This could say one of two things to me. It could very well mean that most schools simply cannot afford the cost of competing in robotics events, which is plausible. I have so far been reading it, though, as Digital Structure being the official replacement for Boomilever at many invitationals, and not requiring a build. It's not a waste of time and materials like Robot Tour is currently many teams.This being said, I find it VERY intriguing that far, far, far more of these smaller rural school are participating in events like Digitals Structures over events like Robot Tour. In my opinion this speaks volumes over what the Science Olympiad community as a whole thinks.
I repeat, "for an invitational". Wisconsin has a different event structure, and that was states, and Nationals routinely has high participation in trial events.See Nationals 2006, where 39 teams participated in Balloon Launched Glider, a trial event. Or, see Wisconsin States 2019, where 20 teams participated in Aerial Scramble.
This will always be the issue with any build, not just robotics. What I think makes this event different is (as the trend has been with events like detector building, which in my opinion wasn't entirely successful in this) the focus shifts from the build itself to coding and competitive strategy, but it's far less subjective than something like vehicle design. I would honestly like to see this event somehow run in one of a few ways:My problem with this event is that larger and more funded teams have a much higher POTENTIAL to do well, over events like Digital Structures and Mechatronics. The buy in cost is inherently high, and building a custom robot gets very pricey unless you know EXACTLY what you need.
Each team comes in with their own modifiable code to run a preset vehicle that is made with a <$50 kit on an arduino. This would shift the focus entirely to competitive strategy, and make it affordable to run and practice for any team. It may, however, make it too easy.
A much more restrictive materials list. Lots of robotics competitions are run this way, but instead of restricting the materials to high-end, expensive products, restricting the materials to a range of affordable (still reliable) components, and requiring the inclusion of more detailed parts lists on logs would make the components for devices much more accessible (this was somewhat attempted with detector last year, but it got far too restrictive and didn't strike a balance between allowing build creativity and allowing accessibility)
I'm wasn't trying to imply that this event is perfect as is (it's not, and I understand that my earlier post minimizes that), but I feel that it's much less pay-to-win than many past build events. There are still changes that need to be made, but I feel that robotics events still deserve a place in SO, as long as the National Office can figure out a way to include less advantaged teams, and remove the variable of money as much as possible.
EDIT: note (as you probably have already lol) that these ideas are coming from someone on a team that is very fortunate, and so I'm not necessarily the resource for ideas on how to help less privileged teams. These are just what I've come up with from other events and other competitions.