For some students, spring is when they start day dreaming about their summer break, and thinking about what to do with their time away from school. But for many of the leading robotics students, to put it shortly, spring is when it get's real. At ICS we track 15 different national robotics competitions available for high school students. We consider a handful of these competitions to be the "Big 5" in high school student robotics, including: FIRST Robotics Competition, Vex Robotics Competition, Best Robotics, BotBall, and the National Robotics Challenge. Of course there are many other great robotics competitions too, with different rules, specialized themes, or specific areas of focus (for example, the MATE Underwater ROV competition).
Within the Big 5 competitions, three National or International championships happen in April! And one of the others has its season of regional qualifiers happening March through May with its finals in July. Only one of the Big 5 robotics competitions has their final tournaments in the fall (Botball with all the main tournaments happening in December).
So we're expecting some big changes in the Robotics leaderboards after the end of April. Want to follow the action? Here's what's coming up:
- April 12-14: National Robotics Challenge Championship
- April 18 - 21: FIRST Robotics Houston Championship
- April 25 - 28: FIRST Robotics Detroit Championship
- April 25 - May 1: Vex Robotics Global Finals
- March - May: Botball Regional Qualifier Tournaments
We'll be keeping an eye on all of these tournaments to explore which schools and states have been taking the lead in student robotics for this year! So stay tuned as we review the best student robotics performances of this season!
A few years ago, ABC revived an old reality series that aired on Comedy Central over a decade ago, BattleBots. Why bring back a show after such a long hiatus? Well—technology has improved by leaps and bounds since the show last aired in 2002. The understanding of robotics and what can be accomplished through robotics has expanded greatly too.
But the main reason has nothing to do with the science involved or the technological advancements that have been made over the last decade or so. No, the main reason is that robotics has grown and it now is showing increasing signs of mass appeal. Robots are cool. But watching robots go at each other in combat inside a ring? Even cooler.
But amateur robotics enthusiasts don’t have to wait for Battlebots to be revived for a second time. Students that want to learn more about robotics and test their mastery in the field can enter contests like the VEX Robotics Competition.
America’s Next Top Robotics Champions
The VEX Robotics Competition is the largest robotics competition in the world with over 18,000 teams taking part in over 1,350 competitions across 40 countries. So, if you want to test your mettle against the best in the world, you’ve got a lot of competition.
To make it to the Vex World Championship, teams must get through the local, state, regional, and national competitions first. Teams are already competing at local and regional levels to secure their place in the 2018 international championship. So we wanted to check the data and see if we could get any information on who might be the next champions. We started by analyzing data from past TSA VEX Robotics Competitions - this is just one of the many competitions available to students interested in Robotics at the elite level. According to available data, 27 states have had teams place at national level competition over the last six years. Of those states, more of those teams have come from the following states:
Florida has been the most consistent at producing top teams having someone place in each of the last four years. Virginia is the next most consistent with top teams in each of the last three years. No team has placed from Utah, Kentucky, or California since 2015.
Last year the states with the most national finalists in the TSA Vex Robotics competition were Florida (4), Virginia (3), Oklahoma (2), Mississippi (2), and Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas (each with one).
Who are the Exceptional Robotics Schools?
There are of course many many exceptional schools in the elite robotics competitions. And a fair number of schools have placed in the top tiers of these challenges, so it is hard to define who the most exceptional are. For the TSA Vex Robotics competitions, when we break down the available data by school, there are a few that stand out as consistent performers in the TSA VEX Robotics Competitions over the last few years. Among high schools, there are only three that have had teams perform in the tops at nationals in more than one year:
- High Technology High School (New Jersey): 2012, 2016, and 2017
- Braden River High School (Florida): 2016 and 2017
- Central Hardin High School (Kentucky): 2014 and 2015
So, if you want to be a robotics champion…
It doesn’t really matter where you live or which school you attend, but it does matter to know your competition! Research the other school's you'll be going up against and prepare your robots to be the best! One thing that can be said from analyzing the available data of VEX Robotics Competitions at the national level, anyone can win. The top teams have not been from any one dominant school consistently. Winning one year seldom has any correlation with winning in subsequent years, so get started early and prepare!
What matters for you, if you want to get your school into the top ranks is to prepare, because you will be up against thousands of teams (and students) taking part in hundreds of competitions in the United States every year. If you don't already have a team, find a science teacher - most are more than happy to encourage student interests in robotics and help get a team started. Worried about costs? There are also scholarships and grants available from the competition managers – the REC Foundation, and you can always keep up to date on new opportunities by signing up for a free account on ICS!
The school year is well underway in the US and that means its also time to make sure your students are registered for the 2017-2018 academic competitions season! Unfortunately, there is no standard registration system for all competitions, nor is there a standard set of registration deadlines, but we’re going to try to make it a little easier for all those schools looking to get engaged in these programs. In this post we’re specifically looking at the Robotics Competitions, so if you and your students want to get your robot gears turning, pay attention to the information below to not miss out on some important deadlines.
For high school robot enthusiasts, there are 6 major national robotic competitions in the US. These are, in no particular order: (1) The FIRST Robotics Challenge, (2) Vex Robotics Competition, (3) National Robotics Competition, (4) Botball, and (5) Best Robotics Competition.
Lets take a look at the upcoming schedules and deadlines for each to help prep for the 2017-2018 seasons. Don’t forget to check in on each competition’s website to make sure you get the latest updates from them. We’ll try to provide as much detail as possible through the ICS updates, but we can’t guarantee we won’t miss something. So without further ado, here are some of the important dates from the robotic competition seasons coming up!
Vex Robotics Competition
The Vex Robotic Competition culminates in an international final event usually held in late April each year. In order to make it to that event, teams have to compete in local or regional qualifiers to get in. You will have to register for those events through the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation’s site. Here they list the series of regional events and which are currently open for registration. Register early to make sure you don’t miss out on the closest events for you! There are only a limited number of spots at each program. We pulled out two key deadlines from the VRC websites that you might want to note:
- September 13, 2017 – online challenges open for submissions – part of what VRC includes is a series of online challenges, separate from the main structure leading to the Global Finals, but nevertheless, they are a fun set of games you can win awards through. Submission to these challenges opens in mid-September.
- November 1, 2017 – All official VEX Robotics Competition events are posted and open for registration on November 1st. Teams should prepare to register and compete in their regional event to qualify for the Global Finals, but don’t wait until then, many programs already have their information posted.
First Robotics Challenge
The FIRST robotics program has a series of competitions for students of all ages. The FIRST Robotics Challenge is their high school program. As with other national/international robotics competitions, there are many different regional events that teams should register for based on their location. The full list of upcoming milestones and deadlines is online now for the 2017-2018 season. Each regional will then qualify teams to make it to the national or international final competition. Here are two important dates we pulled out from the FRC website:
- October 5, 2017 – Pre-qualified Team Registration Opens
- November 20, 2017 – All District Events and All Regional Events registration closes!
National Robotics Challenge
The National Robotics Challenge is composed of thirteen contest categories with divisions for students from elementary through college. Although specific details on the upcoming season have not yet been released for the National Robotics Challenge, we do know that the final competition will be hosted April 12-14, 2018 in Marion, Ohio. Make sure to check back in with the NRC as the fall semester moves forward so you don’t miss an important registration deadline.
Registration for the 2018 Botball season is already underway! Although Botball is one of the more expensive competitions (requiring a $2500 registration fee for each team!) it does provide a lot of resources and value to the students. Like other competitions, Botball has a series of regional programs, so each team will want to register for competitions based on their location. Most regional competitions for Botball occur in early 2018 – from January through April. Make sure to get registered early though so you can get the materials and start practicing ahead of time!
- Team Registration is currently open! Check it out to get your team signed up for the 2018 season.
Best Robotics Challenge
The Best Robotics season is probably the earliest of the major robotics competitions. Most of the Best Robotics Challenge regional competitions happen between October and November each year. For the 2017-2018 season, the first regional competition is being held September 29th! That’s right around the corner, but there’s still time to get registered. Check out the website for the full list of regional event dates to see how your team can get into the right programs!
- September 29, 2017 – First of the fall Regional Competitions! Check the BEST listing for your regions competition and make sure you are registered!
We hope this run down of the current deadlines and information on the 2017-2018 Robotics Competition seasons helps you plan for your next programs. This of course isn’t comprehensive. There are many other challenges that you might want to get involved with. Make sure you keep up on all the competitions by checking out the database at www.competitionsciences.org and track the competitions you’re interested in by registering for your free account!
Last month, robotics lovers and STEM enthusiasts from around the globe watched the CBS Sports Spectacular coverage of the 2017 VEX Robotics World Championships, where one small-town team made an inspiring run for the top.
Each year thousands of students from around the globe convene for the VEX Robotics World Championship, seeking to take the crown of top student roboticists.
This year, one small-town team stole everyone’s attention; the Trojan Knights. Made up of students from the modest, unassuming Cumby High School from the rural town of Cumby, Texas, USA, the Trojan Knights were at a disadvantage even before they started. With only 750 people in the entire town, Cumby High School was under-funded, under-staffed, and out-gunned in nearly every respect. However, despite their humble roots, this dedicated team gave even the top dogs a run for their money on the world stage!
A 7-3-0 win-loss-tie record in the qualifiers was enough to see the Trojan Knights move into the Divisional Finals. In the Divisional Finals, teams form a new alliance with two other teams for the remainder of the tournament. The Trojan Knights were now underdogs in more ways than one because they were up against newly formed alliances made up of some of the strongest teams.
One opposing alliance contained the “Trinity Dragons” and “Magic” in their line-up, who were the number one and number three ranked teams going into the divisional finals with win-loss-tie records of 10-0-0 and 9-1-0 respectively. But this was no deterrent to the Trojan Knights.
With a little bit of ingenuity and strategic planning, the Trojan Knights’ alliance defeated the top seated Trinity Dragon’s alliance in just two matches! They then went on to upset two more alliances on their way into the Finals – losing only one match throughout the entire process. Unassuming Cumby, Texas was now firmly on the map having taken the “Research” division top spot.
Quarter Finals (Best of 3)
Alliance of ‘Chengdu NO.7 High A’, ‘Down Cellar Laboratories’ and ‘VARC High School’.
WON (28-19; 23-27; 28-14)
Semi Finals (Best of 3)
Alliance of ‘Hawaiian Kids’, ‘The Cavalry’ and ‘Stargazer’.
WON (40-6; 45-6; - )
Divisional Final (Best of 3)
Alliance of ‘Trinity Dragons’, ‘Magic’ and ‘Semiconductors’.
WON (24-21; 29-14; - )
A New Challenge in the Championship Finals
After taking out the division, the team from Cumby faced new challenges going into the Championship final round. The competition was becoming fierce, especially now that they were up against the winners of all the other five divisions, the cream of every divisional crop. Unfortunately, this was where the Trojan Knights ran into a wall. A wall made up of the stellar teams from the Engineering and Maths division champions.
The Trojan Knights ended their run in the finals with a win-loss-tie result of 3-2-0. This unfortunately, was not good enough to see them reach the Championship Grand Finale – the final round between the two alliances with the best records. That honour went to the Maths and Engineering division winners. However, the fact that the team from a town of just 750 people showed up in the World Championship at all, is quite a feat in its own right. This demonstrates that it’s not all money and size that contribute to success in robotic competitions.
The Final Upset
With the surging underdog Trojan Knights finally out of the way, the Championship Grand Finale came down to the top dog alliances from the ‘Maths’ and ‘Engineering’ division winners. This showdown left spectators absolutely stunned. Based on their performance in the lead up matches, the ‘Maths’ division champions, an alliance made up of ‘Phantom Robotics’, ‘X.Robo-Hefei No.1 HS-B’ and ‘Shocks’, were the heavy favorites to take the title.
However, it all seemed to be going wrong for them after the first match. Due to a poor strategic decision, and some driving errors, they were trounced in the first round, 47-0. Surely the favorites to win it all were not about to go down in two! But after an amazing performance and strategic masterclass from the ‘Engineering’ alliance, the second match saw the ‘Maths’ divisional champions go down 28-18. Clocking up that second win meant that it was the ‘Engineering’ division winning alliance who were crowned World Champions at the 2017 VEX Robotics World Championships!
2017 VEX Robotics Engineering Division and World Champions
Santa Clara, California, United States
High School Beijing Tec A
Shanghai Huangpu D
Shanghai, Shanghai, China
So, even though team ‘Trojan Knights’ didn’t make it all the way through to the Grand Finale, their performance lifted them to a Divisional Championship; which was an incredible accomplishment and a testament to their determination. Their run for the title only ended when they went up against the two first place alliances from the Divisions ultimately in the finals themselves.
It’s not very often that a school from a town with a population of a little over 750 people can compete on the world stage and triumph over much bigger, well-funded schools. Remember, there are no size divisions in Robotics Competitions like there are in high school sports.
After reflecting on the action in Louisville and licking their wounds, many of the teams that competed in this year’s World Finals will undoubtedly be back again next year. Armed with experience, fresh strategies and vastly improved robots, they are sure to be ready again for their shot at the 2017-18 VEX Robotics World Championship. We can’t wait to see if Cumby High School will again take aim at championship glory next year! And maybe this time, they’ll be able to take it all the way.
The start of the Robotics season is just a few months away! Stay tuned to ICS for more news and analysis.
From time to time, there have been sports teams that dominated their game so much they were called dynasties. Over the years, the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys have all been referred to as NFL ‘dynasties.’ The New York Yankees have certainly fit the bill in the MLB. In the NBA, it was the Boston Celtics in the 60’s, Los Angeles Lakers in the 80’s, and when Michael Jordan was playing, the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s.
With the way the Golden State Warriors dominated the competition toward the end of the 2017 season and steamrolled their way through the post-season, they could very well be on the way to becoming the next NBA dynasty.
When it comes to academia though, the word ‘dynasty’ is not typically used. However, here at ICS, we think it’s very interesting to look at the academic performance of various schools, regions, or even countries in the same terms as we do with sports. Luckily, academic competitions provide a great way of quantifying the level of excellence achieved just like we do with sports.
With this in mind, one question has been nagging us ever since the 2017 competition seasons started winding down: Is China on its way to becoming the Golden State Warriors of robotics?
We hear a lot about China’s increasing dominance on the world stage of technology. So, is the US doomed to future mediocrity in the budding field of robotics, while we let China step up and become the next big robotic dynasty?
In recent years, China has become the leader in industrial robotics, buying more than any other country in the world. It’s all a part of a government-backed, industrial revolution centered on robotics that China has been promoting.
“Our country will be the biggest market for robots,” President Xi Jinping said in a speech to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2014, “but can our technology and manufacturing capacity cope with the competition?”
While China as a country has embraced the value of robotics in manufacturing, the vast majority of the industrial robots purchased by Chinese companies are still made outside of the country. So is China producing the educated workforce needed to actually design and manufacture the high tech robots that will drive the economy in the coming decades? To answer this question, we can turn to the world of academic competitions.
For China to become the leader in developing robotics and not just using them, a focus needs to be put on education. To be the best, one first has to learn how to be—well, the best. The right minds must be taught and the knowledge they acquire put into practice.
There happen to be a number of great academic competitions focused on robotics that give the best and brightest young minds a chance to test their skills—and their robots—against the top challengers the world has to offer. We’ve analyzed a few of the top robotics competitions to find the answer to our question – is China becoming a dynasty in robotics competitions?
The Vex Robotics Competition, presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, refers to itself as the largest and fastest growing robotics competition in the world. In 2017, over 18,000 teams (elementary school, middle school, high school, and college) from 40 countries took part in over 1300 competitions. The season culminated in the 10th Annual World Championships held in Louisville, Kentucky, as 1400 teams from over 30 countries competed for the chance to be the best.
Teams are split up into five different competitive levels—the middle school, high school, and university competitions and the elementary school and middle school IQ challenges--with each being comprised of several divisions.
How did teams from China fair this year?
- 1 team - from Xi'an Jiao Tong University - was the only team from China to win an Excellence Award, which is given to the team with the most well-rounded VEX Robotics program.
- 2 of the 3 high school world champions were Chinese teams this year.
- 2 of the 3 middle school world champions were Chinese, along with 3 other finalists.
- Both world champions for the IQ elementary challenge were from China
- The middle school IQ challenge had 1 team from China (Hong Kong), in 2nd place.
So, China did well, but did they dominate?
China definitely did well, with a bigger showing in the final rounds than most countries. And in the younger grades China seems to be even more dominant. However, if you factor in the performance in other Robotics Competitions — the answer is a bit fuzzier. Both the FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Challenge are international competitions whose seasons culminate in the World Championship competition. Unfortunately for China’s dynastic aspirations, neither competition has a history of teams from China winning the top awards.
In the FIRST Robotics competition, the Chairman’s Award is the highest honor a team can receive. Last season’s team was from West Virginia. In fact, the winners of the Chairman’s Award dating back to 2003 were teams based inside the United States.
For the FIRST Tech Challenge, the top team is named the Inspire Award winner. In the Houston World Championship competition, a team from Canada won. The St. Louis competition winner was a team from Iowa. Between the two, there was only one team from China that was recognized in the finals. A list of past winners dating back to the 2005-06 season included a few teams from Mexico, but otherwise, the Inspire Award winners have all been teams from the United States.
Does this mean we should write off China’s chances at a future dynasty? Have teams from China just not done well? Of course not. There very well may be other factors that have limited how many teams from China showed up in the top spots. For one, not as many teams compete from China as they do from the United States. Perhaps as more schools begin to enter the competitions, China’s teams will begin to show up in the top spots more dominantly.
So—back to the original question. Is China the Golden State Warriors of robotics? Are they the dominant force in the world of academic Robotics Competitions? No. At least not yet. The Golden State Warriors took 2 of the last 3 NBA Championships and were in contention for the one they didn’t win. They have dominated either all of the competition or most of it for the last three seasons.
China has done very well in the robotics competitions, but not so well that they can be called a dynasty on par with the Warriors. They have done well, but the same could be said for teams from the United States and Canada. But don’t count them out for the future. China’s dominance in robotic competitions may not be far away - as we’ve seen from their strong performances at the younger grade level competitions. And as more schools begin to compete, it’s going to lead to very interesting show-downs for the next few years of robotic competition for sure.
The Golden State Warriors they are not. Cleveland Cavaliers--maybe. But the future is wide open. The 2017-2018 robotics competitions begin this fall. So stay tuned for more!