We all want to be successful in whatever it is we are involved in: Our jobs, our hobbies and our relationships. If you are on a robotics team, you probably want to it to be successful too. But, what is success for a robotics team? Before we know how to achieve something, we must know what we want to achieve.
Success, by a broader definition is “achieving what is desired“. Therefore, for a robotics team to be successful it must first choose its own goals and vision, and these things vary heavily from team to team, region to region, and even between individuals. Some will define success as providing a fun and fulfilling experience for students, while others might define their goal as implementing a wide community outreach program. For the purpose of this post, we will define success as achieving recognition for a team’s efforts; AKA winning. AKA awards.
For teams who are a part of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), this could be measured by a magical statistic known as BBQ (Blue Banner Quantity).
In this post, I will be going over what I think is a good way to create success with your robot. Not your team, not your community outreach – just your robot.
There are many different approaches to running your team during the build season, and what model to follow in order to win.
The first thing, and the most important one is deciding that you want a good robot. Making a conscious decision that you will dedicate fully to it, at the expense of other important things in your life. This decision impacts on many team members, and must be made before diving into it. If you don’t put in a lot of work, it will be nearly impossible for you to compete with the dedicated, hard-working teams that will be competing against you.
So, what are the different methods?
The Chinese way – learn from the best, combine them all and become better
Well, that’s easy to say. But where do I learn from? Here a few examples:
- https://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/portal.php should become a daily visit for you. This is where teams upload cool projects. FIRST related question you have will be answered within the hour. Go there, register and start browsing.
- https://www.team254.com/category/frc/2014/ One of the most dominant robots in the history of FRC is 254’s 2014 BARRAGE. An incredible machine considered by many a piece of art. It dominated the game in almost every single match it played, and obviously it was crowned as that year’s world champion. With that said, each and every team could have built a similar machine. Nothing here was super complex. Just amazing ideas with amazing implementation. Luckily for us, The Poofs uploaded their 2014 build blog. Read it, and learn how to manage your team during build season. One of the reasons they were so dominant this year, is the fact that they had a ‘prototype bot’ very early into build season, which they went on to make better and better in every aspect there is.
- There are many more sources you can learn from. Teams like 971 Spartan Robotics post pictures from their entire build season. FRC Designs has dozens of detailed CAD files of amazing machines, and I’m sure you can find many more teams to learn from.
Remember that what works for a certain team, probably won’t work for you. The idea is to take what many teams do, and mix many different parts into your own magic recipe. Be different, but use what the bests do.
The American way – resources!
Let’s be honest, funds are a big part of being successful in robotics. FRC is expensive, and it will be very hard to beat the well based teams with a non-existing budget of your own. Tools, fabrication, materials, traveling to events, registration, COTS parts, manpower, all cost money, and all are important in order to make your robot better. Expecting money to just come your way will probably not work, and crying about it might make things even worse.
Go out there and fundraise like crazy. There are 56 weeks in a year, 6.5 of them are build season, and another 8 are competition season. That leaves you with 41.5 weeks to fundraise. Hold events, visit sponsors and have them visiting you, apply for grants and basically just do whatever you can do get what you want.
Don’t go asking for just money, a free CNC machine will be even better, parts manufacturing is awesome and free pizza once a week will make everything seem a bit better for your team. Now that only makes sense that under the American way we’ll have a video of an incredible Texas Machine, sponsored by NASA and working at their facilities. I know the robot is cool, but try to look at the workshop around it in the video as well.
The Russian way – working hard
Nothing is easier to do, and had more impact on your machine than simply putting the most work you possibly can into it. Teams 1678, The Citrus Circuit are a team that is known for doing just that. One of their famous sayings is “Outwork Us“. You want to beat me? Work harder than me. Just have a look at their unbelievable rise in the last few years. 4 consecutive Einstein appearances, 4 times in a row winning their division at the world championship. Does anyone really doubt they’ll make it 5 in a row next year? Also, just have a look at their awards list.
The German way – be organized
The build season is a very short time to do what you all are doing. Nobody in the industry works that fast, but you have to. There is no time to waste and ou have to be efficient if you want to be good. Manage your time and resources well, they are both very important. Don’t go wasting time and money on something that’s not worth it.
Remember to set measurable goals, with deadlines. Each prototype – should have a leader. This will make team members take responsibility, develop leadership skills and improve everything your team does. Your team must have a team leader, who is taking responsibility when stuff goes wrong and makes sure things are set straight. This individual has to know to make decision that hurt from time to time, and my personal recommendation is for him/her to be an adult mentor.
“At a certain point in the season, comes a time when you have to shoot the engineer and build the damn robot”
JVN, mentor of Team 148, the Robowranglers
Don’t hesitate to cut the BS and make sure you stand within the schedule you set yourself. If you don’t – you might come to the competition with a not working prototype.
The Israeli way – take shortcuts
Most teams can’t fabricate whatever they want. And to be completely honest, there’s no longer a real need to be able to manufacture your own gearbox in order to be good. Thanks to suppliers like AndyMark and VEX, you can buy COTS products and use them for your own benefit.
The shipping time during build season is incredible, but still takes around a week to arrive in Israel. For North American teams – you can get your order shipped to you within the next day. Don’t forget that some products go out of stock very quickly. Last year it happened with Pneumatic wheels, and teams who snoozed could only get them very late in the season, impacting heavily the quality of their machines.
If you don’t have the best plane – be the best pilot. Choose your drivers early and let them practice. Then force them to practice more. Good drivers make bad robots win. Try to have a full size practice field and just let your driver’s play 10 hours a week. That should do. If they reach 100 practice hours before their first event, they should be good. Also, there’s nothing wrong with picking your drivers in the off season and letting them practice year round. Most of the work isn’t very different from year to year, at least for the driver of the chassis.
So, now that we saw these methods – what’s the best fit for your team? In my opinion, all of them together: Take all methods and combine them into your own winning recipe!
Before you go and win, here are a few tips you can use in your next robotics competition
- KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). For me, the leading model of the KISS method is team 2056, OP Robotics. Year after year, one of the best machines in the world, and yet is so simple. The definition of success from day 1 is this team, who only lost one regional in their 10 years of existence.
- Design is an iterative process. In all my years of FRC, I’ve never seen a ‘finished‘ robot. There’s always something you can make better. It’s just a matter of identifying it and having the willing to improve it. Don’t go improving your ball loading time by 0.01 seconds. Know when to stop.
- You don’t have to prototype everything, just what you want to eventually work.
- Early prototypes are very important 1241 Theory 6, one of the best in the world in 2016 Simbotics 2015 robot blew everyone’s mind
- Have a full prototype robot if possible 1690 Orbit’s Skyzer – probably the best shooter in 2016
- Make Everything faster! The matches are less than 3 minutes long, a very short time to have a big impact. If you climb in 2 minutes – there’s not much point to it. If it takes you 30 seconds to collect a ball – it’s way too much.
- Make your driver’s work easy. Use sensors and smart code for that.
- Use sensors on all your mechanisms. It makes your robot way more reliant and quick. The complexity of 971’s 2016 machine is impossible to drive without tons of code and sensors, but with enough work and smart coding you get one of the best machines to play the game.
- Use the human player. Every year, some teams use the human player and prove that he’s more important than what everyone had thought:
- Look at how 1690’s human player feed their robot, sometimes even passing the ball all the way to the courtyard, making the robot way more efficient
- 254’s whole alliance played a game of never letting the ball touch the carpet, heavily assisted by their amazing human player.
- 2826 wave’s robot could only work with their human player. Absolutely useless without him. And this is one of the best robots of that year.
This should give you some tools on where to start to make your robot better. Just dive into it and you’ll see that you like some of the tips more, and some of them a bit less. Keep what you like, discard what you don’t and build your own recipe for success.
About the author
Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate student at BGU.
Lead mentor of The Y Team, FRC 3211.
Started the Program as a student at 2006, been involved ever since.
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