The FIRST robotics competition is a high school event that comes once a year. The event is becoming a huge thing and many, many people have heard about it. In 2007, I was asked to be a mentor for a first-time team in Papillion, Nebraska. It was the first year that a team competed from every state in the union. I grabbed a few Vex kits to keep up with our programming group at the high school. Let no one kid you, these kits can be challenging for new and old alike.
To learn more about FIRST, go here: http://www.usfirst.org/
To learn more about Vex kits, go here: http://www.vexlabs.com
Above is the robot that Papillion High Schools team are making - in the picture is the basic frame and brains. This is NOT the robot that we will be talking about on this page. The robots on this page are mine that I use for prototyping ideas. To see the webpage for the robot above, visit www.bigredrobotics.com.
Vex kits cost about $300 retail but Radio Shack sold out their entire line to Innovation First in 2006. However, they cleared their shelves by having a sale on the basic kit for $100. They are all about gone now (probably by the time you read this, they will be totally gone). Our local RS dealer helped me out with finding some - we live in Nebraska and mine came from South Dakota and Arizona! You can still get the kit at Vexlabs.com but you will have to pay retail. You can also try eBay. The Vex kit is a great beginning-to-advanced robotics kit. It includes a remote control and, with the optional programming package, the ability to download user programs into its 32 kilobyte memory. Very nifty.
The default project in the Vex kit is a basic 'squarebot' shown above. The kit has all the parts to make the robot as shown except for the battery - a battery box comes with the kit instead of the 7.2 volt battery as seen.
Our group is doing the challenge outlined here: http://www.usfirst.org/uploadedFiles/Who/Media_Center/Press_Releases_and_FIRST_News/07Kickoff_press_release_FINAL.pdf
The main competition robot is quite big (and expensive! - see the whole pattootie at www.bigredrobotics.com ) but I used Vex kits to prototype some ideas. One way to make points in the real competition is to lift a robot up at least 4" as the last thing done in the 2 minute 15 second match. Our team (a new one) decided to concentrate on this task first.
Here is the Squarebot frame with a platform top. The platform ramp raises and lowers - there is a movie of it linked to the last picture on this page. Or, you can click here to see it. The pieces for the platform were made in the shop - they aren't available in the Vex kit. The picture above shows the stock battery box that comes in the kit.
Here is a modified Squarebot with larger tires and some autonomous sensors. This will be the 'bot that climbs up the ramp in the picture just before this one. This 'bot also has some Mechano pieces that were used to mount sensors.
Here is a side view of the bigger tires necessary to get ground clearance and get up the ramp. Click on the picture above for a movie of the bot going up the ramp (and of the ramp working).