Four teams of middle and high school students from Iowa are competing in this week’s National VEX Robotics Championships. Jim Schulte, president of the CREATE Foundation, says the three-day competition in eastern Nebraska is pulling together some of the country’s best young scientific minds.
“We have teams that are coming in from the East Coast, Virginia, and from the West Coast, a couple of programs coming in from California that are here every year,” Schulte says. “I believe, of all the years we’ve done this, that this is probably the deepest and strongest set of robots and teams that we’ve ever fielded.”
He says the competition is more like a sporting event and the finals has the excitement of a championship basketball game. The robots have to perform chores, like picking up bean bags, but there’s much more to it.
“It’s about the technology, it’s about strategy,” Schulte says. “These robots are also programmed, so you have two components. The match starts with a 20-second autonomous, where it can only use the on-board computer and sensors, and then it goes over into about a two-minute remote-control session.”
He says the event is a combination science fair, sporting event and technology expo. More than 200 teams are taking part in the national contest. “Twenty-five states and Puerto Rico is sending a team this year in a three-day competition,” Schulte says. “It serves as inspiration and preparation for these students as they go on, hopefully, to degrees and careers in science and engineering.”
The championships are taking place in Ralston, Nebraska, just south of Omaha, running today through Saturday. There are two teams of students from Council Bluffs in the running, as well as two teams from Cedar Rapids.