[FTC]: What could replace Vex in FTC?

There’s been a lot of talk about a possible/probable transition from Vex to some other platform in FTC.

This gets me wondering: What platforms out there could be viable replacements?

I have no special knowledge, but there has been a lot noise in the press lately about the TERK (sp?) from CMU. What I recall is that it is a computer plus sensor/motor I/O. You would still need mechanical parts, motors and sensors.

Whatever it might be, I really, really hope that it isn’t some collection of gizmos infested with Microsoft software…

Right now, I can’t identify any alternatives that are on the same level (or better than) the Vex platform.

There are many other [partial] platforms that could be used, but nothing as comprehensive as Vex on both the hardware (mechanical, sensors, etc.) and software (EasyC, MPLAB) side. There are things like Tamiya kits, but they are basically you-build-it toys. BoeBOTs are more or less an electronics and programming only platform. Lego NXT is already used in FLL.

Other things like k’NEX or Erector sets are more or less ‘dumb’ kits. You can build things, but they don’t have any brains or sensors, and they can’t react to the environment around them. I don’t think FIRST wants to move toward a robot-sumo competition.

If the FTC was to move away from the Vex platform, to another currently available platform(s), it would only be a step down.

If you’re looking for a better list of what’s out there, turn to the education market and this listing of summer camps:

Right now there are allot of robot base platforms that are on the scale of the vex system. But, they are not complete systems. Vex and Lego’s are one of the few that offer complete integrated solutions. I always thought Vex was expensive for what it was until I looked at some other free form robotics hardware platforms. Until another company puts together an integrated packaged system on the vex scale I wouldn’t want to switch to another platform. First has to think about the supply and distribution of any platform they choose. IFI has solved this problem for them. I do have several issues with the vex system that IFI could fix with not to much effort, But I don’t feel like ranting right now.

I wonder if FTC will become more similar to FRC. You will get a kit which includes some “must use” stuff - like the controller - and “optional use” stuff. Then you can buy other stuff off-the-shelf, with a cost limit.

The biggest unknown then would be motors. You could use parts from a VEX kit, but maybe not VEX motors unless they were part of an approved parts list.

In many ways (such as program/competition structure), I wish FTC would emulate FRC. Both competitions share many common traits, such as alliances, qualification rounds, alliance selections for eliminations, autonomous-then-teleoperated matches, etc.

But unfortunately, it seems like FIRST is trying to force FTC to be more like FLL in structure. Evidence of this can be seen in their many of their decisions, such as to not include permanent team numbering. Which would lead one to think: why would FIRST implement such a decision? Do they expect FTC to be like FLL, in the respect of having high team turnover rates? (Perhaps they have foreseen the future in that having a volatile platform/competition structure that constantly changes every year would lead to high turnover rates…)

From many of their recent decisions, it seems like FIRST is trying to coerce the FTC program in the wrong direction. Instead of letting the program grow and naturally evolve into a successful program, they are trying to prune (perhaps too much?) it into a mold they wish it to fill. And at least for the two pilot years in which it was the FIRST Vex Challenge, it seemed to be growing and naturally evolving into a mature platform just fine without any external coercion.

There are many wonderful aspects of FRC that FTC would do well to emulate such as the level of excellence and the communication & encouragement between teams. But the one weakness of FRC that I believe FTC was created to combat is that FRC is inaccessible to certain populations – those with limited finances, and those without a certain level of technical support. Also, because of the high level of technical expertise required, it is rather difficult for rookie teams to break in. It is my impression that while FIRST is not deliberately trying to create an “anti-FRC” with FTC, it is not necessarily trying to create a smaller replica of it, either.

I see the change away from the Vex platform as hurting everyone – veterans who have invested time & money in the system, but rookies as well, who would have benefited from the experience and assistance of veterans familiar with the system. The reuse of team numbers, on the other hand, mainly benefits the higher level teams (of whom a large proportion are veterans), who are in a position to serve as alliance captains. While this doesn’t necessarily hurt the rookie teams, if more energy and money were to be spent somewhere, my biased preference would be to spend it on something that benefits people who are trying to decide whether to try/stay with FTC, rather than hard-core veterans who will come back no matter what. Teams that are far enough ahead to be affected by team branding should be able to come up with creative ways to market their teams, with or without consistent numbers. For those with numbers already on shirts that want to save money, I suggest a nicely designed pin-on or sticky logo to cover the number that can be easily removed. Our team T-shirts cost $2 (plain shirts from the irregular discount bin) and had the team name written in duct tape, which could be transferred to clean shirts each day – on “white” day, those without unprinted white shirts could wear printed white shirts inside out with duct tape pasted on.

Despite coaching 2 FLL & 2 FVC seasons and serving in various FLL administrative capacities, I still consider myself a FIRST n00b and can only imagine how difficult it is for teams with even less experience and fewer connections. The needs of some rookie teams are so far from the needs of veterans that it’s hardly fathomable. For example, in addition to teams that showed up at our regional Championship without the programming template, our second draft pick was a team that completely disassembled their robot prior to alliance selection, not knowing that it was needed in the afternoon, and not knowing that it was “good manners” to decline an invitation if you don’t have a functioning robot. To their credit, they managed to put together something in the 20 minutes before the match that scored in the low goal and pinned the atlas ball. However, team number recognition was probably the furthest thing from their minds.


I’ve never gotten involved with FVC or FTC, but from a distance, it seems to me the competition would be more “interesting” and the robots more diverse if you permitted a wider array of “custom” parts to be integrated alongside any “standard” kit parts.

From a cost/competitiveness standpoint, I can see people raising one of two arguments regarding this suggestion:

  1. A redux of the age-old FRC dilemma - FTC teams with access to more equipment and $$$ could couple the increased flexibility of the materials rules with their greater machining resources to widen the gap between the haves and have nots…or…
  2. FTC teams who don’t want to spend money they don’t have on extra Vex/whatever kit parts can now use common, inexpensive materials that are freely available to all to craft their various robot mechanisms.
    Given the smaller scale of the robots involved in FTC, I’d think Argument #1 carries less water. It’s harder to generate a “technology gap” between the haves and the have-nots in FTC because it’s much easier to reliably do with a couple screws and PVC what you could do with some snazzy CNC-machined piece of aluminum.

So give teams the opportunity to save a little money on kit parts while expanding the robot design creativity greatly. It’s a “discount” built into the rules. It’s not so important how much the kit parts cost if teams have the flexibility of seeking other lower-cost options that might better suit their own needs. A great deal of the robot would still have to be constructed from the kit, but not all. I think it would serve as a nice compromise.

I know I’d personally be more interested in FTC if the design rules had more of the flexibility of FRC. Not that anyone cares. :stuck_out_tongue:

Not true, or at least not true enough.

Access to moderately sophisticated machine tools and/or human expertise on a “have” team will mean that they can replace many of the bulky, frustrating parts in the Vex product line with high strength, light-weight, precisely-crafted, small parts.

Oh so many times, when building a machine using the Vex parts, I have wished for a small latch, or a small pulley, or crown gear (available now), or a small distance sensor, or an rotation encoder that measured direction, or a… What has kept me from pulling out my remaining few hairs is knowing that every other team on the planet is in exactly the same boat as me and “mine”, except for getting to use our team’s unique set of brainpower.

If you open FTC up to handcrafted and non-Vex commercial parts, you will start seeing robots that are as complicated as mechanical watches and as sophisticated as compact interplanetary probes. Those will come from the “haves”, and will be marvelous to study and see in action; but I doubt the “have nots” will feel inspired…


One of the attractions of the program is also the fact that you DON’T need machine shops. I’d be concerned if a kit of parts is presented that requires access to larger machinery. And a team can be mentored by people who don’t have a lot of technical experience. FVC teams often had less resources (money, mentors, workshops) than their FRC counterparts. I hope that stays the same with FTC.

One of the attractions that we have for FTC is that it IS less complicated than FRC. It a great tool for bridging that gap between FLL and FRC. We ran a summer camp utilizing VEX using a one day programming module, a simple design challenge, a one day “build season” etc… I looked for other comparable platforms and found NONE.

Note To FIRST: Do NOT leave the VEX platform!! You already have the best!!!

So, in the search of something distracting to do, I went through Rich’s link and tried to get some details on the kits they’re using at the camps they mentioned. I compiled the results of my Googling in a spreadsheet at http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=p1cILXUy2xl2GwfN8bfr3Sw&hl=en

Is there a platform I’m missing? (I scratched some, like the discontinued Sony AIBO platform and the X-1 platform that seems to be proprietary to one camp.) Is there any information y’all can add?

The format of FVC, as KathieK so eloquently put it, allows teams who do not have the resources to form a FRC team to learn about design and engineering principles in the format of a robotics game, and play against and with teams from around the world.

It also had, in my personal opinion, a lot of educational value. As someone going into the field of Technology Education, Vex is something that I can do in a classroom, since it doesn’t involve machine shops (which a school might or might not have) and dangerous components. Vex is also small and easy to keep in a classroom, reusable (to cut down operating costs) and very powerful for its size. It has the perfect mix of “open-endedness” (is that a word?) and contraints to keep students from getting lost in all the design parameters.

Hopefully some solution will come to pass - I think the FTC program fills an important niche.