The best robotics competitions

Let’s take a look at the most interesting events in which talented and promising roboticists and engineers can compete.

February 25, 2022


Aleksandra Szczepaniak

International Rover Challenge

Who said nerds can’t have fun? After all, despite being a complex area, the world of robotics is full of entertainment and joy. What can be better than the thrill of competition, adrenaline and excitement rushing through your system as you see your robot in action? Without further ado, let’s see what fascinating and cool robotics competitions there are.

Like a pro

The several robotics competitions presented below have to do with developing planetary robots, and most of these events are aimed at highly talented high school and/or university students. The competitions require from the participants broad knowledge in robotics.

Rover Challenge series

First on our list is a series of robotics competitions called The Rover Challenge Series run by the Mars Society. The series consists of the University Rover Challenge, the European Rover Challenge, Canadian International Rover Challenge and the International Rover Challenge.

University Rover Challenge

University Rover Challenge

The University Rover Challenge (URC) is the world’s leading robotics competition for university students, held each year in the desert in Utah, United States. URC aims to encourage students to develop robotics skills, improve the most modern rovers, as well as work in multi-disciplinary teams with scientists and researchers. The competing teams must design and build a new generation of Martian rovers that one day will support human exploration of the Red Planet.

The Mars Desert Research Station, at which the competition annually takes place, was selected as the event site for its geographic similarity to Mars – not only is it a largely arid desert area, but its soil’s chemical composition resembles that of the Red Planet.

URC was launched in 2006 and it consistently attracts an international field of highly talented and promising students.

Interestingly, back in 2013, the founders of today’s Leo Rover participated in the competition and took second place. See our story here.

European Rover Challenge

ERC Mars Yard
The European Rover Challenge Mars Yard

The European Rover Challenge (ERC) is another robotics competition run by the Mars Society. It’s the biggest and most prestigious event of this kind in Europe, in which university teams from all over the world build their own Mars rovers that have to face tasks similar to those performed by rovers on the surfaces of Mars and the Moon. The competition has been held annually in Poland since 2014.

In 2020, the competition was held online, with contestants remotely controlling a robot located on the Martian track in Kielce, Poland. In 2021, the event took place both in the remote and on-site formulas.

Since 2020, Leo Rover has been a standard mobile robot used in the competition, to which competing teams remotely connected to perform field tasks.

Generally, ERC is accompanied by events aimed at a wider audience, such as the Inspiration Zone, lectures conducted by experts and film screenings on space. Participants associated with the space industry can attend workshops, substantive and mentoring meetings, debates, and panel discussions.

ERC provides all contestants with an exceptional opportunity to improve their competence and demonstrate their abilities to the representatives of the world of new technology, business, science and the general public.

Canadian International Rover Challenge

Canadian International Rover Chalenge

The Canadian International Rover Challenge (CIRC) is an international rover competition for post-secondary student design teams from around the world. It takes place annually in the badlands of Alberta, Canada. Similarly to its above-mentioned twin events, the participating teams have to design and build their prototype of a planetary rover to perform various tasks, including traversing varying terrain, autonomous operations, and disaster response.

The Canadian International Rover Challenge is of great value to the education of anyone interested in technology and science. The event provides an excellent opportunity for the participants to test themselves and present their skills in the international arena. What’s more, CIRC is also open to spectators.

International Rover Challenge 

International Rover Challenge

The International Rover Challenge (IRC) (formerly known as Indian Rover Challenge) is a robotics contest in which the engineering challenge is to engage students from all over the world in the next phase of space exploration. It is the only competition of this kind in the Asia-Pacific region whose aim is to spark and foster the spirit of innovation among aspiring engineers who embark on a mission to build a space exploration rover with the use of their abilities and ideas.

During IRC, college students are challenged to design and build the next-generation of Mars rovers and compete in simulated Martian conditions.

NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge

NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge

NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge is an annual robotics competition that poses an engineering design challenge in order to engage high school and college students in the next stage of human space exploration. The contestants are to design, build and race a human-powered vehicle over a simulated surface of another world and perform mission tasks along the way. Student teams design, build and test technologies that allow rovers to operate in an array of environments.

The course is designed to test the rovers’ stability on a diverse set of simulated extraterrestrial terrain. Before students hit the race course, their rovers must pass inspection. After the race, another inspection evaluates the condition of the vehicle, with a time penalty if some rover parts are missing.

Prior to 2014, The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge was referred to as the Great Moonbuggy Race.

NASA Centennial Challenges

NASA Centennial Challenges

Centennial Challenge Program (CCP) is a NASA’s space competition that was launched in 2005 to directly engage the general public in the process of developing advanced technologies valuable to NASA and the aerospace community. The program provides incentive prizes to ignite revolutionary solutions and seeks innovations from diverse and non-traditional sources. 

CCP aims to spark innovation in basic and applied research, prototype demonstration, and technology development, which altogether have the potential for use in the aeronautical and space activities of the administration.

The Challenges are named “Centennial” in honor of the 100 years since the Wright brothers' had achieved their first flight in 1903, whose pioneering inventions embody the spirit of these challenges.

Following the spirit of the Wright brothers and other American innovators, prizes for the CCP are given to independent inventors, including student groups, small businesses, and individuals.

Something for the youngest

The events presented above are meant for highly skilled, talented engineers engaged in planetary robotics. Now, let’s take a look at several competitions that aim also at young to-be roboticists.


For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology is an international organization that operates a series of competitions for young, talented students, including FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST Lego League Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Championship, all of which are described below.

FIRST Tech Challenge

FIRST Tech Challenge

FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics competition organized for students in grades 7-12. The challenge is to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in an alliance format against other participating teams. Under the guidance of coaches, mentors, and volunteers students develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills and practice principles of engineering, while realizing the value of teamwork, innovation, and hard work.

The robot kit is based on Android and programmed using Java, the Blocks programming interface, or other Android programming systems. The teams need to develop a strategy and build robots based on innovative, solid engineering principles. The contestants are awarded for their robot’s performance, design, community outreach, as well as real-world achievements.

FIRST Lego League Challenge

FIRST Lego League Challenge

FIRST LEGO League Challenge is an international competition for elementary and middle school students. Every August, the student teams learn about a scientific and real-world challenge they need to focus on and investigate. The robotics part of the contest involves designing and programming Lego Education robots to perform tasks. Students develop a solution to a problem related to the theme which changes each year. After that, they meet at regional, national and international tournaments to compete, share their knowledge, ideas, and present their robots.

FIRST Robotics Competition

FIRST Robotics Competition

FIRST Robotics Competition is an international robotics competition for high-school students that combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of technology and science. Following strict rules, with limited resources and time, student teams have to raise funds, improve teamwork skills, self-design and build semi-autonomous, competitive machines to play a challenging field game against like-minded competitors. The game changes annually. The contestants get a few guidelines and rules to follow and then, it’s completely up to them to find something that actually works. 

At first glance, FIRST Robotics Competition is a robot contest but in the end, there’s much more to it than that. It’s as close to actual engineering as a student can get. Essentially, there’s robotics as the starting point, but then it’s branched out to different areas and expanded. Professional volunteer mentors donate their time and skills to guide each team. The ultimate goal every year is to enter the FIRST Championship, which is basically, like the Olympics for robots.

BEST robotics

BEST robotics

BEST robotics (Boosting Engineering, Science & Technology) is a robotics competition held each fall in the United States. Its goal is to spark middle school and high school students’ interest in science, engineering and technology, and stimulate them to pursue careers in these areas in the process.

The program enables students to understand the practical use of applied physics and math concepts, learn to analyze and solve real-world science and engineering problems using the Engineering Design Process which helps them develop technological skills. In addition to this, the participants develop competence and confidence in aspects such as self-directed learning, abstract thinking, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, project management, and leadership.

Vex Robotics

Vex Robotics

VEX Robotics is a robotics program for students from elementary to higher education, and a subset of Innovation First International. The VEX Robotics programs and competitions are led by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation (REC). In April 2018, VEX Robotics Competition was proclaimed the largest robotics competition in the world by Guinness World Records.

Depending on age groups and skill levels of the participants, VEX robotics competition is divided into the following leagues:

  • VEX V5 meant for middle and high school students. It provides the teams with an opportunity to compete annually in the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC)
  • VEX IQ – meant for elementary and middle school students. It enables students to compete annually in the VEX IQ Challenge (VIQC) robotics competition.
  • VEX AI – an advanced robotics program meant for high school and university students. The teams are provided with an opportunity to compete in the VEX AI Competition (VAIC).

Every year, each of the three leagues poses a new challenge for students who have to design, construct, program, and drive a robot to complete the challenge. Those teams who consistently demonstrate exceptional mastery in all of the areas will eventually advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship.

Zero Robotics

SPHERES used in Zero Robotics

Zero Robotics is an international programming competition for high school students in which the contestants control the so-called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellite) robots at the International Space Station. Each year student teams work to create a code capable of running a game that can be deployed on the SPHERES robots. The game usually includes elements such as avoiding obstacles, moving objects, collecting virtual objects, docking with objects, and destroying  targets within a limited area while monitoring fuel and energy consumption.

The contestants compete together to win a technically challenging game themed around a problem of current interest to NASA, DARPA, and MIT. The participants’ software has to be able to control factors such as the satellite speed, rotation, travel direction, and many others in order to be capable of finding the perfect algorithm to achieve the goal and meet the challenges faster than the other opponents.



Robofest is a festival of events and competitions with autonomous robots for 5-12 grade students, hosted by Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, United States. Participants design, build, and program robots. Any robotics kits are allowed to be used in the process of constructing the machine and it can be programmed with any programming language.

Robofest’s goal is to spark young people’s interest in STEM, computer science, and art; developing problem-solving, creative thinking, teamwork, and communication skills; as well as preparing them to succeed in higher education and technology careers.

Try yourself in robot development

That would be it for the most interesting robotics competitions we wanted to present to you. Some of them are really challenging and thus, require comprehensive knowledge and background in the field; others are meant for young robotics enthusiasts and even beginners. But looking past the level of difficulty, and participants’ age and experience, they all provide fun and long lasting memories. If you’re a robotics enthusiast yourself, check out our article on robot development and its challenges.

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