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dooey100
02-27-2009, 03:36 PM
I was the driving force behind creating an FTC team at our school this year, and I think it would be awesome if we could move up to FRC. I'm wondering how feasible this would be, and if I should pursue this.

We are a small school of 300 kids from grade 7-12. We are relatively isolated, so combining with another school isn't really an option. We would also likely find it very difficult to fundraise, the FTC team had to work very hard to get $2500 this year (although we did not charge any money to join the team), and having to fly to a tournament doesn't help.

I would love to do FRC, but do you think it would work? FTC is great and I loved competing this year, but moving up would be awesome too.

EricH
02-27-2009, 03:42 PM
FRC costs $6,000, assuming that a) you don't have to travel and b) you don't buy anything outside the KOP.

If b) isn't true, it could be up to another $4,000 for parts, maybe more if you build a second robot, assuming that a) is still true.

If a) isn't true, then add in the transit costs.

This is per year.

I don't think it'll work, but that's no reason not to try. Do a trial run this year: raise the $6,000-10,000 needed for FRC, but do FTC/VRC for the year. If you can raise the money, you're ahead on your fundraising. But don't stop there, keep going. If you can't raise the money, you've funded your FTC team for another couple years or so.

Greg Needel
02-27-2009, 04:18 PM
Do a trial run this year: raise the $6,000-10,000 needed for FRC


Eric,
your figures are a bit low. Assuming that they have nothing at the school and are starting from scratch the minimum I would recommend is 12,000. On average it takes about 15,000 to run a FIRST team and more in the Rookie year because you have to buy everything.

Molten
02-27-2009, 04:34 PM
Does Nasa still pay the entry fee for rookies? If so, that will save 6000. Also, if your willing to make your bot with a kitbot chassie and random stuff, your extra costs won't be much.(maybe less then it cost for your FTC)

As for the event goes, road trip. Have parents fill their cars and drive. That saves quite a bit. If you are within an hour of a regional, drive each day. If your more, you might need some hotels which might be costly depending on your regional.

1766 has built its bot pretty cheaply over the years. They use aluminum tubing which is reasonably cost and a few odds and ends, but most of it is cheap.

So, YES, it is definitely feasable. Go for it, it is well worth it.

Greg Needel
02-27-2009, 04:40 PM
Does Nasa still pay the entry fee for rookies?.

While there are NASA grants for rookies I HIGHLY recommend not counting on them. While it might take a big chunk out of your financial needs, nasa grants are only on a year to year basis and you want to start a sustaining FIRST TEAM. The only way to do it is to assume you will not get a NASA grant and try to get enough funds to cover your team. In the chance that you do get a NASA grant keep the extra funds in your account for the next year or the championship if you qualify.


I also must say that FRC is not for everyone. There are many teams in FRC which probably should be in FTC or Vex only due to resources such as engineers, mentors, sponsors, build location/facilities, etc. Remember you can learn just as much from building a small robot as you can from a large bot because all of the key concepts are the same.

EricH
02-27-2009, 05:06 PM
Eric,
your figures are a bit low. Assuming that they have nothing at the school and are starting from scratch the minimum I would recommend is 12,000. On average it takes about 15,000 to run a FIRST team and more in the Rookie year because you have to buy everything.
I was running the absolute minimums, and not including travel or tools. That's why they're so low. If they can't do that, then they should stick with FTC and start building a base so they can, at some point in the future, transition up a level to FRC.

I would actually recommend $20-30K+ the first year, if at all possible. This way, they will be able to continue for one year with no fundraising, if needed. Then fundraise enough for each year.

Molten, if the location listed is right, Google it. I think you'll be surprised.

Rick Wagner
02-27-2009, 05:08 PM
And all that being said, remember JFK's words to the effect that we did not go to the moon because it was easy. It will be hard, but it will be worth it 10 times over.

kmcclary
02-27-2009, 05:35 PM
I think it would be awesome if we could move up to FRC. I'm wondering how feasible this would be, and if I should pursue this.
We are a small school of 300 kids from grade 7-12. We are relatively isolated, so combining with another school isn't really an option. We would also likely find it very difficult to fundraise, the FTC team had to work very hard to get $2500 this year (although we did not charge any money to join the team), and having to fly to a tournament doesn't help. [...] (FYI, I'm insane about FIRST... I've started a number of FRC teams...)

Do you have any industry locally to partner with, to finance your basic fees? How about a school grant for the first kit fee? (Heck, schools often spend tons on sports, so try to tap a bit of it for academics...)

If you have either of those, it's possible. Also, you may be able to find state funding to get you started.

If however you are in the midst of farmland without ANY industry, and have to raise ALL of your money via the "bakesale method", it's still possible but honestly it's difficult to make it sustainable. NASA Rookie Grants are only good for two years. Even if you do win them, the second year is ONLY "matching funds" (IOW, you must have as much from others as you get from them).

After those first two years, the NASA grants are burned up. Without some OTHER funding source already lined up it's a tough road, AND you can't "reboot" a failed team with a NASA grant later if it THEN crashes.

Therefore, I'd only start a team and use the NASA for "bootstrapping" once you HAVE lined up additional funding. You use the NASA grant for the kit fee, and use your OTHER funding sources to bootstrap your shop, tool collection, and fill the parts bins.

THAT gets your team up and running well, and helps reduce a later year's money needs closer to "refill of consumables", R&D, fees, and travel costs.

Does this make sense?

- Keith

Molten
02-27-2009, 07:42 PM
I was running the absolute minimums, and not including travel or tools. That's why they're so low. If they can't do that, then they should stick with FTC and start building a base so they can, at some point in the future, transition up a level to FRC.

I would actually recommend $20-30K+ the first year, if at all possible. This way, they will be able to continue for one year with no fundraising, if needed. Then fundraise enough for each year.

Molten, if the location listed is right, Google it. I think you'll be surprised.

I have a feeling your team does funds quite different then 1766. For instance, we empty our account every year to avoid tax problems. Also, grants help a lot. I don't have a clue what regionals are in that area. I'm quite a ways away.

All I'm saying is that many teams have a ton of stuff they don't need to be competitive. For instance, hand outs can be costly and unnecessary. Shirts can be done with iron ons. In some places, PVC will make do. If you compete, I wouldn't expect to have 3 sets of team shirts, hundreds of buttons to hand out, water jet cut parts, and a practice robot. However, you can expect to make it through the season with an educational experience. Remember, "where there's a will, there's a way."

EricH
02-27-2009, 07:46 PM
I have a feeling your team does funds quite different then 1766. For instance, we empty our account every year to avoid tax problems. Also, grants help a lot. I don't have a clue what regionals are in that area. I'm quite a ways away. We have our own account... and we don't empty it. We're a 501(c)(3), or operating under one, so it's a little easier on us.

The nearest regional to the area is probably Seattle.

dsm
02-27-2009, 07:58 PM
There is a wealth of official guidance on this subject here:

http://www.usfirst.org/what/frc/content.aspx?id=5504

They include sample budgets in the handbook...though I personally think their estimates are somewhat low.

Rick TYler
02-27-2009, 09:26 PM
A variety of random comments:

1. Starting with FTC and choosing to switch to FRC is not "moving up," it's "moving differently."

2. I would rather be part of a successful, well-funded FTC/VRC program than struggle to build a BLT as part of a marginal FRC team.

3. The quality of science, engineering and math available in Vex and FTC is not inferior to that of FRC. In FRC you will learn more of the machinist and fabrication trades, but that is the only real technical difference.

4. A team of five or six building an FTC or VRC robot is a much more hands-on, involved experience than being a "cheerleader" on a 60-person FRC team. Most FRC teams I've spoken with, been part of, or read about on Delphi end up being 8-12 core builders and programmers (some of whom are mentors) and 10-30 people around the fringes. All that other stuff is part of "team" but it doesn't have much to do with STEM. In some ways, a big FRC team is a better simulation of a whole business rather than just the engineering department. In VRC and FTC, it's 90% technology and 10% other stuff.

I think FRC is terrific. I am simply trying to argue that it is not necessarily an end-goal for every robotics program, and that it does not fit everywhere or everyone. Too many FRC teams have folded when the easy money ran out or the mentors burned out. VRC and FTC can be successfully run at any level the team wants. We have about 40 students who built and competed four VRC and three FTC robots this year. We raised more than $10,000, we are already going to the VRC world championships, and at least one of our robots has a better than even chance to qualify for Atlanta at an FTC event in Seattle tomorrow. I would have to go count to be sure, but we've added about 10 trophies to our VRC/FTC collection so far this year, with three events to go. We didn't start this way, though. We started in 2006 with one FTC robot that won a regional finalist trophy in our only tournament. Last year, we earned three awards, including Inspire, with 18 students and three FTC robots. This year we doubled the number of students and added VRC. I positively don't think our students have learned anything less about the engineering process than a similar FRC team.

Wow -- quite a little speech, huh? Don't feel that doing FTC makes you a second-class citizen. Do what's best for you and your school -- what you can be successful at and can sustain from year to year. That's how you can do some good. That might be an FRC program, but don't feel like it's a tragedy or failure if you can't handle the resources and money involved.

writchie
02-27-2009, 10:16 PM
I was the driving force behind creating an FTC team at our school this year, and I think it would be awesome if we could move up to FRC. I'm wondering how feasible this would be, and if I should pursue this.

Although every situation is different, I think the primary different between FRC and FTC involves the availability of engineering mentors. The FRC is intended to be a collaborative effort between professional engineers and students where the students learn first hand about engineering process by working together with the pros. IMHO this is the essential character of FRC and what makes it unique among Robotics programs.

So until you can recruit at least a couple of engineering mentors to devote the considerable time and energy during the 6 week build season to drive the engineering of your FRC bot, it may make more sense to stick with FTC. Until you have the engineering mentor resources, I think you may find that FTC may be more bang for the buck.

IMHO it is also almost essential to have team capability with Inventor (or Solidworks or Pro-e). The value of CAD to engineering process today is indispensable. You can use FTC to build these skills and having them will dramatically increase your probability of success with FRC.

We have 4 FTC teams which function as a Jr. Varsity and an FRC team that is the varsity. Our FTC teams are student directed with "light" mentoring. FTC is fun, produces instant gratification, and is 100 times safer than FRC. In FTC it's easy to recover from even major mistakes. The FTC program, however, is in most respects just another robotics competition. It does not provide the unique life changing experiences that become available to the students of mentored FRC teams. Our FRC teams have "heavy" involvement from mentors because that is the essential character of that program.

Remember what Dean says - It's not about the robot.

dooey100
02-28-2009, 01:14 AM
I probably should have mentioned that I am Canadian, so all my dollar amounts are Canadian Dollars. This increases our costs (by a lot if the exchange rate holds)

How about a school grant for the first kit fee?

They gave us $100 for FTC.....

If you are within an hour of a regional, drive each day

9 hour drive from the nearest regionals if they let us travel out of country, 37 hour drive if they don't. :P



Thanks for all your input, I've decided to keep going with FTC. I would much prefer to have an enjoyable FTC team than a struggling FRC team.

Molten
02-28-2009, 02:04 AM
Isn't the canadian dollar worth more then the american dollar now?

Enjoy the FTC.

dooey100
02-28-2009, 02:35 AM
According to google, the $6000 USD registration would be $7600 CAD.

Molten
03-01-2009, 12:02 AM
According to google, the $6000 USD registration would be $7600 CAD.

Yay USD, we're making a comeback. :D Sorry, I just remember everyone being mad when ours became less then canada's.(kind of ruined why most people went there)

Rick TYler
03-01-2009, 12:56 AM
AWe have 4 FTC teams which function as a Jr. Varsity and an FRC team that is the varsity. Our FTC teams are student directed with "light" mentoring. (...) It does not provide the unique life changing experiences that become available to the students of mentored FRC teams. Our FRC teams have "heavy" involvement from mentors because that is the essential character of that program.

Remember what Dean says - It's not about the robot.

I can't imagine why you would deprive your FTC students of the mentor support that you find so essential to the motivational and educational aspects of your FRC program. You say that mentor involvement is life-changing, but you choose not to provide that to students in FTC. It sounds to me like you, as mentors, are not giving these students your best effort.

I know this sounds argumentative, and I apologize for that. I truly want to understand why you wouldn't take something you know to be critical -- "heavy" mentor involvement -- and offer it to all of your students. There is nothing inherent in the medium-sized robotics program (except what I view as a stupendously misguided hands-off FLL rule that was added to FTC this year) that precludes mentors from working shoulder-to-shoulder with students. Mentors need to get in there and mentor or else you might as well hire baby-sitters.

Foster
03-01-2009, 01:31 PM
I agree 100% with Rick, "Mentors need to get in there and mentor or else you might as well hire baby-sitters." You are doing all of your roboteers a HUGE disservice in not showing / teaching / MENTORING the right way to do things. For our Vex teams we rely on the FRC Sr. Mentor, our best mechanical designer, to be elbow deep with the Vex roboteers during the first weeks.

It's not about the robot, it's about the roboteers and inspiration. Use mentors for your FTC (or Vex) teams, they need all the help, guidance and direction they can get.

NorviewsVeteran
03-01-2009, 04:51 PM
Just some advice if you do end up with an FRC team: there are a couple of machine shops in Sparwood about 20 minutes away from Fernie that could help financially and maybe have someone willing to mentor you.

Google Earth rocks.

writchie
03-01-2009, 06:52 PM
I can't imagine why you would deprive your FTC students of the mentor support that you find so essential to the motivational and educational aspects of your FRC program. You say that mentor involvement is life-changing, but you choose not to provide that to students in FTC. It sounds to me like you, as mentors, are not giving these students your best effort.

I know this sounds argumentative, and I apologize for that. I truly want to understand why you wouldn't take something you know to be critical -- "heavy" mentor involvement -- and offer it to all of your students.

Wow.

Perhaps we should say to our engineering mentors, "thanks a lot for spending nearly every day of the last 6 weeks mentoring our mostly 17 and 18 year old motivated FRC students and helping to change some of their lives - BUUUUUT why do you insist on DEPRIVING 5 times as many 14 and 15 year old FTC students by not teaching them which way a screw turns for another 20 weeks." Do you really think this would help sustain a long term program?

It might be nice to live in a world where students were taught one on one, instead of in unruly classes of 30+,; and where unique opportunities like FRC could be available to every student who merely expressed some interest. The problem is, there just aren't enough resources for this, by a factor with multiple zeros in it. There are of course exceptions in some engineering rich communities, but in most cases the engineering mentors are a scarce resource for FIRST teams. NEMO's, teachers, and especially those with mechanical skills are an extremely valuable resource to teams and I don't want to minimize their critical importance in any way. But at the core of the FRC programs are the engineering mentors who have worked as engineers in the real world to engineer products for the real world. It is these folks that we need if we are to show our students first hand how engineers think, how engineers approach problems, and how engineers use engineering process to produce products that solve those problems. You can't do that from a book - you can't do it with a physics teacher - you can't do it with a college engineering student. You can only do it in a credible way (i.e. credible to a bright college bound student) with some real engineers and only by actually demonstrating the actual process first hand. This is what FRC is about.

IMHO it is this first hand side by side participation that causes a student to say "wait a minute, I like this stuff. This is what I want to do. Mom want's me to be a doctor and Dad wants me to be lawyer and I thought I wanted to be a pre-school teacher, but I see now that doing this Engineering thing is what I want to do with my life"

BTW not everyone would call it a success to change someone's life by having them choose Engineering over Law, Medicine, or Teaching. But FIRST subscribes to the view that it is the practices of engineering and the physical sciences that raise the overall standard of living of everyone; and individuals will be happiest in careers they will personally enjoy. FIRST is not trying to make everyone a scientist or engineer. FIRST is, however, trying to show what it's really all about so that our best and brightest can make an informed decision about choosing Engineering if that is really the best career for them. At the same time, it is certainly possible that some student with good mechanical ability might, through FRC participation, discover that real engineering (with heavy CAD, math, and physics) just isn't for them. I would also call that a success.

When you have a scarce resource you usually want to preserve it and use it in the most effective way. We consider it far more effective to use engineering mentors as actual engineers on the team and professional software engineers as actual software engineers on the FRC team, collaborating first hand with student that have the requisite level of maturity and skill to benefit from this experience. It is these kinds of students, mostly Jr's and Sr's that get the most out of working side by side with the engineering mentors on the project. Suitably prepared students get far more of what the FRC program is trying to deliver from working directly with engineers that are actually doing engineering than they would from engineers who are doing teaching.

The maturity level of High School students varies widely and so does their ability in math, physics, and programming. On a scale of increasing ability from 1 to 5, a student with maturity=1, math=1, programming =1, mechanical ability = 1 is unsuitable as a participating member an FRC team. It's not good for them. It's not good for the mentors, It's not good for the other students. It's not much different than other H.S. team sports in that regard. A student that doesn't know the rules of Basketball and has never played much Basketball usually isn't a very good candidate for the Varsity basketball team.

Nevertheless, in a couple of years the student that is now 1,1,1,1 may become 4,4,4,4 or more, especially with the experience and light mentoring they get through FTC participation. They can then end up with a life changing experience through FRC. So what we want to do is to attract and hook these students using FTC. We then use the FTC competition to build the interest, mechanical skills, pre-engineering skills, and team participation skills of these mostly Freshman and Sophomores teams to prepare them for later participation as Juniors and Seniors on the FRC team. The upperclassman students that lead the FTC teams also gain leadership experience and an appreciation for the fact that it takes serious people to get serious results.

We do select some Freshman and Sophomores for apprentice roles on the FRC team on a case by case basis. Our FRC team also includes students from other nearby high schools.

I do not propose that this approach is the only or best way. It depends on the resources available to your team. There are all student FRC teams, and heavily mentor driven FTC teams. But the FTC program as documented is basically a student driven program with light mentoring. In fact, as a coach of an FTC team your promise to the program includes:

1. The students come first. FTC is about the students having fun and getting excited about science and technology. Everything my team does starts and ends with this principle.

2. The students do the work. This is their opportunity to learn and grow. The students on my team do all programming, research, problem-solving, and building. Adults can help them find the answers, but cannot give them the answers or make the decisions.

3. My team is comprised of ten or fewer members registered as an official FTC team. All team members participate on only one team and all team members are pre-college students.

This contrasts with FRC where the TEAM is a collaboration of adult Engineers, High School Students, College Students, and NEMOS. The mentoring process in FRC is summed up by 4 steps:

I Do You Watch
I Do You Help
You Do I Help
You Do I Watch

As I pointed out in my original post, building and programming FTC robots is fun, safe, relatively easy, and amenable to self discovery and learning by failure. And we do mentor our FTC teams. But it is mostly with high school upperclassman and college engineering student mentors. We find that perhaps the most important thing that FTC does for our students is to build up their confidence that can actually create and build this mechanical stuff by themselves. This is something that often holds them back from engineering, especially the girls.

We would do things differently if we were FRC only and if we were FTC only. A big FRC robot is an impressive thing. It attracts students. What many of the students want to do is to just build the big robot themselves. Who needs mentors? But what we are trying to do with FIRST is to end up giving them something with a value that none of them have anyway of appreciating until they are long past the program.

The above is only my opinion and it is how we run our programs. We are not an "award winning" team. We have never received any award from FIRST. We measure success not by awards but by the number of students we mentor who have selected "Engineering" as their college major SOLELY as the result of their experience with our program.

kmcclary
03-02-2009, 05:11 PM
I have a feeling your team does funds quite different then 1766. For instance, we empty our account every year to avoid tax problems. [...] WHOA, there! There is absolutely NO reason to "empty your account every year"! In fact, that's a *horrible* idea! You can't build up any working capital, nor build up reserves in case something happens to your primary sponsor!!!

FYI, (at least in the US) public schools are inherently non-profit because they are technically "governmental agencies", and therefore non-taxable. You MAY keep surplus funds in the account at year's end, and it is not taxable. Talk to your school's accountant. (And if they disagree, your school better find a REAL accountant, that knows the law!) :D

Even IF you've made your team a 501c3 (non-profit corp), that too does NOT require you to "flush your account" each year. Non-profits need working cash too! Think about it. A non-profit dumping their reserve annually would have ZERO cash to pay their workers (yes, non-profits CAN have paid workers) until the new year's donations arrived! That would crash them!

The one thing you can't do with a non-profit is DISTRIBUTE PROFITS. The mere fact you have cash left over does NOT in and of itself "constitute a profit". As long as the money still sits in the account and does not go out to the "shareholders" in the form of a distribution, you're fine. Talk to any licensed accountant to get the full lowdown on this, and how to account for your surplus correctly.

IMHO, EVERY team should be striving (over a few years) to build up a "reserve", of at LEAST: one "kit fee", plus robot build costs. That keeps the loss of a primary sponsor from becoming the death of the team. Personally, I suggest budgeting a "surplus goal" of at least $1K-$2K per year. (IOW, don't stop fund raising until you have at least that much MORE cash than you intend to spend this year!) This allows you to build up a decent "safety net" in just a couple of years, and a "one season death defying reserve" in about 4 years.

Then, if a sponsor loss happens, until such time as you can find new sponsors you simply "borrow against your reserve" to continue for that season, and work to fund raise to replace it by the school year's end.

In fact, one of our county's teams has been doing that for the past three years, which was when the local factory that supported them closed down. Yes, it's painful (and stressful), but they're still here, BECAUSE they planned ahead and had that cash reserve!

Go find a REAL accountant, and discuss this with them. The feeling that a team "needs to be broke at year's end" is one of the biggest financial misconceptions I run into with teams. If left uncorrected it can EASILY cause a team to crash and burn at the first trivial cash problem they encounter. You NEED a cash reserve.

Does this make sense?

Remember, "where there's a will, there's a way." ...Personally, I prefer: "Where there's a will, there are always a bunch o' greedy relatives hanging around..." ;)

- Keith