VEX beats Tetrix and others in bid to develop a robotics competition for the TSA

** The Technology Student Association (TSA) and Innovation First International Announce a Partnership to Introduce a Signature Robotics Competition Using the VEX Robotics Design System **

                                                                                                *Competition to Further Stimulate Middle School and High School Student Interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)*

GREENVILLE, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Innovation First International, creators of the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics program, and the Technology Student Association (TSA), a national organization dedicated to increasing technological literacy in middle school and high school students, today announced the creation of a national robotics competition that will bring Innovation First’s VEX Robotics Design System to 150,000 TSA students across the country.

The TSA VEX Robotics Competition will provide students with a hands-on co-curricular competition for learning about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and will complement the existing technology-related competitions offered by TSA. TSA VEX Robotics tournaments will be conducted in conjunction with the organization’s state conferences beginning in spring 2010 in approximately ten states followed by a championship event at the National TSA Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, which will be held on June 28 through July 2, 2010. TSA anticipates additional states will host events in the 2010-2011 school year.

Read full release. (pdf attached)

Innovation_First_and_TSA-Partnership-11192009.pdf (62.3 KB)

Innovation_First_and_TSA-Partnership-11192009.pdf (62.3 KB)

Today 150,000 students, already interested in STEM, have direct access to affordable and accessible head-to-head robotics competition (and related curricular and co-curricular experiences) for the first time. Out of all that I’ve ever been involved with related to robotics competition and education this is by far the most important contribution, albeit small in comparison to many others, I’ve ever made. I’m very proud to have played a small role in supporting this partnership and venture and look forward to see how things flourish from this starting point.

It’s my personal opinion that the Tetrix “Kit” is horrible and about twice as costly as it should be. TSA choosing Vex was a no-brainer. Palm Bay High students have been using vex parts for TSA events for years.

I know that life is rarely simple or one-dimensional; but I occasionally like to view the Vex program as one of FIRST’s most compelling success stories.

We all build on the big and small accomplishments of those who have come before us.

I suggest today is a good day to pause and pass out pats-on-the-back for everyone inspiring students.

I say this to the hard-charging team at IFI (plus a zillion volunteers), to the culture-changing team at FIRST HQ (plus a zillion volunteers), to the public servants at NASA, at the Patent Office, in halls of our government, in our schools, and in our other institutions, to the corporate sponsors that invest in their/our futures, to the other complementary robotics/STEM programs, to everyone involved

Today is a good day.


I would disagree. I would have to say the Vex is on of FIRST’s most compelling screw ups. FIRST shot themselves in the foot big time when they moved to the Tetrix platform.

I have yet to find an FTC team that does not complain about how expensive and cumbersome the Tetrix platform is. Many well established FTC teams are considering or have already moved to VRC.

Look at how poorly the FTC FMS ran last year. By Atlanta, teams had to bring their own laptops to the field and run their robots outside of the FMS. This did not leave a good feeling in many of the FTC teams that competed at Championships last year.

Without a doubt, Vex is kicking the snot out of FTC/Tetrix. Look at how many more VRC teams there are, look at how many more VRC tournaments there are, look at the projected growth numbers. VRC is winning in every category. Way to go IFI, keep up the good work. Congrats on this partnership!


Sounds like what you are telling me is that the Tetrix product line that FTC uses is still having growing pains; but that the VEX products that IFI, Radio Shack and FIRST collaborated to create and initially popularize, are doing well.

Hence, to the extent that FIRST played a large role in getting Vex off the ground, the Vex product line is a success story for FIRST (and everyone else involved).

Whether FIRST’s decision to stop using Vex in the FTC was wise (given what is known publicly) - Well, that horse has already been thoroughly beaten.


The life-status of an equine animal has never affected the degree of corporal punishment administered on this BBS.

This is not another “Tetrix vs Vex” thread (despite the title).

Great job IFI team in all of the effort given to promote science and technology, and inspiring thousands of students at a low cost!

Great Back to Back Posts!

Rick TYler: The life-status of an equine animal has never affected the degree of corporal punishment administered on this BBS.

and then the signature on Barry Bonzack’s post:

No animals were harmed in the making of this post.

I’m pretty excited about all the TSA students starting with the program. We have a large number of TSA groups in Pennsylvania. It will be cool to go to their contests and see what ideas they have.

As a bonus it’s another huge pool of students that may get interested in robotics and then feed into FRC. At the least it’s a start in getting students interested in engineering.

Congrats go to IFI for not only having a great product in VEX, but also having a marketing team to make deals like this. While we all think that robotics and VEX sell themselves, it takes a huge marketing and sales push to get this kind of commitment.

While there is truth in this statement, it was National TSA that went seeking a “signature robotics event” in this case, first asking questions very informally as far back as three years ago, evaluating all of its options, then beginning formal talks a year ago with IFI. TSA has been looking to add head-to-head robotics competition to its long list of competitive STEM events for awhile and really did their homework on this one, so let’s give credit where credit is due. On the IFI side it was a matter of recognizing the obvious fit, listening closely to TSA’s vision and needs and delivering on something that’s a good fit for all. This is the main reason I enjoy my consulting work with IFI so much - vision and meeting needs of the customer.

If you think you like what you’ve read about in the announcement so far, just wait - there’s more to come. :slight_smile:

Actually, in a way FIRST can be acknowledged for much of the success and the successful rate that VEX is growing and making inroads in areas and schools. Many of the people that are passionate about VEX and who are growing it, currently have very strong ties to FIRST and are products, themselves, of the FIRST program, initiative, philosophy,competitions or have been - taking their experiences and knowledge gained from one program and pouring them into another.

It doesn’t have to be a versus situation but will remain so as long as it is treated as such.

Just a thought.


And that is the one blemish that sits on this whole discussion. The creation and implementation of the TSA/IFI program is a wonderful accomplishment. It is one of which both TSA and IFI should be proud. However, “VEX beats Tetrix and others…” is one of the most off-putting introductions to this story that I could imagine. To present it in a chest-thumping “Look - we beat Tetrix!” yell of bravado is both unnecessary and short-sighted.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: If between them FIRST, IFI, BotBall, BEST, and PLTW are collectively dedicating even a single neuron firing to the contemplation of how to beat the “other guys,” then collectively they are all fools.

Let’s look at some reality. TSA will reach 150,000 students this year[1], the FIRST Robotics Competition will reach an estimated 41,000 students[2], Project Lead The Way manages to contact 500,000 students[3], BotBall touches approximately 5,000[4], and the VEX competitions add about 6,000 more[5]. That is a grand total of about 700,000 students involved in these programs today.

As of 2007, there are an estimated 16,400,000 high school students in the U.S.[6]. So collectively, these guys are affecting a grand, whopping, huge 4.2 percent of the U.S. high school student population. That is right – 4.2 percent. Over 95% of the current high school students in the United States are not engaged by any of them.

Given a potential market that is 25 times larger than the entire population currently served by these programs – and remembering that it has taken nearly 20 years for them to grow just to this point – the ONLY focus that anyone should have is how to reach that larger market.

The publicly-stated goal of each of these organizations is to provide inspiration and education on STEM topics to those that have not yet “seen the light.” You don’t do that by trying to convince those already converted that your particular phrasing of the message is better. You do it by reaching out to those that have never heard the message in the first place. A little less time spent on turf wars, and a little more time spent on reaching the 95% of students who are oblivious to your existence, might be wise.


[1] source: Technology Student Association web site:
[2] source: 2008 FIRST Annual Report, adjusted for 10% annual growth
[3] source: Project Lead The Way impact statement,
[4] source: BotBall funding proposal, 2008 application
[5] source: discussions with VEX program representatives at 2009 national championships
[6] source: 2007 Databook, National Center for Educational Statistics


Thank you Dave! Way too easy to be drawn into a “versus” discussion. So… to hijack this thread for a minute longer…
our homework should be, what students have you brought into the fold this year, that would normally turn away from STEM subject areas? What are you doing to reach the 95%? (hmmm… That would make a great button.) It’s relatively easy to get a student who is already technically-inclined to join a robotics team. But what about those future NEMs like me? The humanities people? How are you showing them that technology is cool?
end of hijack thread
Congrats to IFI and TSA.

I’m just glad someone found a use for TSA- get kids ready for FIRST. removes tongue from cheek

Dave, how much overlap is included in those numbers, or are those estimates readily available? I know there are PLTW students on FIRST teams, as indicated by a PLTW-related question on average of once or twice per year on these forums. I’m pretty sure some folks do both BEST and FIRST, as evidenced by some discussion in the team registration thread for this year. We all know that a number of VRC teams/students are in FIRST as well. I’d even be willing to bet that there is overlap between BattleBots IQ and FIRST.

Also, how many of those are U.S. versus non-U.S. students? Sorry to the international folks out there, but if you count the international students, you REALLY need to add in the countries they’re from for better comparison. It’s like giving X overall statistic in American football, but you give the average across all levels, including all the pro teams, when you’re really talking about U.S. high school, college, and arena football, but not the NFL and the CFL (the Canadian counterpart to the NFL). You don’t get good data that way; in fact, you get the type of double-edged sword known as a statistic in the wrong place.

Just curious to see how the numbers change when you remove a couple of factors that can improve participation numbers. And add to the challenge of expansion, because who doesn’t like a challenge? We want people to know that we’re out there. We want people to give us a try for a season or so. But if they want to try VRC, BBIQ, BEST, Botball, the IEEE robotics competitions, whatever else you can come up with, then we have to let them do that without any form of penalty. Let’s face it, for some people, FIRST is not a good option. If we say, “FIRST or nothing” [insert other competition as appropriate], we just lost.

Allow me to digress a moment. Here at SDSM&T, there is a student organization that covers many of the competition teams–13 teams, at last count, with at least two more known to exist on campus. By analogy, the organization is the world of competitive robotics as inspiration, and the other teams are other methods of reaching out. So far so good? Well, nobody really cares whether you’re on Baja, Formula, Aero Design, ChemE Car, Ham Radio, or any other team, or multiple teams; in fact, I know of at least one person who is on two teams. Every team I just mentioned can stand for an individual robotics competition. Guess what? We shouldn’t care, either.

There’s more, though. Borrowing tools from other teams is a chronic habit in the main lab for these competition teams. So is supporting them and working together on projects that affect everybody (like fixing a garage door to the lab that you ran off its tracks while trying to get the large vehicles in out of a sudden rain). Sure, there’s some friction, but it’s quickly smoothed over as we work together. Is there any reason that we can’t do that with the non-FIRST competitions? I think not!

I do know that those VRC numbers are domestic (US only) as the total number of VRC teams worldwide is currently over 1,800. I can’t speak to the other programs directly at this time. And, yes, there is unquantifiable overlap as you suggest/explain that makes Dave’s percentage a “generous” estimate. I suppose all of that accentuates his point, doesn’t it?

In my almost 5 month vacation from Chief Delphi, I find it very appropriate** that the day I install Windows 7 and come to CD that this is the first thread I open.

I have quoted one my former mentors time and time again and I’ll quote him time and time again because no matter how much you love FIRST you can not deny the logic of his argument. (Note, this quote extends to life, not only FIRST.)

he went on to write

As I see this topic go in this direction, please keep the ideas of this post in mind.

At the end of the day, FIRST wants us to spread science and technology. Correct? By FIRST’s own goals, if Tetrix works better or Vex works better in different areas, gets different students, then in the end, does it really matter?

The end result is the same: more students inspired, more students involved, and hopefully more futures changed.

Pavan Davé

**For those who don’t remember, I am not a fan or avid supporter of FIRST rather their idea of inspiring and getting recognition for science and technology sings to me. My upbringing in robotics was diverse and being brought up outside a “glorified FIRST” bubble I have always spoken my mind, called it as I have seen it.

And yes Dave, get some Tylenol, I’m back!

I just wanted to reply to clear up a few things. There may be some confusion about the title, where it could look like I was comparing VEX Robotics Competition vs. FIRST Tech Challenge. I was referencing platforms, not programs – not all platforms are created equal. The VEX Robotics Competition is a program working towards the same goal as any of the programs mentioned above (FRC, FTC, FLL, JrFLL, BBIQ, TSA, PLTW, BEST, Botball, etc.) and everybody at VEX has been involved in nearly all of them at some level in our past. We believe in the vision and goals set out by each of these programs – get kids involved in and excited about science, technology, engineering and math. With that said, I am very excited about how the VEX Robotics Design System is continuing to evolve and provide thousands of students around the world with the tools necessary to compete at both the classroom level and at larger extracurricular competitions. We are especially proud of the new technology being added to the VEX product line, available in the next few months! No other platform comes close.

Since IFI has been underwriting Chief Delphi for quite a while now, it is certainly their right to use this as a forum for chest-beating and bragging. It is a testament to their professionalism that they generally do not do so, and when they have the ability to, it is in a muted and gracious way (such as this).

In my eyes, this is nothing more than “Coke beat Pepsi and others in a taste test” - nothing disparaging is said about Pepsi, just that in this respect, Coke is considered to be better.

VEX and IFI are two of an ever-expanding list of world-class companies that cross paths with FIRST Robotics.

This is actually the first time I’ve heard of TSA, being on the west coast. I’ll have to look into them more.

But congratulations to Vex – it’s a great set of tools =]

One thing that everyone needs to consider is – to make it so that more people participate, you also need to provide good stepping stones – to lower the entry barrier.

I really loved Vex when I started using it because of it’s well-documented parts – you could basically hand the Inventor’s guide to someone – tell them to read it – and reasonably expect them to know how the system works.