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In this edition of "Spotlight on" we have a chat with Roch who is one of our year 13 students. Roch has qualified for the Vex robotics champioships. This year he will compete at University level and it will be the third time Roch has been to the USA competing for the UK.

What was your GCSE DTE coursework on?
My GCSE coursework involved building and programming a quadcopter. It was at the time that their popularity was kicking off and I noticed that there was a big gap in the market for a modular quadcopter. The saturated market was full of large and expensive models or cheap toys, but not much in between. A modular design would allow for bespoke design (3D printed), ultimate portability and be significantly cheaper in the long run as only some parts would have to be replaced when broken. And you could choose your own colours and patterns!

What is your current A-level coursework on?
The estimated cost of back pain to the NHS is around £450 million a year. Many of these cases are simply due to bad posture over many years. The aim of my A-level project was to come up with a solution to this. I made a small device which clips to the user’s collar and gives discrete alert when their posture needs to be improved. I really enjoyed trying to shrink the device by optimising my circuit and casing to get it as close to market-ready as possible.

I hear you are also an Arkwright Engineering Scholar, what is it and how has it helped you?
A couple of hundred Arkwright scholarships are awarded at the beginning of year 12 after a series of tests and interviews. The Rothschild Foundation provide a financial contribution towards engineering projects. The financial aid has proved extremely useful over the sixth form as it has allowed me to take all my project to the next level and develop them further.

What other A-levels do you study, why that combination?
I am studying double maths and physics which give me a solid grounding in the theory side of engineering as well as developing an analytical way of thinking. DTE gives the opportunity to apply the knowledge to solve problems in a real-world context.

Where are you planning on studying Design Engineering at University and why?
The best two unis for DE are Imperial and Bristol – you get the rigour of a general engineering course in the context of innovation and enterprise. I have also applied to the “Dyson university” which is a mix of apprenticeship and a Warwick degree. Decision time is approaching!

What is it about DTE you enjoy so much and why might it be useful for your future?
DTE provides all the skills that are crucial to being an engineer or entrepreneur in the future. One of the most valuable skills is developing an approach to problems both through the technical and theoretical side but also considering the design, form and marketability.

If you had to describe DTE in three words what would they be?
So much fun.

What is Vex robotics?
Vex robotics is the largest robotics competition in the world. Each year a new game is released which involves battling it out to get the highest scores. The games focus on a particular engineering challenge such as large expansions or high speed, coupled with programming and driver skill. This year’s game involves stacking small cones onto moveable goals around the field. The year starts off with local and regional competitions, building up to the UK national championships in March and the world championships in April. I’m off to the US again shortly.

When you first became involved with Vex robotics, did you think you would be qualifying and attending the World robotics championships 3 times in a row?
A week in America was one of the big rewards of doing well in the robotics program but I would never have thought I would ever actually qualify let alone 3 times. It is a great feeling seeing the team’s improvement year on year and becoming one of the bigger teams in the UK vex community.

How does Vex IQ, EDR and Vex U differ?
Vex IQ is a smaller plastic version of the competition for younger pupils. After one successful year of IQ I moved on to the big EDR competition (for years 11 to 13). This year, on top of EDR, I have been part of a university team where we are allowed larger and more complex robots with much fewer limitations on parts. The use of 3D printing in the university competition allows for much more complex and exciting designs.

How does one get involved and would you recommend it?
When I first started the Vex program I just thought that it was a great way to travel to schools around the country and just have fun. Over the last few months, while applying to universities, I have seen just how much I have learnt from it and how much it has strengthened my application. I have spent large parts of interviews just talking about my experiences while avoiding the difficult maths and physics questions!

Are you nervous about competing against University students, what is going to be the main challenge you and your team face at the world championships.
The competition at the world championships is always hard. But as with many things, a great team with knowledge and experience will go a long way. There is a great sense of camaraderie between teams so, while it’s nice to win matches, the whole event is just phenomenal. The excitement of the matches – as many as 20 over five days – and with fine tuning and running repairs to do between them, there’s no time to get nervous.

Which country/team in the world is the team to beat?
Vex robotics is truly international with over 40 countries involved in the program. The US and China always have the largest number of competitive teams and are the ones to beat. It’s taught me about the realities of the real world – they have much more money and get adult help. Level playing field? It’s not cricket!


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