Introduction to the VEX V5 Workcell

The VEX V5 Workcell is an introduction into the world of industrial robotics.

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This model, small enough to be placed on a classroom desk, makes the VEX V5 Workcell accessible in a variety of educational settings. In addition, the advantages of using VEXcode V5 as its programming language, lowers the barrier of entry for an industrial robotic arm for both students and teachers. The V5 Workcell together with VEXcode V5 provides students with the opportunity to develop technical and problem solving skills by building and programming a simulated manufacturing workcell with a five axis robot.

The following article will cover:


What is the V5 Workcell?

Multiple builds

The V5 Workcell utilizes a robotic arm and conveyor systems attached to the V5 Workcell, that students build out of parts designed to work with the VEX V5 system. There are multiple builds as part of the V5 Workcell, starting with just the robotic arm attached to the base plate, and is transformed up to a simulated professional workcell with sensors and conveyors.

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The robotic arm

The V5 Workcell is composed of a robotic arm that can accommodate:

No tool at the end of the arm. The V5 Workcell build utilizes no tool on the end of the arm when exploring different types of movements along the Cartesian coordinate system.

An electromagnet for picking up and placing disks.

A marker attachment to hold a dry-erase marker. This is used to draw on the whiteboard attached to the base plate of the V5 Workcell.

The whole system

The V5 Workcell is also composed of other metal, plastic, electronics, and sensors to build the conveyor systems attached to the V5 Workcell.

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The conveyors and diverter are built from metal pieces, tread links, and motors.

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The system also encompasses many electronic components and sensors to automate the V5 Workcell and mimic true manufacturing processes, such as sorting and palletizing based on different conditions of the sensors. The sensors used with the conveyor system are Line Trackers and an Optical Sensor.

The Optical Sensor and the Line Trackers are used to program the V5 Workcell to sort disks depending on their color.


Why the V5 Workcell?

Cost-effective (hardware)

Introducing students to industrial robotics in an educational setting not only sparks their interest in the career fields of programming and engineering, but it also helps them develop problem solving skills and allows them to bring abstract concepts to life by using a robot.

However, introducing industrial robots into a classroom setting is not without its challenges. Due to space restrictions, cost, and safety, educational institutions are turning to smaller, safer, and more cost effective industrial robot models. The VEX V5 Workcell is small enough to be placed on a classroom desk, and with a recommended three students to one robot ratio, students have the opportunity for hands-on engagement with the robot in every class. The V5 Workcell is safer by being a smaller size, as well as having the ability to program a Bumper Switch that functions as an emergency stop if needed.

Not only is the V5 Workcell a smaller, cheaper, and safer alternative, it also allows students to engage in a building experience that otherwise would not be possible. Students that are engaged with professional sized robotic arms gain experience programming them, but may not understand how they move and operate because they were not involved in the building process. Being involved in the building process gives students the opportunity to make a stronger connection between the hardware and software, and allows students to gain more foundational knowledge of how the robot physically works. Students build the V5 Workcell out of parts from the VEX Robotics V5 System.

The VEX V5 Workcell provides educational institutions with a smaller, safer, and more cost effective industrial robot model option that is versatile in its building capabilities, and provides students with a more independent hands-on learning experience compared to professional grade robotic arms.

Low barrier of entry for programming novices (software)

When introducing industrial robotics, or any type of robots, into an educational setting, one of the largest barriers of entry is programming. Students, and even educators, who are novice programmers may shy away from wanting to teach and learn robotics because they are not confident programmers, do not have experience, or do not feel well supported.

On top of this, there is often a great deal of programming knowledge, skill, and experience required to work with industrial robots. When programming a robotic arm, the programmer may have to use their knowledge of how the arm will move in 3D space, use certain sensors, and program precise movement. All of this can raise the bar for bringing industrial robots into the classroom out of reach. The V5 Workcell makes this daunting task manageable by using VEXcode V5. VEXcode V5 makes programming an industrial robotic model accessible to students and educators regardless of their programming experience.

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VEXcode V5 also raises the ceiling as students grow in their programming experience, confidence, and proficiency. VEXcode V5 not only supports block-based coding, but also C++ and Python. This allows students to transition from block-based coding to text-based coding by easily selecting one button. VEXcode V5 not only provides novice programmers with a low barrier of entry and built-in support, it also raises the ceiling and provides users with the scaffolding and support to feel confident and grow.

For more information on VEXcode V5, view this VEXcode Overview.

Focuses on big ideas

One of the biggest advantages of the V5 Workcell is that students are given the opportunity to learn and focus on larger concepts and skills that are foundational to not only programming, but also engineering and the professional field of industrial robotics.

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Students will investigate different concepts such as building with metal and electronics, the Cartesian coordinate system, how a robotic arm moves in 3D space, code reuse, variables, 2D Lists, sensor feedback for automation, conveyor systems, and many more.

Students will gain foundational knowledge of these concepts that can be applied later in a wide range of fields such as mathematics, programming, engineering, and manufacturing. While gaining an introduction to these concepts, students are actively able to problem solve, collaborate, be creative, and build resiliency. All of which are important skills in any environment.


STEM Labs to teach the V5 Workcell

At VEX Robotics, we make it easy to get started teaching with the V5 Workcell, regardless of experience or ability level, with the VEX V5 Workcell STEM Labs. The V5 Workcell STEM Labs provide all of the resources and support that educators need in order to teach all of the foundational industrial robotic concepts of the V5 Workcell successfully to their students.

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STEM Labs are designed to be the online teacher’s manual for the V5 Workcell. Like a printed teacher’s manual, the teacher-facing content of the STEM Labs provides all of the resources, materials, and information needed to be able to plan, teach, and assess students. Students see the student version of the Lab as their teacher facilitates, while the teacher version of the Lab has all the discussion prompts, activity steps, and facilitation strategies at the teacher’s fingertips.

To plan, teachers can read and review the concepts, activities, facilitation strategies, and discussion prompts for the STEM Lab. To teach, teachers can have students follow along with the steps in the Lab as they facilitate the activities and conversations. To assess, numerous different discussion prompts, rubrics, and summative assessment questions are provided in the Lab itself, along with facilitation strategies on how to implement them effectively in the classroom.

There are twelve total V5 Workcell STEM Labs that follow a progression, both from an engineering and programming perspective.

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In Labs 1 and 2, students build the V5 Workcell for the first time, gain some building skills, and learn about safety.

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In Labs 3 and 4, students begin to explore how the arm of the Workcell moves in 3D space both manually and programmatically. They are also introduced to attaching a marker to the arm of the Workcell, mimicking an industrial tool at the end of the robot arm.

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In Labs 5 and 6, students will continue to build on the concept of movement by programming the arm to move with variables and 2D Lists.

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In Labs 7 and 8, after studying both manual and automated movements, students will then dive into more manufacturing simulation by picking up and placing disks using an electromagnet and sensor feedback.

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In Labs 9 and 10, students are introduced to conveyor systems and how sensor feedback can be used in material handling.

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In Labs 11 and 12, the STEM Labs conclude by allowing students to combine and apply their learning from all of the previous Labs to investigate cooperative systems and how to make the Workcell their own to prepare for competition.

The VEX V5 Workcell provides an all-encompassing solution to introduce students to industrial robotics in an educational setting that is cost-effective, lowers the programming barrier of entry, and focuses on big ideas that help students develop important skills.