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A Teacher’s POV: RVW VEX IQ Beltway

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Beltway2Jason McKenna, from the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA, writes about his experience in the classroom with the new Robot Virtual World game, VEX IQ Beltway. Check it out below …

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The new VEX IQ virtual game Beltway is a great way to challenge your students to apply the basics of ROBOTC programming while also asking them to come up with unique strategies to try to score as many points in the 2 minute game as possible. My students just spent about 3 weeks working on the challenge and trying to score the highest score as possible. The students had an absolute blast and as a teacher, it was great seeing all the different ways the students tried to tackle this completely open-ended challenge.

Beltway4The objective in Beltway is the same as VEX IQ Highrise: program your VEX IQ robot to autonomously score as many cubes as possible during a 2 minute period. With Beltway, a conveyor belt has been added around the perimeter of the game field in order to assist with game play. Additionally, the virtual environment utilizes “magic stacking” meaning that the cubes automatically jump onto the stack when they are placed onto of the stacking cube regardless of the apparent size of the robot. The conveyor belt reduces the accumulation of error, where, for example, a robot’s slight error in one turn becomes a larger error when the robot repeats that same turn 4 or 5 times. Any time students attempt a long program with many different elements they will at some point become frustrated with the accumulation of error that occurs. Magic stacking and the large margin of error that enables easy pickup of cubes eliminates any frustration that the students may encounter as try to pick up cubes and then stack them. These elements of gameplay in Beltway allow students to focus on their strategy, and it also allows them to try to experiment with many different scoring methods because they are not spending a lot of time programming perfect 90 degree turns and aligning their robots perfectly to pick up a cube. You can click here for a more extensive list of rules and information about gameplay!

Beltway1Beltway comes with a variety of sample programs that students can use to help them get started or as a reference as they adjust their strategies. For example, if students decided that they wanted to control the conveyer belt manually, they could refer to a sample program to see how that is done. I did that many times while monitoring the students. After a few days, the students aren’t repeatedly raising their hands; instead, they just refer to the sample programs for guidance.

The game also served as a great tool to teach beginning programmers the utility of comments. Oftentimes, beginners don’t make programs quite as long as the ones they will make for Beltway. Students quickly saw the need to point out what was going on in their code with comments so they could go back to those sections and make whatever adjustments they wanted as they progressed with their gameplay.

As I stated earlier, my students had a lot of fun while playing Beltway. It is not easy to keep students’ interest level high in an activity that takes 3 weeks. The students maintained their level of interest and they consistently asked to stay after school to work on their programs some more. We had an in-class competition where the students ran their final programs. The winning team scored the winning points as the timer, literally, went to zero. It was pandemonium in my room. Kids were high-fiving each other, cheering, and remarking at how awesome the competition turned out. Students were also talking about the different strategies that the other teams used and how they could change their programs based upon what they had just seen.

Beltway3

So now, of course, the students want to play some more. This is great because now I can use that as an opportunity to show students how they can take some of the code that they used over and over again (for example, picking up cubes) and show them how they can use full ROBOTC to turn those behaviors into functions. Beltway has proven to be both a great teaching and learning tool in my classroom.

Click here to download the game!

- Jason McKenna

Cool Project: ColumnBot

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We recently asked a group of engineering students from the University of Aalborg in Denmark to write about their experience using ROBOTC on a recent project. Check it out below!

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A model of the robot we built.

A model of the robot we built.

Hi all! We are 6 software engineering students from the University of Aalborg in Denmark. As part of our Bachelor’s degree, we had to design and implement an embedded system, and we chose to design and implement a robot that would solve the Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (SLAM) problem. We called the robot ColumBot.

The hardware we were issued were LEGO NXT bricks and sensors as well as a few from MindSensors. MindSensors provided libraries for use with ROBOTC, which was one of the reasons why we ended up choosing ROBOTC as our IDE.

This shows the generated map for TestCourse.

This shows a map of the test course we ran.

Work in Aalborg is group-based and many of the other groups spent the first weeks trying to get their NXT bricks set up for the firmwares they were using, but ROBOTC allowed us to have the part of the project kept to a minimum. ROBOTC provided us with a strong and versatile tool in solving our project, and was of great help.

Using ROBOTC, we were able to implement a mapping robot with a drive queue, with enough memory for 100m2, as well as a particle filter to correct the inaccuracies that arose from sensing when mapping. All this functionality was scheduled using a real time scheduling scheme. We do not believe this would have been possible with some of the IDEs used by the other groups.

This shows a map of the test course we ran.

TestCourse map.

ROBOTC has its quirks, namely much of the documentation is faulty. [Editor’s Note: ROBOTC recently went through a complete documentation overhaul to address issues like these – take a look at our help docs here.] As the focus of our project was to fit as much functionality as possible into the limited space, this problem mainly arose with the sizes of different types, where the documentation deviated from the reality. But the community is fantastic and many answers to difficult questions were found in the forums during the project period. The most useful features in our project were the Bluetooth Communication and the Debug Stream, which allowed us to monitor the robot remotely and communicate with it.

We would recommend ROBOTC to anyone attempting a build of the same size as ours, but advice you to be wary and test things for yourself, because this was sometimes a problem for us.

Check out one of our test runs here:

Written by Cara Friez

February 23rd, 2015 at 11:01 am

ROBOTC for LEGO MINDSTORMS Updates 4.30 and 3.65 Available Today!

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ROBOTC 4-30
The ROBOTC Development Team is excited to announce not one, not two, but three updates this week! Yes, earlier in the week we announced our 4.29 update, but we’ve taken care of a few more bugs along with a 3.65 update. These updates are for the LEGO MINDSTORMS (NXT and EV3) robotics systems and includes new features, functionality and a load of bug fixes. You can download them here! Read more below …

4.29 -> 4.30 Change Log

  • (EV3) LEGO NXT Sensors that are normally auto-ID’d no longer have their autoID flag disabled for that port.
  • (EV3) Fixed an issue with the EV3 remote screen may have caused a ROBOTC crash.
  • (ALL) Rebuilt firmware to version 10.30. All platforms will require a firmware update.
  • (ALL) Prevent Graphical files from asking to save if the “Save On Compile” flag is set to false.
  • (ALL) Update all standard models to have correct drive train setting.
  • (ALL) Fixed an issue where a “sprintf’ varArg list contains a string constant the compiler was generating incorrect code causing a firmware crash.
  • (ALL) Compiler Fix: ‘long’ pointer temporary variables were sometimes being allocated as type ‘signed’ instead of ‘unsigned’.
  • (ALL) Checking for “divide by zero” exception forgot to check in the “module” opcodes; it was only checking the “divide” opcodes. Fixed.
  • (ALL) Fixed issues where the first time the Debugger “Local Variables” window is painted with values (rather than blank) the address field displays “0xCDCDCDCD” rather than the offset.
  • (ALL) Graphical Interface now support “multiple selection” using Shift/Control keyboard modifiers (drag select coming soon!)
  • (ALL) Fix for DebugStream which was adding \r to the String as it was written to file.

3.64 -> 3.65 Change Log

  • (All) Fixed issue with licensing system when an unexpected error code (i.e. server is available but service is down) would cause ROBOTC to crash.
  • (All) Fixed issue with ‘Check for Update’ functionality where a hotel/school wifi login screen might cause a ROBOTC crash with unexpected XML parameters.
  • (All) Fixed issue with licensing system where a license could not be used on the same computer twice.

To read more about the updates from 4.29, visit our post from earlier this week. Happy Programming!

Written by Cara Friez

February 18th, 2015 at 9:30 am

Download ROBOTC for VEX Robotics Updates 4.30 or 3.65 Today!

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ROBOTC 4-30VEX
The ROBOTC Development Team is excited to announce not one, not two, but three updates this week! Yes, earlier in the week we announced our 4.29 update, but we’ve taken care of a few more bugs along with a 3.65 update. These updates are for the VEX Robotics (CORTEX and VEX IQ) robotics systems and includes new features, functionality and a load of bug fixes. You can download them here! Read more below …

4.29 -> 4.30 Change Log

  • (Cortex) Added new sample programs for RVW VEX Cortex using the Natural Language 2.0 commands.
  • (Cortex) Fix to enable tankControl to be displayed for Virtual Robots.
  • (Cortex) New VEX Cortex Master Firmware (4.25) for VEX Cortex Brain & VEXNet Remote Control
  • (Cortex) Update for VEX Competition Template in Natural Language 2.0 to ensure maximum compatibility
  • (Cortex) Increased Timeout for VEX wireless communications when using the new VEXNet 2.0 Radios – prevents communications issues
  • (IQ) Fixed incorrect samples for VEX IQ in Virtual Worlds (both Text and Graphical)
  • (All) Rebuilt firmware to version 10.30. All platforms will require a firmware update.
  • (ALL) Prevent Graphical files from asking to save if the “Save On Compile” flag is set to false.
  • (ALL) Update all standard models to have correct drive train setting.
  • (ALL) Fixed an issue where a “sprintf’ varArg list contains a string constant the compiler was generating incorrect code causing a firmware crash.
  • (ALL) Compiler Fix: ‘long’ pointer temporary variables were sometimes being allocated as type ‘signed’ instead of ‘unsigned’.
  • (ALL) Checking for “divide by zero” exception forgot to check in the “module” opcodes; it was only checking the “divide” opcodes. Fixed.
  • (ALL) Fixed issues where the first time the Debugger “Local Variables” window is painted with values (rather than blank) the address field displays “0xCDCDCDCD” rather than the offset.
  • (ALL) Graphical Interface now support “multiple selection” using Shift/Control keyboard modifiers (drag select coming soon!)
  • (ALL) Fix for DebugStream which was adding \r to the String as it was written to file.

3.64 -> 3.65 Change Log

  • (Cortex) New VEX Cortex Master Firmware (4.25) for VEX Cortex Brain & VEXNet Remote Control
  • (Cortex) Increased Timeout for VEX wireless communications when using the new VEXNet 2.0 Radios – Full download/debug support available.
  • (All) Fixed issue with licensing system when an unexpected error code (i.e. server is available but service is down) would cause ROBOTC to crash.
  • (All) Fixed issue with ‘Check for Update’ functionality where a hotel/school wifi login screen might cause a ROBOTC crash with unexpected XML parameters.
  • (All) Fixed issue with licensing system where a license could not be used on the same computer twice.

And to read more about the changes in 4.29, visit our post from earlier this week. Happy Programming!

Written by Cara Friez

February 18th, 2015 at 9:30 am

Tons of Robot Virtual Worlds Updates Available Today!

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RVWThe Robot Virtual World team is happy to announce our latest updates are available for Ruins of Atlantis, Palm Island, and Operation Reset! We’ve included updated sample program to support all platform types (VEX CORTEX, VEX IQ, EV3, and NXT) within ROBOTC. You can also choose what type of sample program you would like to use from Graphical, Natural Language, or Standard.

Thanks again to everyone who has provided feedback! Please continue to do so at the ROBOTC.net Forums. Happy programming!

 

 

 

Written by Cara Friez

February 17th, 2015 at 8:10 am

A Teacher’s POV: First Year Teaching Automation and Robotics

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In our latest Teacher’s POV post, Ross Hartley wrote a wonderful post about his first semester teaching Automation and Robotics in the Pickerington Local School District. Check it out below …

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This is my third year teaching, but my first time working with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and a robotics course. After accepting this assignment, I was extremely nervous. I did not study robotics in college, and I had never, ever pictured myself in this role. But I am so very happy to have taken on this challenge.

This is a picture of students preparing for the Racecar Challenge. Students had to build and program a racecar that would go the fastest in 20 feet but had 6 feet past the finish line to stop.

This is a picture of students preparing for the Racecar Challenge. Students had to build and program a racecar that would go the fastest in 20 feet but had 6 feet past the finish line to stop.

Students working on building and programming a car that would follow a set of simulated directions to go from the house of one student to the movies and back. Students had to program the lights to turn on and off, backing in and out of parking spaces, and completing turns.

Students building and programming a car that would follow a set of simulated directions to go from the house of one student to the movies and back. Students had to program the lights to turn on and off, backing in and out of parking spaces, and completing turns.

My favorite part about teaching this class is the atmosphere and expectations that I set up with this class and my students. From the first day of school, I was completely honest with the kids. I broke down the walls of the normal teacher-student relationship where the teacher is looked at as the bearer of all knowledge and all knowledge is passed down from the teacher to the students. I created a culture where students and their knowledge are equally valued and as important as the teacher’s. This led to a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. I, as the teacher, was not viewed as the bearer of all knowledge, but as a helpful resource to rely on when problems arose. The most important part of creating this culture is setting up those expectations from the beginning of school.

This was the last challenge for the class. Students had to build and program a “ClawBot” to complete various tasks including picking up and moving a cup as pictured.

Students had to build and program a “ClawBot” to complete various tasks including picking up and moving a cup as pictured.

The major theme from this class was “Problem-Solving”. I would present students with a variety of real-world scenarios and they would have to think of a design to solve that problem. They would work in groups of 2 to 4 students to create, construct, and program these robots to solve the problems I presented to them. This allowed for A LOT of different interpretations and ways to solve these problems, which was awesome!

Several key strategies that I incorporated into the class that proved to be successful were: purposeful grouping, incorporating student choice, and using students in a teacher’s role to help other students who needed more assistance. I incorporated a “Menus” style of teaching and learning. Students would be purposefully grouped into groups of 2-4 and then they would be presented with 3 different levels of activities: Appetizer, Main Meal, and Dessert. Within each level, students would have to choose 1 task out of 3 or 4 different options. As a group, students would choose which task to complete. Once decided, students would work as a group to design, build, and program the robot to complete the task. I would watch the robot perform the task, sign off on their paper, and they would move on to the next part of the menu. The activities got progressively more difficult as students moved from the Appetizer to the Main Meal to the Dessert level, with the Dessert level activities being the most difficult.

As we get ready to begin with the second semester, I cannot help but think about how much I have learned and how better of a teacher that I have become because of teaching this class. Some future ideas I have are the creation of a “Girls in STEM Club”. The purpose of this being opening girls’ eyes to future careers and possibilities associated with this class and the STEM ideals. Also, possibly creating a VEX Competition Robotics club where students would meet after school to construct robots to participate in VEX Robotics competitions. One thing that I realized early on in my teaching career is how much teachers learn from their students. Teaching this class has been one of the best learning experiences of my life.

For this challenge students had to build a freight elevator that had three different switches on the actual elevator. When pressed, the elevator takes passengers from the ground floor to the first or second floor and back down.

For this challenge students had to build a freight elevator that had three different switches on the actual elevator. When pressed, the elevator takes passengers from the ground floor to the first or second floor and back down.

 

– Ross Hartley

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If you’re a teacher or robotics coach and would like to write a blog about your experiences teaching, send us an email at socialmedia@robotc.net!

Written by Cara Friez

February 4th, 2015 at 11:10 am

RVW Virtual Brick Giveaway Contest

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VirtualBrick

Want to earn a free Robot Virtual Worlds – Virtual Brick license? BotBench has an awesome license giveaway going on now. Be one of the first 20 people to write a review about it on your website, blog or Tumblr, and you’ll receive a free license! Read more about it here!

Not sure what the Virtual Brick is? Check out our video …
 

Botbench also did a wonderful “First Look” blog on the Virtual Brick. Check it out here – Virtual Brick: A First Look – Making a Line Follower

Want to try out the Virtual Brick? You can download it here and when you do, you get a 10 day trial period.

Happy Programming!

Written by Cara Friez

February 3rd, 2015 at 9:18 am

ROBOTC for LEGO MINDSTORMS 4.28 BETA

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ROBOTC 4-28The ROBOTC Development Team is very excited to announce our latest BETA release update, ROBOTC 4.28 BETA! This update is for the LEGO MINDSTORMS (NXT and EV3) robotics systems and includes new features, functionality and a load of bug fixes!

This new build of ROBOTC for LEGO Mindstorms includes a number of new features for the EV3 platform, including USB Joystick Support, File I/O (reading and writing files on the EV3), and also Datalogging while using the EV3 platform. Take a look at the sample programs folder for examples on how to use all of the new features with ROBOTC and the EV3 platform!

To download the 4.28 BETA, use the following links:

Important Setup Information for ROBOTC 4.28 BETA:

LEGO NXT Users:

  • Simply update to the latest ROBOTC firmware from inside of ROBOTC.

LEGO EV3 Users:

  • All users will need to update the  LEGO EV3′s Kernel by connecting the EV3 and selecting “Robot Menu -> Download EV3 Linux Kernel” from inside of ROBOTC. The version number is the same to keep alignment with the EV3 Programming Software and LEGO’s releases, but the Kernel has bug fixes to increase sensor reliability.
  • After updating your EV3′s Linux Kernel, you’ll also need to update the ROBOTC firmware from inside of ROBOTC.

ROBOTC 4.27 -> 4.28 BETA Change Log:

  • All – Updated Help System Documentation for new commands and features.
  • All – Updated Firmware for 10.28 / 4.28 compatibility.
  • All – Added a compiler error when ‘switch’ expression was illegal.
  • All – Support for optional “int” keyword as in the declaration “short int” or “int short” in addition to “short”.
  • All – Add USB Joystick control to Graphical (in loop blocks)
  • EV3 – Fixed user reported bug in Synchronized Motor Movements commands.
  • EV3 – Disabled setting sensor ports to typeNone/modeNone when initially configuring port. This prevented sensor ports from being reconfigured manually afterwards inside a program.
  • EV3 – Added Joystick support for EV3.
  • EV3 – Fixed BMP files not displaying properly on the EV3 screen.
  • EV3 – Added Datalogging for the EV3. It is file based and saves the data in a CSV format under prjs/rc-data/
  • EV3 – Added EV3 file operations for reading/writing to files. Commands are available for reading/writing all types and raw data. Files are saved in the standard ROBOTC projects folder and cannot be saved elsewhere for security/safety reasons.
  • EV3 – Fix EV3 issue of USB connected brick disconnected when COMM link is open and IDE cannot recover when USB link is reconnected.
  • EV3 – Changed ramp up/down parameters to 0 for EV3 motors, as per the LEGO programming environment. This is a feature ROBOTC was using but isn’t supported well by the EV3.
  • EV3 – Fixed issue where motor speed was not normalized to -100 to 100 when values exceeding the maximum were provided.
  • EV3/NXT – Fixed issue with ROBOTC ‘auto-updater’ when launching ROBOTC for LEGO based platforms.
  • EV3 – Adjusted I2C read and write commands to use standard LEGO ioctl. The calls are non-blocking.
  • EV3 – setSensorTypeModeFromWithinOpcode is now used instead of calling for a separate type and mode change. This fixes the issue of bad sensor modes.
  • EV3 – EV3 Touch sensor can now have both bumps and touch value read, regardless of mode
  • EV3 – sensorReset() now calls appropriate reset function, depending on the connection type. If used on Gyro or Touch, the heading or bump count is reset, respectively.

Happy Programming!

Written by Tim Friez

December 23rd, 2014 at 4:34 pm

ROBOTC for VEX Robotics 4.28 BETA Available Today!

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ROBOTC Beta Release VEXThe ROBOTC Development Team is very excited to announce our latest BETA release, ROBOTC 4.28 BETA. This update is for the VEX Robotics (Cortex EDR and VEX IQ) robotics systems and includes new features, functionality and a load of bug fixes!

 

 

 

 

This new BETA release of ROBOTC includes the brand new “Natural Language 2.0″ libraries for the ROBOTC Graphical interface.

CortexGraphical

The new Natural Language 2.0 for Cortex allows users to customize and use their own robot configurations with our new Graphical Interface.

CortexConfiguration

In addition, users can also program their VEX Cortex Competition Robots using our new “Graphical Competition Template”!

CortexCompetition

We’ll have more videos and tutorials on using the VEX Cortex Graphical Language mode in the near future, but try out the new software today and let us know what you think!

To download the 4.28 BETA, use the following links:

Important Setup Information for ROBOTC 4.28 Beta:

VEX IQ Users:

  • Run the “VEX IQ Firmware Update Utility” and update your VEX IQ Brain to firmware version 1.13 (may not be available at time of release, but will be available soon).
  • Users will also have to update their VEX IQ Wireless Controller in addition to any other VEX IQ Devices (sensors, motors) that may need to be updated as well.
  • After updating to the latest VEX IQ Brain firmware, users will also have to install the latest ROBOTC firmware from inside of ROBOTC.

VEX Cortex Users (with Black VEXnet 1.0 Keys):

  • You will need to update your VEX Cortex and VEX Game Controllers with Master Firmware Version 4.23 from inside of ROBOTC.
  • After updating the master firmware, users will also have to update the VEX Cortex with the latest ROBOTC firmware as well.

VEX Cortex Users (with White VEXnet 2.0 Keys):

  • The new VEXnet 2.0 keys have a specific “radio firmware” that you will need to upgrade to enable “Download and Debugging” support. You can download the VEXnet Key 2.0 Firmware Upgrade Utility here.
  • Download the “VEXnet Key 2.0 Firmware Upgrade Utility” and insert your VEXnet 2.0 key to any free USB port on your computer. Follow the instructions on the utility to update each key individually. All VEXnet 2.0 keys must be running the same version in order to function properly.
  • After updating your VEXnet 2.0 keys, you will need to update your VEX Cortex and VEX Game Controllers with Master Firmware Version 4.23 from inside of ROBOTC.
  • After updating the master firmware, users will also have to update the VEX Cortex with the latest ROBOTC firmware as well.

ROBOTC 4.27 -> 4.28 BETA Change Log:

  • All – Updated Help System Documentation for new commands and features.
  • All – Updated Firmware for 10.28 / 4.28 compatibility.
  • All – Added a compiler error when ‘switch’ expression was illegal.
  • All – Support for optional “int” keyword as in the declaration “short int” or “int short” in addition to “short”.
  • All – Add USB Joystick control to Graphical (in loop blocks)
  • Cortex – Fixed issue where performing a new motor PID movement when an existing PID movement is in progress didn’t work properly.
  • Cortex – Allow users to select “Xmtr2″ for VEX Cortex Graphical (Expert and higher menu level)
  • Cortex – Added competition control and competition template for Cortex Graphical
  • Cortex – Added Virtual Worlds Natural Language 2.0 Library for VEX Cortex
  • Cortex – Renamed old-style Natural Language mode to “Natural Language PLTW”
  • Cortex – Fixed issue where software inspection would fail without a radio link on VEX Cortex
  • Cortex – Added dialog message to Cortex “Download Firmware” button on large icon toolbar.
  • Cortex – Multiple incomplete consecutive PID moves. Fix issue when current move is in “ramp down” and new PID movement is initiated.
  • VEX IQ – Added additional standard models for VEX IQ.
  • VEX IQ – Fix issue where mode wasn’t being set for Graphical for VEX IQ Color Sensor.

Happy Programming!

Written by Tim Friez

December 23rd, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Asia-Pacific Robotic Championships 2014

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Executive director of China ROBOTC, Terry Sy, shares their latest robotics competition adventure with us from the 2014 Asia-Pacific Robotic Championships. Read about it below …

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photo 5The Asia-Pacific Robotic Championships 2014 were held in Dongguan, China from December 1st to December 4th. The first time in its history, China ROBOTC took 4 teams down there to compete. Among those making the trip down to the southern city were a China ROBOTC VEX team, Qingdao ROBOTC Boca Primary School team, Qingdao ROBOTC Boca Secondary School team, and ROBOTC-Experimental Primary School team affiliated to Shaanxi Normal University.

All the team members had a great time, competing in both the VEX and the VEX IQ competitions. Many new friendships were forged and the fantastic experience will be cherished by all those who took part for many years to come. But our teams weren’t just going down there to make friends and have fun. They had come to challenge for the championships.

Asia ROBOTC

Altogether, the teams had a lot of success in their respective competitions. In the VEX IQ programming skills competition, one of our primary schools took first place, while the other was a close runner-up. In addition, our secondary schools joined the primary school with a first-placed finish. Meanwhile, in the team competition, our elementary school and secondary school both finished in the runner-up position. As well as this, one member from the primary school and one member from the secondary school excelled in the robot skills competition, both taking 2nd place, and they also received 3 gold awards in IQ and an inspire award in VEX to cap off a fantastically successful event.

 
 

Well done to all those students who took part, and keep up the good work!

– Terry Sy

Written by Cara Friez

December 17th, 2014 at 8:18 am