UAA Robotics hosts remote competition, brings Hong Kong and South Dakota students together to test skills

After the competition, the UAA Robotics Team holds in 10th place, and has hopes pinned on world championships.

Granny, a 15" x 15" x 15" bot representing UAA's robotics team. picks up discs at the VEX Robotics Competition at UAA. Granny was named so after the sloth in "Ice Age". The white one, not pictured, is called Sid, for the other sloth in Ice Age. Photo by Justin Cox

The UAA Robotics Team hosted and played in a virtual match on Jan. 22 in the Engineering and Industry Building against MINES Robotics from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and CMAss Robotics from CMA Secondary School in Hong Kong. UAA scored 209 points which put them in 10th place across the world, which, if they hold on to it, will qualify them for the World Championship in Dallas.

There were 21 people who worked on the UAA robots, wrote Mya Schroder, president of the UAA Robotics Club. She spoke to TNL at the tournament and in an email.

Richard Craig of the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation came to the tournament from Texas. He told TNL that while the competitors worked with VEX — a company that makes robots and creates curriculum — the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation assists with the competition. Craig said that the competition is focused on workplace needs, particularly the VEXU competition. From the time the next year’s manual and new game are released in April at the world championships, competitors are building their robots according to VEX standards and documenting progress in an engineering notebook, which is submitted at the competitions to be judged.

Spectators at the VEX Robotics Competition. Photo by Justin Cox.

The competition hosted at UAA on Sunday was a remote competition designed so teams can compete with each other in real time while watching each other on a screen. They score official points that help them work toward getting into the world championships. VEX’s website says that there are over 300 VEX U teams that compete, with 80 going to the world championships.

This year’s game is called “Spin Up.” The robots, which resemble Erector Sets, are 15” x 15” x 15” on a field that is 12’ x 12’ and set up on official interlocking squares. There is a tiered basket in two opposite corners that consist of a smaller version of a disk golf basket. The robots are made with official parts licensed by VEX, which at the VEX U level can also be made with 3D printers. In a remote meet, two robots from the same team work together to score the most points in a one minute round. Each team has three tries with the highest score counting for the match. The aim of the game is to score points by tossing lightweight yellow discs into the goals, moving rollers, and setting off string projectiles at the end to cover as many tiles as possible.

After two good runs, Hong Kong had a disqualification when their strings went over the barriers on the field. Schroder said that one problem the Seawolves were grappling with in an all-nighter the night before the tournament was the string shooting strategy: “The general idea was to shoot string with a catapult and have a pin release. Several members made some large prototypes and then scaled them down to fit on the robot.”

Schroder wrote that “the strategy for this game was focusing on what could score us the most points with the most accuracy. For this game, covering a tile during expansion was 3 points and turning a roller was 10 points. Scoring disks was 5 points, but that required more accuracy and tuning then we had time to prepare for this competition, so we focused on the expansion and roller (especially for the autonomous portion).”

Schroder said that the next competition will be in Clemson, South Carolina on Feb. 4. They can only send five people down, so those going down will be Micah Sheldon, Osias Salem, Jaren Ramirez, and Schroder. When TNL wrote and asked what they learned from the Alaska competition, Schroder said they will give the drivers a lot more time to practice and fine tune the machines for better feedback and consistency.

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