VEX Robotics: Technology and Teamwork

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The Niles West VEX Robotics team hard at work during a competition.

By Aleksandar Stosovic, Staff Writer

After school on Tuesdays and Thursdays in room 1520, students come together to build complex, world-class robots with the intent of winning first place at competitions throughout the country.

Founded four years ago by engineering teacher and sponsor Tim Sullivan,  the growing club has already been a state and national qualifier multiple times. The past two years in a row it has also qualified for world competitions, and last year the team brought home a state championship. According to Sullivan, teamwork is what gives the young team the ability to perform at such a high level. 

There are a lot of different skills that need to come together for the team to succeed. You need programmers, builders, people who could drive the robots, and people who can stay organized and keep an engineering workbook. VEX teaches kids the value of teamwork- they come in with different skill sets and need to be able to work with and accommodate people who have different ability levels than them,” Sullivan said.

The competitions are based on teams trying to outperform other robots in a specific game that changes yearly. The robots that are built must meet certain criteria and size restraints. This year’s game is called “In the Zone”, where two teams use their robots to stack as many cones as they can before time runs out.

Robots take six to eight weeks to build, and the process is extensive. The team has to build a drive train, a lift that raises and lowers objects, and an intake which grabs objects. Afterwards, programming takes several weeks to complete as it is the most tedious process.

“The hardest part about building the robots is choosing the design. After the first few steps of planning the layout and proportions, the robot is programmed and wired with motors and batteries.” senior Katia Terehina said.

Although building the complex robots can be a challenge, seeing the machines run smoothly during competitions is a rewarding experience all VEX members look forward to. Students cooperate to assemble the best robot possible, and it’s the teamwork that makes the club outstanding.

Outside of the after-school meetings and competitions, VEX Robotics has inspired many students to pursue engineering-related careers after they finish high school.

“Vex made me interested in robots programming, and it definitely showed me that it’s something I want to do as a career. I’ve really become a better team worker, I wasn’t as good at being there when I needed to and staying on task,” senior Jay Monga said. “Throughout the years I became more focused, and now I go to my teammate’s house every weekend to work for about 5-6 hours just to develop our robot more. I wasn’t able to do that previously, and now I have the ability to set my mind to work for a few hours and get stuff done.”