A comparison of FIRST and VEX (or VRC)

Posted by Lori Dale On August 9, 2016 Comments Off on A comparison of FIRST and VEX (or VRC)

      2014 FRC 10K Lakes 091 Vex Field

                                     A comparison of robot size.(shown on a field)

FRC Robots on an FRC field (from 2014)       and          Vex Robots on a VEX field


We frequently get asked about our program by people who are not aware of the fact that in the St. Cloud area there are 2 different and distinct robotics leagues, called FIRST and VEX. They also don’t know the differences between the two. We decided that this would be a good time to address the confusion between programs.

First of all (or should that be FIRST of all?) the league that the Gearheads are a part of is FIRST Robotics. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It is a different league than the one that runs VEX Robotics (also known as VRC), with a different schedule.

FIRST has 4 different programs for different ages of students. FLL Jr. (FIRST Lego League Jr. ) for grades K-4, FLL (FIRST Lego League ) for grades 5-8, FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) for grades 7-12, and FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) for grades 9-12. The Gearheads are a part of FRC. VEX also has programs that range from elementary through high school. VEX would be comparable to FTC.

Some districts may maintain one team for each program (or sometimes more for reasons relating to size, especially in the case of VEX.). Others have a VEX team that functions as the “Jr. Varsity”, and an FRC team which functions as the “Varsity” team. Sauk Rapids-Rice School District has both types of teams, though I am not sure if they have the JV vs Varsity distinction.

FRC robots are larger than VEX (or FTC) robots. (As can be seen in the pictures above.) FRC robots may have a perimeter measurement of up to 120” and weigh up to 120 lbs. (without batteries or bumpers). VEX robots are smaller, Vex (and FTC) robots have a maximum side length of 18” and Vex robots weigh 11-22 lbs.
Both FRC and VEX teams have a “kit of parts” but FRC teams generally go further beyond the basic kit of parts. For FRC teams, the kit of parts becomes a “jumping off point”. Students mill, weld, wire and build robots that are much more complex than the ones that VEX teams build. VEX teams are generally limited to unmodified parts from the kit, so students learn fewer manufacturing skills from VEX involvement. FRC teams also have more complicated programming for their robots.
In FRC the teams have a defined end of “build season” (which is 45 days long) that comes before competition, after which is the robot is bagged and unable to be modified outside of competition events. This is intended to mirror real-world product deadlines. VEX teams can alter their robot throughout the competition season.

It costs significantly more to be a part of an FRC team. The range varies from team to team, but starts with an annual expense of $5,000 for a kit of parts and registration for one competition. Additional (in-season) competitions are also $5,000 each. Each team usually adds their own parts and equipment with an additional cost/value of up to $4000. (The Gearheads don’t spend that much) Our team spends an average of $15,000 to $20,000 per year, This includes the cost of building the robot, web page maintenance, etc and also includes  transportation and lodging costs for one competition. (The team is totally funded by sponsors and grants the team solicits) Larger or more experienced teams than the Gearheads often have larger budgets, and attend 2 competitions. A VEX kit of parts costs $500, + $50 for the “Crystal Upgrade”, +$50 for the programming hardware kit. Registration for competition is $75 for the first team and $25 for each additional team from the same organization.
The higher cost of running an FRC team almost always requires the students on an FRC team to learn about budgeting, fundraising, public speaking, and how to present themselves in public. The FRC also encourages their teams to contribute their time and talents to help their local area and to promote STEM education. There is a highly prized award for this known as the “Chairman’s Award”, considered the highest honor in FRC.
FRC teams usually cover “More than Robots” (a common FRC saying). Most teams have web pages, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and various other forms of online presence. In fact there are side competitions in media, animation, and even a parody contest that started last year. Vex teams as a general rule do not include those online areas, though there are exceptions. 
FRC teams are often larger. Vex (and FTC) limits the team size to 10 students, FRC teams can be as large as their mentors can handle. I believe one Minnesota team has 80 students (the Green Machine in Edina, team 1816) Though 15-25 is a typical number.
Both leagues offer scholarships to their alumni, FIRST had $25 million in scholarships available this year. Vex offered a little under $4.5 million in scholarships through the REC foundation this year.
Both are great programs and are expanding worldwide. Both leagues give their students opportunities to acquire skills in STEM areas. Our Coach Corey Applegate, has coached teams in both leagues. They can and do coexist, there are also districts out there that do not have either, so there is plenty of room for expansion of both leagues


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