On a typical day at Blach Intermediate School, teachers are helping students accomplish tasks. But on a Sunday last December, it was the students who gave commands to robots they made themselves.
The event was the Los Altos VEX IQ tournament, an annual robotics competition hosted by Los Altos Robotics. Nine robotics teams from Los Altos elementary and middle schools and 13 teams from surrounding areas competed. Despite the rainy and windy weather, the teams showed up enthusiastically with their handmade robots, with unique shapes and capabilities.
Three Los Altos teams won awards at the tournament: Team 77787A, Oak RoboCC from Oak Avenue School, won the Amaze Award; Team 7262A, Gummy Bears from Bullis Charter School, won the Create Award; and Team 1815A, Team Awesome from Bullis Charter School, won the Judges Award. Six teams advanced to the state-level competition, which will take place in March.
“The VEX IQ challenge is an annual robotics tournament presented by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation and is for teams of students in elementary or middle school (ages 8-14),” said Sally Li, chief financial officer and board director of Los Altos Robotics, which organized the VEX IQ tournament.
Emphasis on teamwork
Li explained that teams of students are tasked with designing, building and programming a robot to play against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge. Participants first compete in local tournaments, then the top teams advance to state, and then to higher levels afterward. The competition aims to improve students’ STEM skills by giving them the opportunity to solve particular problems with their robots, such as picking up and moving around cubes and balls.
This year, the task was dubbed “VEX IQ Squared Away.” For the teamwork matches, two teams worked together to score points. To get the points, the teams had to control their robots to pick up and move around the objects. They were allotted 60 seconds in the rounds, so they had to do as much as they could to score points in little time. Along with the group matches, teams had to compete individually. Those games consisted of matches where the driver controlled the robot, and matches that were autonomous.
While checking into the tournament, some teams faced difficulties. One Los Altos team had trouble with the robot size limit and had to make a quick and risky fix right before the tournament to make its robot small enough to qualify.
In the games, creativity was on display with groups trying different tactics. Some teams tried to place all the cubes on specific platforms first. Other teams decided to start with moving the cubes into their goal while gathering balls.
There were a few teams that programmed their robots to be able to take two cubes at once, making it easier to gain points quickly.
“The tournament was a fun experience and I learned a lot from it,” said Aaron Xie, my brother and a member of the Los Altos Hills-based team Robaaak. “It helped me learn about teamwork and how others designed their robots. This will help us to improve our robot.”
At the end, many awards were given to the teams, including the group whose robot had the best design and the group that had the best energy.
Congratulations to Sandpiper School, an elementary and middle school in Redwood City, which had two teams advancing to state – Sandpiper Husky Engineers and Sandpiper Hexperts. Other teams that advanced to state included Dream Team from Group of Friends and Isosceles Doubles from Robocubs Robotics.
Li said VEX IQ supports the development of teamwork, critical thinking, project management and communication skills, and the event helped provide team members with feedback on how to improve their robots.
For more information on VEX IQ, visit vexrobotics.com/vexiq/competition.
For more information on Los Altos Robotics, visit losaltosrobotics.org.
Kathleen Xie is a seventh-grader at Pinewood School. She volunteered as a photographer for the event.