Preview: VEX Robotics


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

By Pavle Vuksanovic, Staff Writer

With this year back in full throttle, the Niles West robotics team is back to working hard to build, program, and practice driving their robots. All the robots share a common purpose, to master this year’s game.

Each school year, the VEX company releases a different challenge which all robots are going to compete in. The challenges takes place in a square ring and hinges on robots of different teams facing off to see which team’s robot can better complete the tasks required. The first 15 seconds of the competition are always autonomous, meaning that a team will need to program all of the actions of their robot for the first 15 seconds since they are not allowed to use their controller to give input. After the 15 seconds have passed, robots are driven by the teams using wireless controllers.

The challenge is very complex and consists of such actions as picking up and shooting balls to spin flags and parking the robot on pedestals which are off the ground. The full challenge is very complex, so any student interested is urged to go one of the meetings on Monday or Wednesday right after school until 5:00 and stop by to talk to the club sponsor, Robert Foster.

This is Foster’s first year teaching at Niles West, and his arrival marks a change in sponsorship for the VEX robotics club. Coming from Lake Zurich High School and coaching their VEX robotics team, he is and very qualified and excited for the next VEX season.

“I think that through the robotics competition … it’s a very unique learning experience. I think that the kids that are engaged in this are the ones that are developing the skills to be in a position where they can create the technology of the future,” Foster said. “… You don’t just create technology in a vacuum by yourself. You have to work with a bunch of other people and come up with what those ideas are and bring those ideas to fruition. Those kids that are participating in this are developing those skills.”

One of these future leaders is senior Muhammad Afzal. He’s making a strong return to the team, being a member his first two years of high school but taking a beak his junior year. He likes this year’s challenge much more than those of previous years.

This year’s challenge for VEX has lots of more variety in terms of what the robot needs to be able to do in order to win. In previous years, it has been a bunch of menial tasks and one impossible task, whereas now the different actions required by the robot are more evenly distributed in terms of difficulty,” Afzal said.

One of the younger members of the team, sophomore Alex Koeberl is taking on his second year of VEX robotics. Juggling VEX with other activities, like cross country, is difficult but something he manages to overcome.

“We have a few roles on our team: builder, coder, and driver. I am a builder, and that’s a fairly simple role as long as all the builders can agree on what we are creating or changing,” Koeberl said. “In my opinion, coding is the hardest job because you need to know coding basics and a specific coding language [for VEX parts].”

Robotics is a field of growing importance in the future. With artificial intelligence growing stronger and stronger, providing proper robotics which to train with such a powerful coding technique is going to be a must. The people who do VEX today are those that will build the skill to, in the future, make breakthroughs in robotics. The people building these skills at Niles West are ready to take on another season.