertial Sensor in VEX U: usable, but teams are free to develop their own, and a handful do. And for that matter, VRC registration doesn’t include a V5 system kit, nor does it include any of the advanced sensors; teams are free to buy and use on their own prerogative, and importantly, based on what they already own. I hope the RECF considers this when planning out VAIC for the future.

With that said, thank you @Illyana for your vode of confidence. As has already been pointed out, Tabor and others have made significant contributions in the open-source VEX software world (and I’ve chipped in my own small part). And in fact, as we announced in a thread back in early July, @Andrew_Strauss and I are developing a product line (for which the software will be largely open source), which is not dissimilar from what you are proposing.

That being said, I’d prefer if this thread stayed relatively on topic, which is ensuring the community knows what is going on with VAIC, and providing suggestions where we can.

So to Jim & others from RECF and VEX, thank you again for your time, and I do hope you consider the concerns and associated suggestions which are being raised.


Still expensive anyway. They should promote competition with more accessible prices. If only they delivered two Nvidia Jetson Xavier.