Ready, Set, VEX!
Less than one year after launching the first robotics undergraduate major in the region, students, faculty and staff in the School of Engineering have become fully immersed in the world of competitive robotics engineering by not just hosting but participating in VEX Robotics competitions.
The School of Engineering teamed up with VEX to host a regional competition on Feb. 16. The action-packed tournament brought together approximately 500 participants from the greater Philadelphia area. In total, 96 teams competed in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 spectators to battle it out in the bracketed competitions.
The Schwartz Athletic Center was transformed into a gaming arena where students went head-to-head competing in the VEX challenge Turning Point. Equipped with the robots that they diligently built and programmed to compete, the students were tasked with completing a series of obstacles for points.
For Delaware County Christian School seniors Hannah Master and Rebecca Harris, teammates and veterans of the competition, they enjoy the competitive nature and tangible problem-solving elements.
“We get to see real-time results for all the work we’ve put in,” Master said. “It’s a very hands-on aggressive sport, but it’s exhilarating.”
“I really like being able to see the output of our hard work,” Harris added.
In addition to teaching technical skills, the competition offers students a creative outlet through designing and building their own robots.
“[The robots] are created in your own image,” said Todd Picard, a Norristown High School freshman who participated in one of the 12 teams representing Norristown. “There’s no one who can tell you it’s wrong if that’s the way you build it.”
The action extended to middle school and grade school students, as well. Lower level students participated in the VEX IQ Challenge, a hands-on activity that promotes teamwork, critical thinking, project management, and communication skills.
Following the Widener VEX event, students in the Widener Robotics Club quickly shifted gears from competition hosts to players. Seven of the 31 club members packed up equipment, tool boxes and two robots and made the 13-hour trek to Indiana to compete in the VEX U Competition at Purdue University on Feb. 23.
Competing at the collegiate level gives students the opportunity to hone their robotics skills outside of the classroom and apply their knowledge in a real-world situation.
“Being able to learn specific skills in the competition and being able to learn how to program and apply that in the competition versus just programming and seeing words on a screen is completely different,” said Nick Lubeck, a freshman robotics engineering major.
This event was the first collegiate competition for the freshmen robotics majors. The Widener Robotics team matched up against 16 other teams representing universities from across the country including Clemson University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“The competition is more complex,” said Ethan Matlack, a robotics engineering freshman.
The tournament was centered around the VEX game Turning Point but required an advanced level of technical knowledge and speed.
“They expect college students to be able to program at a significantly higher level so they make it a bit more challenging by introducing a lot more timing and programming,” Matlack added.
Widener placed ninth out of the 16 teams. For next year the club plans to develop more teams and offer training workshops ahead of the upcoming competition season.