Ask a Robotics Expert

    • Answers to your robotics questions
      Have a question about robotics? Stuck on a technical issue that you can't figure out?

      Experts Tarek Shraibati, Kenneth Berry and Rick Tyler are here to help answer your questions.

      >> Submit a question

    • Should my son join a FTC or VRC after Lego?
      My son has been participating in a LEGO Club (no official competitions), but is "aging out" of the club.  He really wanted to join an FTC, but all teams are closed.  A VEX team is just now forming and he has an opportunity to join.  He's a bit hesitant because he LOVES LEGOs and using the NXT brain.  Can you give me any advice / info on VEX that would help him make up his mind for joining the team?  Thanks so much!

      - Holly

      Hello, Holly. It sounds like you have a young robotics engineer there! As your son ages out of Legos, he will naturally be ready for the greater challenge that is offered by the more advanced platforms used in both VRC and FTC. The platforms will allow him to continue to grow as he sees the expanded capabilities of the robots he is able to build.

      The VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) and FTC are similar in that the robots are the same size, they play a head-to-head sports-style game, and are constructed using a standardized kit of parts. VRC uses a VEX Robotics Cortex controller that is different than the LEGO NXT used in FTC, but it won't seem strange to someone who has programmed LEGO robots. If your son moves up to either VRC or FTC, he won't see many LEGO parts anymore, as they are not used in VRC, and you rarely see FTC robots with many (or even any) LEGO components. What he will see is robots that are bigger, stronger, and faster than you can build with LEGO.

      The VRC has thousands of teams all over the world and your son should have a great time. There are quite a few troops and Venturing crews building VRC robots and competing, too, so he could even mix robots and Scouting.

    • What does ‘2 degrees of freedom’ mean in requirement 4b?
      Thank you for your question. The 2 degrees of freedom refers to the robot not just the attachment. This is just to make sure the robot has some complexity. 2 degrees of freedom can be forward, backward and turning. If you use two motors you have two degrees of freedom. LEGO is capable of three degrees of freedom because it has three output ports. I hope that is helpful.

    • Is Electronics merit badge a prerequisite for Robotics?
      This is a good question and one we discussed in our development group. Electronics is not likely to ever be a prerequisite for Robotics.

      There are many robotics platforms that have lots of Black Boxes but are very easy to program and design with, LEGO Mindstorms and VEX for example. In the case of LEGO, a Scout would not need to know electronics.

      Depending on the direction they take with their robot, Scouts could complete many of the requirements for the electronics merit badge and could do them both at the same time.

    • Do you all think that the Arduino kits would make a good match for this badge?
      Yes, the Arduino controller would be a good choice.  As a counselor, though, I would encourage Scouts to use what they have.  If a Scout wanted to meet the requirements with his VEX or LEGO kit, I wouldn’t force him to use something else.  If you are thinking in terms of a workshop, camp, or a Scout who is starting from scratch the Arduino is great.

    • Is the Lego Mindstorms NXT kit compatible with the requirements?
      Any version of the Mindstorms kits gives you what you need to build a great robot.

    • If you don’t want to use a kit, how do you start making a robot? Where do you get the supplies?
      Taking apart an old radio control car is a great place to start.  It has motors, a chassis and a battery already.  All you need to do is find a processor of some kind and make sure your control signals work.  While operating a radio-controlled car will not satisfy the requirements of the merit badge, taking an RC car, adding a controller (the computer brain that does the robot’s thinking) and some other mechanisms probably will.  As always, talk to your merit badge counselor first to make sure that what you are planning is safe and will satisfy the requirements.

    • What do you like best about robots?
      I really like the fact that we are able to use robots to improve all of our lives by having them perform tasks that are either dangerous, dreary or difficult. Having said that, the thing the kid in me actually likes best is the challenge of robot competitions.

    • How do I start a robot team in my troop?
      Start by speaking to your merit badge counselor. He or she should be able to give you some idea about the types of robot competitions available in your area and what it takes to start a team.

      You may also wish to check out the online resources available at or

      Finally, if you attend a competition while working on the Robotics merit badge, ask the team members at the event what resources might be available for you to get a team started.

    • What should I study in high school to allow me to work with robots?
      To prepare yourself for a college degree that will allow you to work with robots, you should study as much math as possible in high school. The best place for you to end up is calculus-ready when you enter college.

      Most robot-related fields are highly technical, however you will also need to study other things that may surprise you. You will need good English skills so you will be able to communicate your ideas to others and an understanding of social studies is important so you will be able to understand how robots fit into society and how humans react to them.

      In short, your best bet is to be as well rounded as possible in your studies.

  • Rick Tyler has been a Scouter for more than 10 years, in Tigers, Cubs, Scouts, and Venturing. As a youth he was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and lastly a member of an engineering Explorer Post where he built lasers and learned to program computers. After a career in the software industry, Rick now works for a not-for-profit that promotes science, technology, engineering and math education for young people. He is Advisor for Venturing Crew 2036, which builds robots for the VEX Robotics Competition. He has also been a mentor for FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge teams.

    Tarek Shraibati is a lifelong Scouter who has been active at both the unit and district levels. He teaches engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Northridge. He has also been active in the promotion of several youth robotics programs including the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge and the VEX Robotics competition.

    Dr. Kenneth Berry is the Assistant Director to the University of Texas at Dallas Science and Engineering Education Center (SEEC). He has been an educator for over 20 years and has been investigating and promoting robotics in the classroom for over 10 years, dating back to when he worked at JPL, NASA’s Lead Center for the Robotic Exploration of Space. As Assistant Director to the SEEC, Dr. Berry is promoting Project Based Instruction with robots in classroom. He was a Cub Scout and earned his Arrow of Light. He continued on to Boy Scouts and earned his Eagle and two palms. He was Order of the Arrow, and he also served as a Ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch.