The most important thing about traveling with a robot is having it arrive safely at the destination. A good case, good packing, and padding in all the right places will help ensure that your robot arrives intact and ready to compete.

VRC Robot Case Considerations

  • 62” size limit (length + width + height) without an oversize bag fee on most airlines
  • Use a hard case/box for either airlines or shipping, because it will be stacked with other containers
  • Cases with wheels are useful at competitions
    • Matches can be a long distance from pits
    • Case can be used as a portable laptop/robot stand at the practice field or in pits

Standard VRC Robot Case Options (for 18” robots)

  • RoboSource Robot Case ($200-$220; fits within the 62” airline limit) RobotSource_case.jpg
  • Pelican 0350 Case ($388; exceeds the 62” limit by a couple of inches)Pelican_0350_case.jpg
  • Robox Bag ($400; includes built-in organizers and pouches; better for local competitions than for air travel or shipping because it doesn’t offer as much protection as a hard case)Robox_bag.jpg
  • For teams traveling by road instead of air, the Husky 37in. Rolling Tool Box Utility Cart is a great choice at around $100. It nicely fits a VEX VRC robot, with space left for some tools and parts on the side. Plus, it's sturdy and makes an excellent extra seat in the pit!
  • DIY Options: Plywood crates, tool chests, cardboard boxes. Be mindful of airline size and weight limits! 

Casters for Moving the VRC Robot Case

  • Removable casters are recommended if the case will be checked for air travel or shipped
  • Alternatives: folding hand cart, dolly, etc.

Containers for Controllers, Batteries, etc.

  • RoboSource V5 Battery Station Case
    • Convenient alternative to putting electronic components loose in backpacks or other carry-ons
    • Safely carries batteries, charger, power strip, controller, brain, radio, & cables
    • Custom-designed tool organizer with a space for papers
    • Qualifies as a carry-on for most (but not all) airlines; check your airline’s sizing before travel
  • Tool tote customized for storage and/or use as a battery charging station

Robot Packing Tips

  • You must protect the robot against rough handling, including
    • Vibration & shaking
    • Being dropped
    • Getting tipped on its side and/or upside down
  • Take photos of the robot from all angles to aid in repairs if the robot is damaged
  • Make sure the robot is not sitting on its wheels in the case, as shafts can bend during travel; remove wheels or attach the robot to wooden blocksVRC_robot_on_wooden_blocks.jpg
  • Remove rubber bands
  • Fasten moving parts into fixed positions (e.g., zip tie the lift)
  • Remove or protect fragile or sensitive mechanisms that might be damagedplastic_wrapped_VRC_robot.jpg
  • Remove all batteries
  • Leave the brain, cables, sensors, etc. on the robot unless they’re in fragile positions and easy to remove/replace
  • Pack the robot inside the case
    • Secure the robot so it cannot move inside the case
    • Depending on the case, some teams screw or strap the robot into position inside the case; others cling-wrap or bubble-wrap the entire robot before putting it into the case
    • Be mindful of what will support the robot if the case is tipped on its side or upside down; use foam blocks to fill empty space and support the robot from all angles, thinking about what will happen if each side suddenly becomes the “bottom” of the caseVRC_robot_with_foam_blocks.jpg
    • Place padding below, around, and on top of the robot (3-4” closed-cell foam that’s cut to fit the robot, bubble wrap, memory-foam pillow, etc.); consider that TSA may open the box, and make repacking the padding easy and intuitive
  • Include team contact information and flight details inside the case
  • Secure and mark the robot case
    • Use TSA locks or zip ties to secure all latches or zippers and keep the case from opening accidently; include spare zip ties and a note in the case for use if it’s opened for inspection by securityrobot_case_with_zip_ties.jpg
    • Mark the outside of the case with team contact information and flight details
    • Consider adding unique markings or stickers to your case to differentiate it from others when you’re looking for it at baggage claim
    • Take photos of the outside of the case to help airline staff identify it if needed

Robot Batteries

  • V5 batteries are LiFePO4; IQ batteries are NiMH or Li-Ion
  • All lithium batteries are prohibited in checked baggage
  • Lithium batteries are allowed in carry-ons with no restrictions
  • Shipping batteries with a robot by UPS or FedEx can be complicated
    • Recommendation is to travel with batteries in your carry-on

Robot Travel Q&As

Q: Can I ask airline baggage handlers to be careful with my robot?

A: Some teams have reported good results from calling the airline to let them know you’ll be traveling with a checked student robot that likes TLC. There’s no guarantee that it will help, but it can’t hurt to try!

Q: Can I travel with VRC field tiles and a perimeter?

A: You can, but remember that whatever you bring to the venue has to fit inside your 10’x10’ pit space. If you bring a VRC field, you might want to set it up in your lodging rather than at the convention center. To pack VRC field tiles to travel by air as checked baggage, wrap them well with plastic and tape, and label them clearly with your contact information. Field perimeter sections can be duct taped together, labeled, and checked, but you’ll want to consider any weight limits imposed by your airline on checked items.

Q: Where should I pack my tools for air travel?

A: Don’t put any sharp tools in carry-ons, because they’ll be confiscated at security. Put all of your tools in a checked bag. If any tools have lithium batteries, be sure to take the batteries out and put them in carry-ons. Put all extra metal parts in checked bags, too.

Q: What should I do with the removable casters from my robot case after I take them off?

A: You will want to be able to find the removable casters quickly and easily at baggage claim. As you remove casters at the check-in counter, follow a pre-made plan for where the casters will go. If you’re traveling with a single robot case, you can just put the removable casters into someone’s carry-on for the flight. If you’re traveling with multiple robot cases, the collection of wheels will get heavy; consider bringing a separate bag to contain them that you can check along with the cases.

Q: Between our suitcases, robot, tools, and parts, that’s a lot of checked bags. Any suggestions for minimizing bag fees?

A: Approach your personal and team packing in an organized way, and spread gear across suitcases and other bags to get each one as close to the maximum size & weight for the non-oversized bag category as possible. Airlines vary on fees for size and weight, so check with your specific carrier before traveling. If you can travel by Southwest Airlines, each passenger can check two bags for free (at least as of Worlds 2022)!

Q: Any tips for checking in at the airport with robots and students?

A: Going through the full-service check-in line with robots and students is often more efficient than using the self check-in option. Have an adult be first in line so they can explain to the airline staffer what’s coming (students, robots, etc.), and other adult be last in line to make sure everyone stays together. Have an adult collect and store all of the bag claim slips in case they’re needed at your destination. If you get a chance, take photos of all of the checked bags before handing them over to the airline; it will help airline personnel track them down later if needed.

If you're not comfortable shipping or checking your robot or gear, consider whether one or two of the coaches, parents, or chaperones can drive to the venue with the team's equipment while other adults chaperone the students through the airports and on to the venue.

student_robot_label.jpg

Q: What information should be on the outside of my robot case?

A: You can use a label on the outside of your robot case to help TSA understand what’s inside of it. Be sure to indicate that the box contains an educational competition robot that is traveling to an event. Here’s an example of a label for a VRC robot traveling in a case with zip-tied latches. Put a copy inside the box in a visible location, and if you’re asking TSA to replace zip ties, tape them directly to that enclosed copy.

robot_case_label.png

Q: Can I ship my robot instead of flying with it?

A: There’s always an option to ship robots and other gear to the convention center. Details are provided well in advance of Worlds on the VEX World Championship website. Depending on your travel plans, shipping to the venue might be a cost-effective option. To ship a VRC robot via UPS, FedEx, or DHL you’ll need to pack it in a similar way to a robot that’s going to travel by air. If you don’t have a hard-sized robot case, an experienced mentor recommends the following: bubble-wrap the robot, pack it inside a 20” cubic box, then bubble-wrap the 20” box and put it into a 24” box for shipping.

Additional Info

For more tips on preparing for VEX Worlds, visit these additional articles:

Works Cited

Most of the recommendations in this article come from a 2022 presentation by RoboSource.net and Brentwood Academy Team 9364 titled “Travel Q&A,” and are used with their permission.