An idea is just an idea until you make it happen. Manuel Rosado ’19, a Robotics Engineering major, and his friends are making it happen in a big way. Later this month, their newly formed Vex Robotics Club will compete at the 2018 Vex Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky.
“This is still so surreal. We’re going to be competing against other teams from all over the world,” says Edgar Falcón ’19 (Robotics Engineering).
Just 3 months ago the team took part in their very first robotics competition. The tournament took place at the VCAT VEX-U Regional Qualifier at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens, New York. They ranked 6th.
This is still so surreal.”
“That was definitely a great rank, especially because it was our first competition,” Rosado says. “They were surprised with our performance at the tournament.”
Next came the West Virginia 2018 VEX U Regional Qualifier hosted at Fairmont State University in West Virginia in early March. The team placed 5th overall and won one of five awards, the Judges Award, for their impressive work.
“We placed 5th, but for us it was as if we placed 1st, because we learned so much and had so much fun doing it,” says Jossean Rivera ’18, a Software Engineering major.
How to Build the Perfect Vex Robotics Club
For this group of friends, most juniors and seniors, it all started during their first year at JWU when they met at McNulty Hall and in class.
“We’ve known each other since we started at JWU. We spend a lot of time together, playing video games, watching movies and working on club stuff,” says Rosado. “Now 6 of us live together. It’s an amazing environment to be in.”
CLUB MEMBERS, LEFT-RIGHT: MANUEL ROSADO ’19, KIMCHHAY SRENG ’19, GABRIEL CHURCH ’19, JOSSEAN RIVERA ’18, ARTURO RIVERA ’19, JAKOB CASTRO ’19, EDAEFE EFOSA ’19, ARYK LEDET ’19, REIGNA STEWART ’20 AND EDGAR FALCÓN ’19. (NOT PICTURED: BRONIQUE SMITH ’19)
For Rosado, who’s been involved with Vex Robotics since he was a high school student in Puerto Rico, starting a vex robotics club at JWU is a dream come true.
“I fell in love with it [in high school] and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a robotics engineer,” he notes. “I came to JWU knowing that there was a Robotics Engineering major here, and now I’m building this robotics club and going to competitions to show the outside world that JWU has a great engineering department.”
What is Vex Robotics All About?
According to the Vex Robotics website, competitions “task teams of students with designing and building a robot to play against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge.”
The competition takes place in a 12’x12’ square field. Two alliances — one red and one blue — composed of two teams each, compete in matches consisting of a fifteen second autonomous period followed by one minute and forty-five seconds of driver-controlled play. The object of the game is to get a higher score than the opposing alliance by stacking cones on goals, scoring mobile goals in goal zones, having the highest stacks and by parking robots. Teams must keep an engineering notebook with detailed notes about the robot building process, including design, construction and iterations.
Notes From the Engineering Notebook
To get ready for the competitions, teams purchase Vex robotics kits to build the robots, materials to build a field to practice on and more. Teams also pay to register for competitions and travel related expenses. For the JWU club, which was only officially sanctioned by the university a few months ago, money has been a little tight.
“So far, I’ve spent over $1,500 of my own money to fund the club,” says Rosado. He adds that at the beginning of this academic year he got a job on campus and the money he earns there usually goes towards the club. “We haven’t been to many competitions because to build the robot we had to buy the pieces and that took a while.”
He adds that Assistant Professor Jeff Tagen helped the team build a half-size practice field out of plywood to keep the costs down. Rosado also printed parts for the field using the university’s 3D printers.
According to Dean Frank Tweedie, now that the club is getting ready to travel to Kentucky, the university has been able to tap into the Karoom Brown Innovation Fund to cover registration costs for the championship event.
There were other teams that had bigger budgets, but maybe they didn’t take advantage of things like we did.”
‘The Competition is More About Your Engineering Skills’
While teams must use Vex products during the competitions, it’s up to each team to make their design and robots unique.
“We’re only allowed to use Vex products,” says Rivera. “The bad thing about that is that they’re a little overpriced. But the good thing is that everyone has the same equipment and tools. It’s up to your design and your skills to make it better. The competition is more about your engineering skills, rather than how much money you have.”
But being low-budget can have its advantages. “I think maybe that’s why we got the Judge’s Award (West Virginia) because when we explained our robot, we basically showed how low budget we are, and how much we accomplished with how little we had,” Rivera says. “There were other teams that had bigger budgets, but maybe they didn’t take advantage of things like we did.”
They’re making a mark in the engineering world.”
‘Making a Mark in the Engineering World’
Vidyasagar (Vid) Sivalingam, JWU instructor and the club’s advisor, has seen the student’s passion for robotics grow over the past two years. “Things are going really well, and emotions are sky high,” he says.
“Engineering is nothing if you don’t apply it to the real world, and they’re making a mark in the engineering world,” Sivalingam adds. “Johnson & Wales is known for culinary, but this competition will hopefully show that we’re also a place where engineers are educated.”
Jeff Tagen, who volunteered to drive three of the club members down to West Virginia in his RV over spring break, agrees.
“That was the first competition I’ve attended and I was really impressed with them,” Tagen says. “Not only with how much time they put into it, but really into analyzing everyone else’s designs.”
“These are all wonderful students,” he adds. “I hope I have more like them in the future.”
Tagen adds that the team got a late start into competition season. “For a first-year team, not even a full-year, a first half-year team to come this far is just incredible,” he says. “I’m crossing my fingers for the World Championship. Even if they don’t win, I’m very confident that they’re going to place very well.”
Department Chair and Associate Professor Kathryn Parchesco is proud of the student’s commitment to robotics. “Every time they’ve gone out to a competition they’ve increased their ranking and the amount of points they get in the skills area,” she says. “We are quite proud of them. The third time they went out they were invited to World’s, so they are beyond thrilled, and we are as well.”
“This is a very exciting time for the College of Engineering & Design,” adds Tweedie. “It’s the first time that a robotics club has gone this far at JWU. We’ve had the Robotics Engineering program in place for a few years now, but because it was in its infancy, students really didn’t get engaged in doing competitions. I’m just so proud of this team.”
Getting Ready for the World Championship
With the championship just four weeks away, team members are spending all of their free time tweaking the robot’s programming and design.
“At each competition we learn something new,” says Rivera. “When we went to the competition at Quinsigamond Community College (QCC), I revised the programming for the robot trying to make it more advanced by adding time limits.”
“In West Virginia, the autonomous part was taking almost 30 seconds. But at QCC we did the same things, actually multi-tasking, in only 15 seconds,” Rivera adds. “I’m already working on making new revisions for the world championships to improve the robot.”
We’re updating the design to make it lightweight and faster.”
The team is also making adjustments to the robot’s structure. “We originally designed a scissor lift, compared to others that have double four bars that are more structurally effective,” says Rosado. “But we’re changing this design for the world championship because we want to improve our robot. Our old design was really heavy, so we’re updating the design to make it lightweight and faster.”
The VEX Robotics World Championship takes place in Louisville, Kentucky, starting with the VEX Robotics Competition and VEX U portion of the event on April 25-28, 2018, followed immediately by VEX IQ Challenge portion April 29-May 1.