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USU-Backed Teams Headed to Robotics World Championship Tournament

Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013

a USU-sponsored robotics team competing

California, here we come. Two teams from Utah State University's Design Academy will compete in the high school and middle school divisions of the VEX Robotics World Championship in Anaheim, Calif., April 17-20.

Two teams from Utah State University’s Design Academy will compete in the high school and middle school divisions of the VEX Robotics World Championship  in Anaheim, Calif., April 17-20, along with a  team of university students who will represent USU in the college division.

The Design Academy is offered as an after school activity to local middle and high school students interested robot design. VEX Robotics is an international program and competitions were first introduced to Utah by Gary Stewardson, associate professor in USU’s School of Applied Sciences, Technology and Education. Local competitions have since expanded to include schools from Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado.

The VEX Robotics World Championship will host more than 500 middle school, high school and college teams from more than 20 countries. Throughout the competition season the teams have used VEX robotics parts to design and build robots specifically for this year’s “Sack Attack” game. The competition, which takes place in a 12-by-12 foot arena, involves two pairs of allied teams working against each other to use their robots to gather and stack bean bags in various goals. Defense also comes into play as teams try to remove bags from their opponents’ goals, protect their own goals and block others from scoring. Robots work autonomously for the first 15 seconds of the round and are then driven by a team member for the remaining time, two minutes.

The Design Academy qualifiers are two of seven Mountain Region teams that qualified for the world championships. Other teams from Utah that will compete at the tournament are from Davis High School and Monticello-based Raptor Robotics. A team from Two Rivers High School in Ogden has also been invited to the event for its outstanding entry in a video challenge to promote the robotics program.

The program and world championship has grown rapidly in recent years.

“It’s the fastest growing robotics competition and the largest…It’s not only taking off here in Utah, but all over the world,” said Stewardson, who estimates that more than 7,000 teams competed to qualify for Worlds this year.

For the mentors of the students, the VEX competitions are a fun gateway to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“There’s a lot of educational value behind it,” said Stewardson, who explained that students are learning about a lot more than programming and design.  “They’re developing what we call soft skills — the ability to work cooperatively in a team, the ability to communicate your ideas.”

Stewardson believes these skills are becoming increasingly important in the STEM fields.

Because of the structure of the competition students must learn to share responsibilities within their own team and learn to work well with their competitors, who they may be allied with during the competition and with whom they may not share a language.

“They develop a level of confidence and self-efficacy because students have to communicate with other students and cooperate,” said Stewardson.

The VEX Robotics World Championship kicks off Wednesday, April 17, and the champions of each division will be determined after end of three days of qualifying rounds. The event includes an evening highlighted by the much-anticipated unveiling of the rules and objectives for next year’s game.

Writers: Elaine Taylor,; Lynnette Harris, 435-797-2189,

Contact: Gary Stewardson, 435-797-1802,

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