Comox Valley robotics teams rock at world championships
Mark R. Isfeld and Navigate VEX robotics teams recently placed third and 23rd in the world, respectively.
The Comox Valley teams attended the VEX Robotics World Championship, held in Anaheim, Calif. April 23-26. More than 8,000 teams from 28 countries competed for 430 spots at the world championship, according to Isfeld team coach Robin Parlee, making simply qualifying for the championship a feat in itself.
Isfeld’s team (Grade 11 Nicolas and Damian Parlee and Adrian Humphry) attended the world championship last year, too, and placed 46th out of 420 teams. Nicolas says to take the title of third in the world this year is very exciting.
“It feels really good,” says Nicolas. “We’ve always aspired to do really well at the worlds and to actually accomplish it was quite amazing and very rewarding.”
VEX robots are made using bought components which the students then put together to create a robot designed to best complete specified tasks. This year’s tasks included fitting within an 18-inch-cubed space, passing under a 12-inch high barrier, lifting balls into 24-inch high towers and the robot being able to lift itself 12 inches off the ground hanging from a 40-inch high bar, according to a news release from team member parents.
The Isfeld team has been doing robotics since Grade 8 and will also compete at June’s national Skills Canada robotics competition in Toronto.
The Navigate powered by NIDES (North Island Distance Education School) team — Jeremy Lyster, Amanda Bowman, Lana Harach and Mitchell and Andrew Gair — is made up of Grade 10 to 12 students, and has been doing robotics for two years. Team captain Grade 12 Mitchell got involved just this year and says the team is thrilled with its ranking.
Nicolas and Mitchell say the teams had some stressful moments during the competition; both had similar technical difficulties related to the mats at the competition.
“We had it geared up for speed on the base so we could drive around faster but… something was different with the competition mats that they were using,” explains Mitchell, noting the mats caused the wheels to have more friction.
“We were constantly stalling the drive motors so we had to, in about 40 minutes, switch out all of the gearings so that it wouldn’t stall, and we lost a whole lot of speed by doing that, so we had to go back and re-do all of our autonomous programming at the competition.”
Nicolas says Isfeld also had to slow down its motors so they would stop overheating and its autonomous programming was hampered by the mats, too.
But, he notes the top programming skills score at the world competition was 61 points, and while Isfeld didn’t score that high there, the team had scored 61 in programming at one of the previous competitions this year.
“So, that was actually pretty nice to realize that we are in the top (in programming),” he adds, noting the team noticed the importance of being able to toss balls across the field at a past competition, so ensured its robot was able to do that.
“We built that ability into our robot, as well as being able to score balls quickly and efficiently around the field, and also being able to high-hang with the big ball at the end of the match.
“So, we built all those features into our robot and tried to make it, at the same time, as light and simple as possible.”
Teamwork is a big part of VEX tournaments as teams form into alliances at the tournament, and must choose which teams they want to align with based on other teams’ strengths.
Isfeld and Navigate were in the same division, with Isfeld knocking Navigate out in the semi-finals, and Isfeld eventually moving into the grand finals, before finishing third in the world.