Homeschool team Free Range Robotics have won the NZ National VEX Robotics Championship

Homeschool team Free Range Robotics

have won the New Zealand

National VEX Robotics Championship

for the second year in a row.

They also scooped more than their fair share of other awards, winning the New Zealand Championship awards for Web Design (, the Think Award for Autonomous Programming, the Promote award for the best team video, the VEX Essay Award and the runner up for Programming Skills Award.


Free Range Robotics team members: Michael Lawton, George Gillard, Rhinannon Waller, Terry Patterson, Richard Paul, Steven Lawton, Ethan Allen, David Paul, Max Waller, Hannah Ross, Kane Ross (not in photo: Daniel Minnee)

The VEX Robotics Competition is run throughout the world with over 2400 teams in more than 13 countries. The program was designed to encourage students to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Dr Johan Potgieter, senior lecturer at Massey University School of Advanced Engineering and Technology, who instigated the VEX competition in New Zealand, said “We have students now coming into engineering who have never thought of doing it… it’s really opened up a lot of opportunities for these kids.”

Each team has to design, build and program a robot to play a specific game. This year’s game is Clean Sweep, and the object of the game is for alliances of two teams (three for the finals) to obtain a higher score than their opponent’s alliance by moving as many balls as possible into the opposing team’s side of the field.

Last year was the first year of VEX Robotics in New Zealand and the homeschool team Free Range Robotics won the inaugural national tournament. They also won the New Zealand Championship for Programming and went on to win the World Programming Championship in America last year. Massey University also won the World Championship Tournament in the university section for New Zealand and are travelling to Dallas in April to defend their title. Jason Morella, senior director of Education and Competition for Innovation First, Inc, creators of VEX, said “What NZ did last year was amazing…no one ever would have imagined that most of your teams were doing this for the first year, because you came across like very experienced veterans and just blew the world away.”

This year the winning homeschool team who, for the finals, were in an alliance of three, were aligned with Avondale College and Mt Albert Grammar School. The runners up were an alliance made up of two teams from Kristin School and one team from Glenfield College. The crowd, on the edge of their seats, watched as it came down to a one-all draw, with the last game deciding the national champions. Max Waller (coach), and drivers Ethan Allen and Richard Paul, kept their cool and showed their skill, by manoeuvring around the field scoring points for their team and dumping balls at the last minute to secure Free Range Robotics’ second national championship win.

Michael Lawton, who won the Programming World Championship for the team in Dallas last year, spent his time this year focusing on web design, the team video (both were the winning entries in the NZ section) and designing robots for the team. Richard Paul programmed the winning robot this year, which won the Think Award for excellence in Autonomous Programming and also came runner up in Programming Skills.

All the team members are homeschool students and most have never been to school.

They spent months getting ready for this year’s New Zealand Nationals, held on the 27-28 March at the Telstra Clear Events Centre in Manukau, often working late at night to finish their robots. As a small team who competed with three robots, all team members, contributed to the win with different team members building, designing, programming, driving and scouting out other teams. The whole team helps with fundraising, stocktaking at The Warehouse and running sausage sizzles.

Free Range Robotics are looking for sponsors and funds so they can send 10 members of their team to the World Championships in Dallas, not only as reigning champions to represent New Zealand but also as World Champion Programmer Winners to defend their title.


Congratulations Free Range Robotics