My Thoughts on the FTC Platform Change

I feel this falls under general FIRST discussion, hence why I did not post this in the Vex subforum.

My thoughts on the FTC platform change.

Let me preface this post by stating some of my background: I was on an FRC team from 2001-2004, all four years of high school. The two years after, I volunteered at my local FRC regional (New Jersey). Last year, I worked as a college mentor with a rookie FRC team and was a referee and volunteer for FVC competitions, including head ref at the championships. This year, I am the faculty advisor of the team I mentored in their rookie year, and have continued to work with the FTC program, not only as referee and event volunteer, but on my state planning committee to run an event hosted by my college department (Technology Education.) I’ve been involved as a volunteer at events from Connecticut to Delaware, two years running, with the FVC/FTC program.

Last semester, I organized a budget, wrote curriculum, and instructed a course in robotics, using the Vex Robotics Design system as my platform. We ran through mechanical design, AI, problem solving, some basic programming, and most importantly, critical discussion on philosophical and contemporary issues in technology, mainly related to current and emergent technologies that were robotics related.

In less than three months I will likely have a position as a full time Technology Education teacher, or I will be attending school to earn my Masters degree.

I am telling you all this so you have some idea of my background, and what might concern me about this platform change, and what kind of perspective I may have on it.

Above all else, I am a teacher. I like teaching – I think it is very important that young people have a fighting chance of being able to critically about our Designed World. The International Technology Education Association puts forth the goal of my profession as teaching students how to “Use, Manage, Assess, and Understand” technology. Sounds a bit like the FIRST mission statement right?

My personal mission statement: To give students an education that teaches them not only to be able to use, manage, assess, and understand technology, but also to critically examine the potential effects of emergent technologies so they may fit new tools and resources into a teleological framework that can best guide humanity into a future that values the beliefs that I value, the most important ideal of this is individuality.

I teach also to learn more about the subjects I am interested in: often students can find things that adults cannot. Particularly, every so often you get a student that is both highly intelligent and isn’t incapable of feeling a sense of wonder at learning new things. Finding those students and giving them a lift up out of the sea of apathy that is constantly trying to drown them is one of the reasons I am in my profession.

That being said, I was attracted to Vex for three main reasons:

1. It has a gentle initial learning curve, but remains a powerful tool.

I have a friend who is also a Technology Education teacher. He had to choose between Vex and the Gears IDS system, and went with Vex because it best fit his students and facilities. He gave a Vex kit to two students who couldn’t speak English and not only did they build him a squarebot, but they were excited about it. I gave my students Vex kits and had them do some simple initial design challenges with it, and they were excited about it. I gave them more advanced challenges, and they were able to use the Vex kits to do more complex things, learning more from their previous experiences and building from them.

The basic concept of Vex as an erector set with a microprocessor is very appealing to me because everyone can use it, and yet, when it is used, it can be used for very simple designs, or fiendishly complex ones. Some of the robots that I’ve seen in competitions are proof of this. Vex is scalable. It is versatile. You can use it as a driving platform, or you can program it to do complicated things with sensors. That’s up to the end user.

I’ve told other people in my profession that “Robotics is the medium, not the content” Vex is great because you can use it to explore all different things, from AI to automation in manufacturing, to mechanical systems to programming. It is a launching point, not a landing zone.

2. It is cost effective.

I put together the budget for my class. My cooperating teacher (and co-advisor for the robotics team) had the foresight of applying for and receiving multiple grants, which gave me a $5000 dollar operating budget. With this I set up 6 fully loaded Vex kits, which are reusable. He can maintain and expand the program on less than $1000 a year, and even that is being generous. To put this in perspective: an FRC team costs a minimum of $6000 per year.

A Vex team can fundraise the entirety of the money they need. For about $1500, you can have a top of the line, every part off the shelf pool of materials to build from. This is something a girl or boy scout troop, an after school club, a group of friends, a big brother/big sister group or a group of home schooled students can do. There is proof of this in the makeup of FVC teams.

This does two main things:

  1. It makes the program easier to start up
  2. It makes the program easier to maintain

The overriding concept here is that the Vex system is affordable for a broader range of people, and thus, can expose more students to science and technology. This is a good thing, because it means that more students/schools/programs can use this tool to educate and help people. Sounds a lot like the mission of FIRST, right?

3. Students Can Own It

This is perhaps the most important reason, I feel, that I am attracted to the Vex platform.

A major tenet of the way I teach falls under the slogan of “Learning By Doing.” Formally, this is known as “Constructivism.” I teach by presenting students with a problem, have them research the problem, brainstorm solutions, and work in groups to choose their best plan of solving the problem, and then execute that solution, assess their solution, and then offer suggestions of how they could improve their solution, in hindsight. The entire process is documented and it is the process, not the solution, which is emphasized in their assessment.

I have been a part of two (with some time spent on a third) FRC teams. I have interacted with hundreds of people in FIRST, I have had dinner with many. I have talked at length with dozens, both newcomers and old-timers.

What I’ve found is that the culture of FIRST has changed from what I would consider to be an optimal set of values being emphasized: there is no longer an emphasis on low-budget solutions to problems.A low-budget culture is attractive due to compulsory innovation: you need to innovate because the resources are not available to brute force a solution through a checkbook.

With the rise of big team sponsors, the potential exists for the sponsor to exercise a large degree of ownership over the product. The temptation to resist this is sometimes lost. Individual mentors sometimes lose this temptation on their own. I think sometimes mentors have too much input into how the robot is designed and how it works.

I like Vex because it takes away a large amount of that potential. Students do not need grown-ups to do things for them: from what I’ve seen, students want to work on their robots - the mentor’s job is to order the pizza and maybe offer a pointer here and there, which is fine by me. My approach is extremely low budget and student-centric. I do not touch tools unless it is to show a student how to use it. I want students to come up with ideas and execute them. I would rather have my students build a robot that they designed and built themselves that loses every match than a robot that they had little input in, little time designing, and less time building, win every match. I see students doing things with a small amount of support as being more inspirational and more educational than a team with a five plus figure operating budget having a half dozen mentors presenting solutions. Both may be beneficial for students, but I see the latter a misuse of the program’s potential.

An experiment: walk around an FRC pit, and an FTC pit and talk to teams. How do students refer to their robots? Is it “the robot” or “our robot” does “the robot” have six wheels, or does “our robot” have six wheels. When students own the design and the robot, they are proud of “their” design, not “the” design.

I know this is theoretical and perhaps controversial – I am not painting every FRC team with the same brush: where teams come from and how they operate is diverse and ranges from amazing to terrible, and it is impossible to make judgments on all teams. This is not my intention. My point is that there is a potential problem here, in that overenthusiastic adults can jeopardize student ownership of the project. This can stem from the money involved. People want a tangible return on investment.

Vex has an advantage of avoiding the problem of ownership by not needing sponsors, or heavy mentoring. As outlined before, Vex teams do not need to rely on outside funding. Because Vex is a system based on design and not fabrication, you do not need heavy support from mentors to fabricate parts or use machines.

I see fabrication as a small part of the whole when it comes to science and technology: designing, I feel, is more important than straight fabrication. It is more important to know why we are building a bridge than it is to build one. Mentors can be parents or teachers or adults without a formal technical background: students can try out ideas, and if it doesn’t work, take the robot apart and try another solution. Vex is a platform students can use with mentors as guides: when I used Vex in my classroom, I would let students to figure things out on their own: I would not simply give them the answers. I feel they learned a lot more by going through the process of creatively designing and using the mathematical and conceptual tools I have taught them than simply constructing a guided solution.

I see Vex as being much more conducive to a student driven process. Vex allows the Constructivist principles to be utilized: students aren’t told that something won’t work by an expert: they can see it not work, understand why it doesn’t it work by watching it fail, and then use that understanding to try a better design. With standard metal parts and hex bolts, there is more to gain by trying new things than there is to lose. With FRC, such an experiment could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, use up time from the packed six-week schedule, and potentially be dangerous with the types of equipment being used. The Vex platform by nature does not have that constraint.


All this being said about why I like the Vex platform, I am at a loss to understand why FIRST would move away from it. I think some of the reasoning behind the decision lies in the reasons I have given as to why I like Vex so much: it has the potential of taking teams away from FRC, and take some prestige away from the companies that fund FRC teams. For the cost of one FRC team, a company can sponsor five or even six Vex teams, and not use employee hours or resources. Look at the growth of the FTC program, and compare it to FRC. FTC is poised to outstrip FRC in terms of numbers of schools and teams, and this is only its third year, and it has been under a cloud of this platform change since the championships of last year.

It is important to note that Vex and FRC are reasonable to compare with each other because they are drawing from the same pool of constituents. The two programs also compare and constrast well with my experiences and observations drawn from my involvement with both programs.

Vex has its limitations, but I see some of those limitations as strengths: confining materials to the kit takes money out of the equation, taking the competition down to a level where students are competing designs in which money and mentors are less significant factors. Students can lead and experiment without the pressure of a four, five, or six figure budget depending on their decisions. Schools or organizations outside of schools easily handle it without outside help. Moreover, the platform has great tech support and fosters a central online community from a diverse group of people that have a commonality in the tools they are using.

I see no real problem with the Vex platform, notwithstanding the fact that now people have invested thousands of dollars of materials in the platform. I personally own about $2000 dollars worth of materials. The school where I work owns about $6000 worth. I am going to continue to use Vex in my classroom, until the time comes when Vex is no longer serving the best interests of my students. That time is not now.

I do not feel that this platform change is in the best interests of the FIRST participants. I would be highly interested to know what has been discussed in meetings behind closed doors that triggered this reasoning. I am willing to entertain the possibility that that politics and money may be involved, as they unfortunately often are.

Quite frankly, I see no compelling reason to shift from it, particularly with the FTC program gaining so much momentum. I think that is part of the reason behind the transition: FRC’s “little brother” as one experienced FRC mentor put it in Atlanta last year (before I strongly corrected him) has the potential to outshine it’s bigger sibling. Vex gives me the ability to instill the ideals I value and to teach the content I want to teach much better than any other platform that I know of: it is the perfect mix of FRC and FLL, distilled into a single supported product that can be used to make sophisticated designs out of the box.

The statement that was released to the public about the new product makes a few disparaging comments about the Vex product, and I think it does what that mentor did in Atlanta: It puts down students that I have seen get excited, interested and inspired by the program. Particularly the line inferring that Vex is a “toy.” Vex is not a toy – it is a robotics platform. It is a launching pad. It is a great teaching tool. I think that even if the language was not meant to come off as such, it gives a feeling of how some people view the Vex platform, which is unfortunate and misguided, a lot like the decision to abandon this platform as the program is gaining momentum exponentially. I see a lot of teams moving over to a competition that keeps the format and platform of the FVC competition.

Now, I know some people will like what I had to say, some people will not. Quite frankly, the cries of me not being “GP” will fall on my deaf ears. I don’t care how many green lights I have next to my name. I never have and never will.

Slogans are not solutions, and I will work to do the best for my students, regardless of what people say about it. I have loyalties to ideas, not products or names. Saying something is or is not an example of Gracious Professionalism is no substitute for valuing creativity, individuality, and elegance in design. To get the behavior right, you need to start with the right values, what you call it is irrelevant.

Robotics is a tool, nothing more. I am choosing the tool that I feel best does the job I am working on at the moment and in this post I have presented a concise argument of reasons for doing so.

I think that’s about all I have to say for the moment.

I completely agree that Vex is a great learning tool. 294 always puts rookie members into FTC during the fall so that, come spring, they’re a little more prepared for the build. It would be a shame to abandon Vex now (especially since we have so many Vex kits lying around).

A suggestion I would like to make is that FTC become even more like FRC. As it is, teams are only allowed to use Vex parts and a few minor materials. However, I see no reason that, with regulation, teams shouldn’t be allowed to fabricate custom parts for the bots. Obviously, this would have to be constrained a bit, but it would open up the possibility for so much more creativity and ingenuity. In short, Vex should become the KOP of FTC.

I have to disagree with opening up the FTC competition to more parts.

Right now, FTC serves as a great platform for a competition model which brings teams as close as possible to each other without rules constraining specific robot design. The difference between the “have” teams and “have not” teams is a lot smaller when you are constricted to only using the Vex parts.

While it would be pretty cool to CNC 0.125" Lexan frames for Vex robots, there are other competitions where that is already possible. And with Vex striving to be a low-cost competition that’s easy to get involved with, keeping the parts constrained to just Vex parts gives the FTC teams who aren’t allied with FRC teams (and their resources) as much viability to win and do well as FRC-based FTC teams.

FRC, FTC, and FLL are all different, and all have their own places for a reason. Forcing one to act like another will only leave a void that it once occupied.

If they did that, two classes would be the only way to make it feasible. I have mentored some vex teams that just have a vex kit and a classroom (some not even that, just a garage). The fact that no tools beyond a hacksaw/ Dremel (if that) are needed makes a big difference. If simple fabricated parts were allowed, how can a team with those resources compete with one fielded by an FRC team with a manual mill and lathe? A VMC and CNC lathe?

My belief is that the main part of the thread (title) is about the platform change. There will be a lot of discussion on this one.

I for one do not support the change because of the cost to teams. There are a lot of schools that have invested heavily into the VEX line. I personally have over $700.00 invested so that I could learn the challenges that the kids have. I know that our school had 7 teams entered in competition last year. Two of which were from our robotics team and consisted of only rookies mentored by team members.

There is a lot of discussion going on now with VEX or FTC and from what I see, VEX is winning basically on $$$$$$$. Teamwork is essential and that includes sponsors, business and FIRST. I know that branding is important but even a BMW for $15,000.00 will not be purchased when people have invested heavily into another product and are happy with the performance of that product. FIRST really needs to decide what is important, the goals of FIRST or market share, sponsor involvement, making money, or what ever excuse comes along. Brand loyalty is one thing but giving up a great program because you need to reinvest in a totally new one is both unnecessary and unwise.

While I have many thoughts/opinions on this matter (as you may well imagine), I’m going to refrain from that part of the public discussion for now. However, a bit of a history lesson might help others understand more clearly what the intermediate program was always intended for (at least from my feeble perspective).

When I was first invited to be part of the FVC (now FTC) GDC three years ago, we went through a series of weekly conference calls leading up to a weekend face-to-face meeting in NH to do the bulk of game-specific design. For half of our first day together we were joined by three members of the FRC GDC. These icons helped us to understand what our role was, how FVC was different from and the same as FRC, and some tips on how best to build a game that would serve the teams and the mission of FIRST well. During that morning, and all throughout the weekend, two words kept coming up – “accessible” and “affordable.” In my three years working with this group those two words remain a large part of the discussion and can still be found in the opening paragraph of the program description here:

Somewhere I still have photos of our math on a whiteboard from that meeting three years ago. We were insistant upon (and many of us still are) having as small a window as possible between the “bare bones / squarebot team” and the “well funded team” as well as having as low of an overall cost as possible. Clearly, as a GDC, we’ve always been interested in serving a population where there were many barriers to being in FRC as well as providing FRC programs an opportunity to involve students if they so chose.

That mantra has remained consistent throughout the past three seasons. A “squarebot team” could compete with as little as $450 in equipment (starter kit, programming kit, rechargeable battery pack) and if you look at the most “well funded teams” (full ten motors, extra metal and other Vex goodies), you’ll find about $1,000-$1,200 of robot. Because the equipment is completely reusable from year to year, even a “squarebot team” could build inventory over time.

The other financial part of the team’s investment in FVC/FTC has been fees. This is something that takes place outside of the work of the GDC. For the past three years, teams have encountered two fees that total around $450-$500 depending on the local tournament fee. So, on the high end, a “squarebot team” is entirely in the game (one event) for just under $1,000 (not including travel or lodging) and the “well funded team,” for one event (without travel or lodging) spends around $1,700.

While money is a big part of ensuring “accessible and affordable,” resources (human and otherwise) have always been on the minds of this GDC as well. For the past three seasons, in addition to Vex equipment, a team only needs wrenches in the kit, tin snips and/or a hacksaw, and a file to build the robot. Other than Vex, the allowable materials have been limited to rubber bands, no-slip pad, and thread locker for specific reasons - to keep the gap from widening and to avoid the need for any custom fabrication. While custom parts certainly are very cool our group has always felt that the mission of this program was better served by staying with what could be obtained within the system.

Besides, the more rules we write, the more we need to police things, the heavier the Q&A load, the harder it is to be a good ref or inspector, etc, etc. These are items that FRC already combats every year and we recognize the strain it puts on people. Our volunteer GDC already covers the Q&A seven days per week (minus holidays), from September kickoff through the April Championship and the volunteer base we pull from for events includes many (if not most) folks who are already involved in at least one other FIRST program. That’s not including the time it takes to design the game, write all of the documentation, do the CAD work on the field, help guide/produce an animation, consult on referee training calls, configure the Q&A and interactive manual, and more. All of these factors play a role when we are doing our best to provide a quality and inspiring experience for every team.

In addition, game pieces and field elements have been affordable and low cost options (even the use of cardboard works with much of it) have been available. A single adult, perhaps with support from other teams or online resources, could easily help a team get to competition despite a perceived or real lack of expertise, thus opening the door to inspire as many students as possible with a FIRST experience.

So, there’s my little history lesson and brain dump for you to ponder. As you evaluate the changover and what it means for you and/or your team or event, I hope you find a few of these little insights helpful.

[important edit] Just to clarify, my insights do not include any knowledge of the new platform at all. I’m not involved in the platform/future decision process in any way. I’m learning about these new developments at the same time you are. / important edit]

I think I can say that I agree with virtually every point that Ben made. From my perspective, the overarching reasons for the success of FVC/FTC has been the accessibility, flexibility and user-friendliness of the Vex system. Vex’s intimidation factor is about as close to zero as you can get, yet (or maybe partly because of that) creative students are able to conceptualize and perfect incredibly complex designs using just hand tools and bright minds.

Since I’ve taken on the FTA role in FRC I had to give up mentoring (it was that or get a good divorce lawyer), but I still squeeze in the opportunity to help students compete by refing at the Delaware FTC event each year. I come away from those events convinced that FTC puts technology development in the hands of a greater proportion of the series’ particpants than FRC, and that these students are every bit as inspired and passionate about their endeavors. All that for a fraction of the capital and human cost of FRC.

Don’t get me wrong: I love FRC. I think it is a great program and expect to continue to devote myself to furthering it for years to come. But FRC is not user-friendly. FRC is very hard work for everyone involved. FRC is downright intimidating. That is where FTC has stepped in and filled a huge void: schools that cannot afford the cost or provide insanely dedicated leadership. Schools and home-schools without much in the way of resources and meeting just a few hours a week can provide an FTC program. Schools that FRC scares away, whether because of cost, resources, mentors, facilities or what have you have jumped on board with FTC and provided a program that really does inspire their students.

The very little that has been revealed about the new FTC platform worries me. Looking at the pictures and reading Ken’s words don’t give me a warm, furry feeling about the user-friendliness, cost-effectiveness or accessibility of the new system. Heavier-duty aluminum parts sound nice at first, but what the pictures revealed didn’t look as well-designed as Vex’s plastic and bent-sheetmetal components.

A more powerful controller in nice, but is it really needed for the typesof games FTC presents? One of the nice parts about the Vex controller was the similarity to the FRC RC, facilitating cross-over between these series. I used my Vex kit to learn how to use the CMUcam to better understand how it works in the “real world” of a FIRST venue. Will this be possible next year?

I hope that in retrospect we will feel that FIRST made a good decision to change from the proven Vex platform, but the new one will have to be awfully good to compensate all the “early-adopters” for their lost investment and, if it isn’t as accessible as Vex, for the number of teams that are likely to go elsewhere.

As of now I have no idea why FIRST is changing platforms from VEX to another more expensive one. I have been involved in FVC (FTC) for 2 years now, one as a senior competing on a one man privately funded team, and this year as a mentor for a large high school team. I’m telling you can understand my perspective.

I’m a great supporter of the VEX kit. The price of the kit as well as the ease of use for beginners, with the potential for complex designs is very appealing.

  1. One major advantage of the price is the ability for community teams not funded by schools to emerge and be very sucessful. As far as I know, this is not very common in FRC. Some famous community teams in FTC include (team overdrive, 3 regional wins, 2 inspire award wins this year; Sharon teams unlimited, myoptics, angelbots; VEXY things; driven robotics). None of these teams are based in a school, and with the low price of the kit and registeration they have the ability to be even better than school-based teams. This allows students who cannot get school support a chance to compete.

  2. I have seen how easy it is to build a basic design with VEX firsthand many times. I once left my parts and the manual with a grade 8 student with no experience, and he was able to build a squarebot with a manipulator in 2 hours. This student is planning to start a team next year.
    The ability to build a robot relatively fast compared to FRC by purely students is a definite advantage. This is especially true for senior students who need to focus on schoolwork in their final year. Here in Canada, pretty much the only marks that matter are in the senior year. This means students have very little time to spend on extracurriculars.

  3. VEX allows a lot of complexity in its designs. I am not an engineering student so I cannot exactly name everything I’ve seen, but many solutions to the game problems are very creative and teaches students a lot about designing (just look at designs by VEXY Things, overdrive, NERDs, and of course simbotics and many other teams).
    I personally learned everything about engineering from VEX, and it has actually been a great help for me even in my math/business double degree program. In fact, at this moment I am using the VEX kit to prototype a product idea we have for our New Venture business project.

I hope FIRST changes its mind on changing platforms. If not, the school am I coaching will be faced with the difficult decision of FTC or IFI.

We may not be famous yet, but we are an Explorer Post, not a school team. Being up here in the corner of the country it’s tough to do more than one regional. There is an FTC event in Oregon, but they actively discourage non-Oregon teams from participation. Once you get past there, we would have to fly, and that has not been an option. We’ll see the rest of the FTC family in Atlanta this year, though.

Is there some source of information that I haven’t heard about that says explicitly that FIRST is completely moving away from vEx and creating a kit that WILL cost $1000+ per team? I’ve only seen a post about the possible new system in a blog that gave no specifics regarding the game and robot rules. Has this been released yet? It seems to me that people are jumping to conclusions with no factual support.

I don’t believe FIRST would so blindingly destroy a great competition such as this simply because they wanted a platform change. I’m sure a lot of thought has gone into the effects of said change, more than has been released at this time.

EDIT: I just read up the new post on the blog and saw that FIRST is taking steps to ensure money spent in previous years is not lost.

There has recently been an email blast and update on the blog.

Apparently we won’t be needing machining, which is a great thing to hear.

edit: “The new platform allows us to challenge teams with real world robotics issues.”

I’m a bit worried this means they will be converting FTC to a competition like FLL. Nothing against FLL, but I really like the FTC competition format, with teams facing each other, the way it is.

I agree with nearly everything said here. It appears that FTC is moving from being FTC to being FRC’s minor league. Over the past few years, FRC has moved in, what is in my opinion, a very good direction, with additions such as the kitbot. It has narrowed the gap between my team and well funded teams in as many ways as possible. The only insurmountable difference remaining, to us, is time. We cannot put in the time that other teams can into their robots. Vex allowed for this.

This new kit looks like half-scale FRC. This sounds like a good thing to teams that can already easily do FRC. But to teams that struggle like mine, it seems scary. We already have six weeks of sleep deprivation, we see the fall vex competitions almost as a resting period.

I also agree with Artdutra that an open-material FTC would be bad. My team’s most advanced tool is a table saw. The most advanced tool we have ever had a need to use in FTC is a power screwdriver. There are teams out there with CNC 5-axis mills. As of now, these are not needed for FTC. Considering the mission of FTC, allowing more materials would widen the gap between the teams that can afford to take advantage of this to an extreme. As I said in an earlier thread on this topic, it would be like giving us 5 kitbots to make our FRC robots from, and then only asking nicely for teams to not use any metal beyond this.

Our FRC team of about 35 members fields FOUR FTC teams, as well as teams in independant competitions like savage soccer. $1000 for the base kit, plus extra parts, plus entry fees, the costs for a single team are beginning to look like FRC.

And finally, every improvement listed is meaningless in my eyes. I have never stripped a vex gear. I have never unintentionally bent a piece of vex metal. I have never had a vex robot damaged in-match due to anything other than my mistakes. I have never wished for a faster processer, and have had horrible experiences with the NXT. The Vex system is more than capable of fullfilling the challenges given in FTC so far, which have been just as challenging as any FRC game. If it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it, especially in a way that will ruin the experience for many teams out there in the process.

EDIT: Just saw the new blog post. Although I am relieved that it is intended for no machining to be required, it dosen’t mean that it can’t be done. The arm here looks to have a lot of “blank” metal. Vex really has nothing further that can be done to the parts. This looks much further from that than I would like.

Aw, that just means you weren’t trying. I can send you a dozen or two stripped 12-tooth gears… Of course, we’ve never stripped or broken a bigger gear, or bent any metal in any sort of permanent way.

I have seen stripped vex gears a few times (never done it myself though.) However, this seems like much more of a “wouldn’t metal pinions be nice” problem than a “OMG VEX SUX” problem.

Yeah, It’d be very nice for vexlabs to sell metal gears of the same size and shape. Can’t blame them for not, I doubt there is a huge market for them.

I have yet to encounter any mechanism in Vex that absolutely needs aluminum gears or chain. I’ve barely ever snapped the plastic chain, and only once have I stripped a tooth off a gear. (And that was because the limit switch used to protect the arm mechanism had been become unplugged).

Especially with Vex robots, if the mechanism you have keeps snapping chain, or it keeps stripping gears, you should probably reconsider the basic design of the mechanism, instead of just going with the “get a bigger hammer” route.

On a less than 10 pound robot powered by a [fingernail-sized] motor, if you need aluminum gears, something is wrong. :ahh:

I try not to post about FTC (it will always be FVC to me) that often because I am no longer involved in it. I will say this though, Vex has helped to shape me into what I am today. Prior to my first FRC season in '06 I was on our vex team. I learned so much in a short 2 month period that I was amazed. I Liked it so much because I had no design limits, I was told to make it work.

While this may not be the appropriate way to team some, it was perfect for me. As the naive freshman I was, I would just submit to what others told me, but this experience of building a robot taught me to stand up for what I believed in was right (and would work).

I personally invested about $700 or so in vex at the end of '06 (much was bought half off from Radioshack), and that year I went to monty madness for the first time. I built a robot by myself in my room that was the best robot there. This shows that there is no actual need for a mentor like Ben said in his original post.

I all I believe that the vex platform is the best teaching tool I have ever encountered through my education. I have used legos, knex, and all of the other mainstream building toys and Vex is on so much of a higher level. I would have to say that should FIRST drop the vex system they would also lose many teams.

Like people have said before vex is such an inexpensive teaching tool (between 600-2000 av. per season), that many will continue to use it regardless of if FIRST uses it or not. If I was still on an FTC team I would more than likely continue to use vex and find a new program, rather than continue to use FTC and change platforms. Then Again this is all my opinion. Sorry for any mistakes or typo, I’m rather tired and I need to sleep lol.

Rick, don’t forget there is also an FTC tournament in Vancouver, which encourages non-B.C. teams to compete.

However given that many of the B.C. schools have invested heavily in VEX components, the future of many teams here may lie outside of FIRST.

FIRST must be well aware of what they stand to lose by giving up on VEX. Either that, or they haven’t been listening. Thus they must have good reasons for heading in a new direction, but I’ll be waiting for more details on capabilities and pricing before I’ll commit to following in that direction… it has taken a couple years to build up enough VEX kits that I can work on them in class with my students, and it will be very difficult to completely replace that set up all at once. Certainly there is room to improve VEX… optical encoders that can tell direction of travel and potentiometers to measure arm position are but two things on the wish list… but it seems that IFI is actively improving and expanding their product line.

I would also encourage people to remember that a new FRC controller is in the works. It may be possible that the new FTC controller is a preview of what is coming in FRC.

So far I am still waiting to be impressed…


This is an important point to consider for those who have been complaining about how the FTC programming would no longer be similar to FRC. If both control systems are changing, it is very likely that both are being developed together. There will be major changes, I’m sure, but I would be willing to bet we will see a large degree of similarity between the new FTC and FRC controllers.

Personally, i’m excited about this change. My team started with FVC and we have done relatively well with the system. It is easy to use, easy to maintain and easy to tear apart for the following year. There are a few things i am excited about with this new system: stronger parts and an expanded line of sensors.

I have one concern and that’s price. $1000 for a kit seems a rather large jump from the ~$400 you need to compete with the vex kit. Since i have no idea what will be included with the kit, i have no idea how to make my budget for next year. Is the $1000 just a bare bones kit or does it contain everything that an experienced team will want? If it is a minimal kit, how can we purchase addons and how much are they going to cost? What is the expected cost for an “average” team? I wish FIRST would give us the information they have right now rather than giving it piecemeal through a blog. They say the new kits will be available in May for August delivery, but i need to make a decision now to request funds for next school year.

More information is needed sooner rather than later. FIRST, please adjust how this change is going to happen. I like the change. I want the new kit. I just need information ASAP.