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Unread 04-14-2003, 03:58 PM
Sean Sean is offline
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Whats your honest opinion?

*To start this off I believe I took my time to step back and form a very honest and true opinion of the format that FIRST follows and the general problems they seem to have. This post does not represent the views of team 151 but of a concerned participant in a competition with issues to resolve*

This year has been a change of pace for me. My FIRST year I was very supportive and almost a cult follower of FIRST and Dean Kamen. After starting to compete in other robotic competitions there has been a severe wake up call to me with everything associated with FIRST. This is my second year in the program. I believe that there is a number of things that FIRST should change and must change in order to be a truly educational program that rewards those who excel. (This is not saying my team deserved more than they got). Looking at the teams who made it to the Finals at Nationals the robots themselves were not impressive. (nothing against those who won) If FIRST wants to be a more popular program (im talking televised) they have to design the tournements to lend torwards more impressive robots. I was not impressed with the robots and I have talked to many other people who share the same sentiment. When its the stuff that falls under questionable areas rules wise (ie robots getting flipped over and robots just generally getting beat) that sparks the most interest the rules are obviously focusing on the wrong aspects. I agree with what Chuck Yager (sp?) said at the closing ceremonies, "I wish you guys could stap bombs on these guys and blow each other up" Now, I dont think it should be bombs, but I do think that combative strategies against other robots should not be as big of an issue.

In February I was happy to participate in a smaller form of battlebots in Pennsylvania. (not associated with Battlebots) This competition has several different weight classes ranging from 1 pound to 60 pounds. The event was held during the Motorama event. The event was held by NERC. After the event going to the FIRST regional was much of a shock. The amount of rules and regulations that FIRST has on the building of the robot is extreme and in some case out of hand. One of the more prevalent examples was the 10 gauge wire to the Globe motors that come prewired with a smaller gauge. Another issue with the regional included misinformed judging staff. During the inspection I was told that we needed a pressure gauge after the 60 psi regulator. At first I assumed that FIRST just didn't want teams "altering" the regulator or they didn't trust the manufacturers specifications. At nationals I was surprised to learn that this gauge was not required. The FIRST staff needs to realize that the manufacturers have tested their design and know its limits (IE the manufacturers will supply the wire the motor needs) Also the FIRST judges should be better informed about the rules and regulations.

Returning back to the fighting robots, they all run at least at 12 volts, and this is for robots that are a fraction of the weight of a FIRST robot. The 30 pounder (named JB Johson) that my group brought to Motorama used the Atwood mobile motors that are the same type as those that came with the 2002 kit. (usually refereed to Chipuahuas or CIMs) it ran 24v Victors (from Innovation FIRST) and it ran at 18 volts. All this for a 30 pounder. FIRST should realize that in order for robots to be more impressive they should bump the voltage up a bit and also improve the motors that are in the Kit. The motors do not lend themselves to a 130 pound robot. (On our next version of JB will probably run off 4 Atwoods all this on a 30 pounder!!!) First should realize the motor needs that a 130 pounder can have and supply us with motors that fulfill that need. IFI already carries 24 volt victors so a change from 12 volts to 24 would not be extremly hard. Plus it would expand the opportunities for Innovation FIRST.

If any of you haven't read Gearheads I suggest you go get yourselves a copy.
But in the book it talks about what Kamen had of a first impression of Battlebots. I was uneased by his view of Battlebots. As a whole i believe that the fighting robots comunity represents a group of closely knit friends that come together and have a great time fighting robots. (by the way if any of you saw the battlebots episode of CSI the portrayal of builders was completely wrong)

After the FIRST regional I decided that I was going to work harder trying to promote fighting robots. This led to the Formation of NHCRC, a club I founded at my high school to hold public robot events and feature a variety of robotic projects, ranging from 1 to 12 pounds (eventually larger). On a closing note after my experience in Houston, Texas for the FIRST Nationals, I plan on taking my group from NHCRC and competing in battlebots IQ, as well as participating in FIRST next year. (Battlebots IQ is a program designed as BATTLEBOTS version of FIRST. Check out Battlebots.com for more information)

Also, as a reminder, anything I have stated here is simply my own opinion and does not reflect the views of my team(s).


For more information on small Fighting robots you can vist
www.poundofpain.com
www.sozbots.com
www.robotconflict.com
For information on battlebots IQ you can visit
www.battlebots.com
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Unread 04-14-2003, 04:11 PM
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Re: Whats your honest opinion?

Quote:
Originally posted by Sean
(by the way if any of you saw the battlebots episode of CSI the portrayal of builders was completely wrong)
I saw it!


*rhetorical question* Doesn't tv always use the angle that will most suit dramatic purposes?
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Unread 04-14-2003, 04:31 PM
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Wow. I was just thinking the exact same thing yesterday. So many teams were using only drill motors or Atwoods for drive, and I was commenting on how the drill setup would be pushing it even for a lightweight combat robot and how my 12 pounder could outpush many of the FIRST robots out there. The drill motors/transmissions are nice, but are not suited for 130 pound robots. And then, to top that off, everything is running off of 12v. Upping the voltage and not using the hefty SLAs would be a huge improvement in my mind. Although most FIRST robots are severely underpowered, you have to keep in mind that we're driving on carpet here. And the ruleset is much longer than it needs to be. I don't think teams really need a set wire gauge or circuit breakers or anything like that.

I have to disagree with you on one of your comments, though. The robots in the finals were all pretty amazing.

Another awesome robotic combat club is MURC (Mid U.S. Robotics Club).
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Unread 04-14-2003, 05:08 PM
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just a reminder

First off- the motors
The motors are donated by companies that FIRST has asked to donate. In order to keep the costs of the kit low, the motors that are used are the ones that have been donated. Unless First gets more generosity from the suppliers these are the motors that you will get.
As for the robot's weight- Your robot does not have to be 130 lbs. That is a max, your robot could very well be thirty pounds. FIRST used to have a featherweight in the finals award. Maybe it would be a good idea for that to return.

On the 24 volt system- A lot of people have been throwing that around lately and it would require a major changeover in the kit of parts. Most of the motors that we receive are designed to run off of 12 volts. Over volting the motors will make them put out more power but it will also wear out the motors much faster. Also, a 24 V system could be very intimidating for rookies. After seeing some of the wiring schematics this year, I am not sure that moving up to 24 V would be a wise thing.

The reason that the rules are there is to keep a team from hurting themselves. Yes it does have a lot more rules than battle bots or other robotics competitions. However, all other competitions that I have seen require a pretty extensive knowledge of Engineering to begin undertaking the building of the bot. If you follow the FIRST rules, it is somewhat difficult;lt to make a robot that will turn into a fire hazard. It is possible, but I believe FIRST wrote the rules with a good margin of safety built in. Also, remember that resistance increases as length increase in terms of wire. With some of the motors pulling the juice they do, 10 gauge is not really a bad idea.

In my opinion, FIRST is more about unique design rather than brute strength. FIRST seems to prefer a mechanism that accomplishes a task in a different manner. While brute strength is always nice, it is not a necessity in FIRST competition.
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Unread 04-15-2003, 07:01 PM
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Re: just a reminder

*To start this off I believe I took my time to step back and form a very honest and true opinion of the format that FIRST follows and the general problems they seem to have. This post does not represent the views of team 151 but of a concerned participant in a competition with issues to resolve*


Quote:
Originally posted by Alavinus
The motors are donated by companies that FIRST has asked to donate. In order to keep the costs of the kit low, the motors that are used are the ones that have been donated. Unless First gets more generosity from the suppliers these are the motors that you will get.
Bill Clinton was quoted to say that Dean Kamens energy and enthusiam about the FIRST program was the single most inexhuastable energy source this nation has. If Dean Kamen asked for more fore the FIRST program and really put his best efforts into improving the motors (while keeping the cost low)
Quote:
Originally posted by Alavinus
As for the robot's weight- Your robot does not have to be 130 lbs. That is a max, your robot could very well be thirty pounds. FIRST used to have a featherweight in the finals award. Maybe it would be a good idea for that to return.
The biggest issue with this is that your pushing power is relative to your coefficeint of Friction and your mass IE less mass = less pushing power

Quote:
Originally posted by Alavinus
On the 24 volt system- A lot of people have been throwing that around lately and it would require a major changeover in the kit of parts. Most of the motors that we receive are designed to run off of 12 volts. Over volting the motors will make them put out more power but it will also wear out the motors much faster.
In most other common robot applications not overvolting motors is unheard of. A motor can usually handle at least 1.5 times the voltage. Also Dewalt has 18 volt drills so Kamen could get 18 volt drill motors that can easily handle 24 volts. Also IFI already makes 24 volt products so it would be a simple change of type in the next kit.

Quote:
Originally posted by Alavinus
Also, a 24 V system could be very intimidating for rookies. After seeing some of the wiring schematics this year, I am not sure that moving up to 24 V would be a wise thing.
As far as it being intimidating the entire thing competition can be intimidating for rookie teams. Simply changing voltage to 24 would not have a significant effect on any "intimidation" factor.



Quote:
Originally posted by Alavinus
With some of the motors pulling the juice they do, 10 gauge is not really a bad idea.
When i was refering to the 10 gauge wire it was just using that to the globe motors which have a very much smaller gauge wire that it comes with (this wire stays there and you hook the 10 gauge to it)

Quote:
Originally posted by Alavinus
In my opinion, FIRST is more about unique design rather than brute strength. FIRST seems to prefer a mechanism that accomplishes a task in a different manner. While brute strength is always nice, it is not a necessity in FIRST competition.
My suggestions lend more torwards a more marketable program that lends itself to higher comercial value and a faster overall growth rate. FIRST tried to get a television deal wth Viacom in like '96 (i believe that was the year) Viacom even made a pilot but decided the robots were not impressive enough and it didn't make good television. Making some of these changes would lend more torwards a comercial product which would help the over all growth of FIRST. More comercial equals more media equals more participants which is exactlly what Kamen wants.

Also, as a reminder, anything I have stated here is simply my own opinion and does not reflect the views of my team(s).
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Unread 04-15-2003, 07:20 PM
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Safety a Limiter

Remember that the field that we play in is not completely enclosed, and there are people standing to the sides. Effectively doubling the voltage would be doubling the power available to the robots. (If any of you saw what happened the the field barriers after a strong robot this year hit it, you can imagine what would happen if a robot twice as strong hit it)

Remember that the Field is carpetted, can you imagine the damage that large robot would do to anything else?

Remember that in FIRST, I have not seen a real out of control fire, usually letting out the magic smoke is as bad as it gets. Yes the wiring builds in a lot of saftey margin, but remember that a fire can easily take a robot out of commision and may cause damage to the playing field or worse other people.

The damage that robots took this year was bad enough as it is. We don't want to regress to the point where 99% of the weight of the robot needs to be spent on armor to keep it in one piece after a round is over.

There are much more creative tasks, stacking one of them that are far more interesting to watch. (I remember the loud and universal cheer the first time people saw someone that ACUTUALLY worked with a stack) that is impressive, not robots slamming into each other the whole time.

This is my 4th year with FIRST and see clearly that what makes FIRST different and more sustaining than any other robotics program (even Battlebots is out without a sponsor right now) is that new and fresh things are added and changed each year.

Think of the real world, there is no use for a robot that drives and slams into a wall repeatedly, but there is definately a use for a robotic surgeon.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 11:13 AM
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window dressing and razor blades...

I agree that FIRST has many rules compared to various fighting robot competitions. I would like it if the rules could be simplified, but I will understand if they are not.

Most of the rule complications fall under either safety or fairness heading.

As to the safety, I would prefer that FIRST had some general principles they put forward along with some recommended guidelines. I think we would be farther ahead in this case because many unsafe practices are not covered by the legalistic rule book and also many good ideas that can be safely implemented are forbidden. Yet, in our lawsuit happy world, it will be very difficult to relax many of these rules.

As to fairness, there are no completely fair rules or completely fair and consistant set of rules. This year's change to a more open material list was a step in the right direction. I would argue for even more openness in this area. I would especially like to see more open rules on motors (perhaps allowing teams to buy more or to use a wider variety of motors from a given list) and more open rules on pneumatics (perhaps allowing for larger storage tanks, more valves, more types of valves, more actuators and more types of actuators).

But, largely these issues are window dressing. The MAIN issue before us (which I believe is one of the keys to the ultimate success of FIRST, specifically, changing the culture by GETTING ON TV) will not be addressed by changing the robot construction rules but by getting a better game.

I know that FIRST really tried this year to make an exciting, TV friendly game. Let's not sugar coat it: they failed.

Bottom line: Stacking is hard. Knocking down is easy. King-of-the-Hill was the Name-of-the-Game (or should have been). This year's game rewarded pushing too much, rewarded building stacks too little and then wrapped it all in an Elimation Round Format that all but ensured anti-climactic endings.

I repeat what I have said many times: FIRST is running down a razor blade. It is a very close thing whether we will grow fast enough catch the eye of mass media in order to make the difference we all want before we will crash and burn, imploding on ourselves before we make a lasting impact.

This season was another lost opportunity.

Perhaps next year.

Joe J.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 11:43 AM
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Re: Safety a Limiter

Quote:
Originally posted by Patrick Wang
Remember that the field that we play in is not completely enclosed, and there are people standing to the sides.

Remember that the Field is carpetted, can you imagine the damage that large robot would do to anything else?
But is there any reason we have to play in an unenclosed field? I don't see any, other than possibly making the HP aspect a bit more difficult to implement.

We don't need carpet, there's no reason to stick with that, the metal grating and HDPE were excellent surfaces to play on. I know at DotD there was some other kind of flooring that held up extremely well and had great traction.

While FIRST tried to get a more spectator friendly game, Joe Johnson is right, they failed. I still can't explain the game very quickly, and you can't just watch it and instantly understand. BattleBots is like that, that's the reason they are on TV and we are not. You can turn BattleBots on and you have instant action and understanding. I know FIRST doesn't and shouldn't go to strictly fighting, but we have to come up with something, so no more complaining, that doesn't solve anything, we are the smartest group of people on the face of the planet, I know we can come up with something.

Good things from this year's competition:
Multiple and interesting surfaces, playing field, and scoring elements.
Game with lots of action; i.e. shoving, flipping, etc.
Something that looks cool when you see it, i.e. a KotH taking the ramp, a robot making a giant stack. That kind of stuff pulls you in, we need more of that.

Bad Things:
Dead Time, between matches, often at points in the match where people settle into places, i.e. someones at the top, 1 robot in each zone, and someone is flipped over. You need conflict.
Game too hard to understand, I think this is obvious, it's easier to explain than before but not easy enough.

I see lots of solutions:
Enclosed Field
Something other than carpet (can you say water? )
Different shape field, why not, something brand new, how bout a field shaped like pi?
And somehow, we have to get on TV, on some larger station, not the NASA channel.

Less Complaining! More Solutions!
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Unread 04-16-2003, 12:20 PM
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This was posted in another thread - i'm paraphrasing from memory:

The high-gauge wires coming from the motors are a more expensive wire that are designed to let out more heat (or something) and that work well with the motor. If you want to use cheap wire, you'll hafta use a lower gauge.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 12:24 PM
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It's a fine line to walk between action and destruction. Why do more people watch wrestling over golf? Football over tennis? Battlebots over FIRST?

From my 4 years of involvement with FIRST, I've noticed they tend to be geared more towards creation, both on the physical robot end, and mentally by fostering an interest in math, science, and engineering. Battlebots, on the other hand, seems geared at simple destruction, made for TV, "because it's cool."

I think FIRST is doing a fine job as per growth rate: I've seen and learned from many experiences that too high a rate of growth is not a good thing for any company... i.e. growth beyond what it's capable of handling. True, it would grow more if on network TV, but there is no more powerful growth medium than word of mouth.

That aside, I'd like to see FIRST maintain the intellectual integrity in competition. Anyone can drive a battlebot, given the parameters of the controls necessary to implement destruction, but with FIRST, strategy, as well as a capable bot, is necessary to succeed. The scoring may not be friendly to spectators intially, but after watching a few matches, it's not so difficult to pick up, especially given the many willing participants in the audience who can explain the game with their eyes closed. Personally, I enjoy the friendly competition atmosphere over "I want to rip your robot's electronics out while toasting it over an open fire." Whoever says matches like this aren't exciting weren't watching the divisional elimination matches, or even the championship finals. The carpet serves a number of purposes, from sound dampening, to alliance identification, to scoring zones, to robot protection, to venue protection. Imagine the sound of aluminum scraping concrete every match. Think of the scratches in the concrete left by pushing and shoving robots, and how much damage FIRST would have to pay to each venue as a result.

Overall, I enjoy FIRST the way it is. It would be nice to see continuing, steady growth, overcoming the population with friendly competition that supports the changes FIRST is trying to make, rather than mindless destruction that can be seen with battlebots. It's been said Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was society. Society has been established over the course of decades and centuries, and won't be changed by a mere 10-11 years. However, the changes it has made over the course of such a short time are phenomenol. Thousands of students who would have never considered it are now persueing engineering degrees. To change a society overnight is impossible. To change society over a year is impossible. The only sure way to invoke change is to use time as an ally. While media coverage would invoke the changes faster, if we stoop to a level where violence is necessary to grab that attention, would that not defeat the purpose of what FIRST is trying to teach?

Sorry for the long rant, but I feel I must defend the program that's changed my life.

Last edited by Marc P. : 04-16-2003 at 12:26 PM.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 12:30 PM
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Re: Re: Safety a Limiter

Quote:
Originally posted by Johca_Gaorl
Bad Things:
Dead Time, between matches, often at points in the match where people settle into places, i.e. someones at the top, 1 robot in each zone, and someone is flipped over. You need conflict.
Game too hard to understand, I think this is obvious, it's easier to explain than before but not easy enough.
I think this year's game was a step in the right direction for FIRST in both of these categories.

The past 6 years, i've tried to explain this game to my dad. This was the first year he was able to understand it easily, and we were able to talk strategy. I consider my dad as our target demographic. 25-55 male. Consumer. Homeowner. This was the first game that has appealed to him. I say the games are getting better.

As far as dead time, that's just a part of competition. For every Duke vs North Carolina, there's a bunch of Wake Forest vs Texas Tech. Also, if the score is 10-2 in the bottom of the 9th, you're probably gonna change the channel, unless you're a diehard fan of one of the teams.

My point here is that we don't need to worry about down time. We just need to air the competition tape delayed. Do you think every Battle Bots match is as entertaining as Disector vs Biohazard? Heck no! They edit down days of competition to get a couple hours of quality footage that they can show over a whole season. This is the kind of thing I envision for FIRST:

Quote:
And with 30 seconds left in Curie match 54, it looks like Team 122 has this thing all wrapped up. Back to you, Chuck.

--Back in the booth--

Alright. Thanks, Dave. Wow, did you see the move 122 made there?

I sure did, Chuck. The speed and maneuverability of 122's machine just overwhelmed their opponent and led to an easy victory.

Yes, it did. I hear things are heating up on Newton field. What do ya have for us, Dan?

--On Newton field--

Heating up is right. That's because we have Team 312 Heatwave here. But it's not gonna be an easy match for their alliance if 179 Swamp Thing and 180 SPAM have anything to say about it. These are sister teams from south Florida, and something special always seems to happen when these two get on the field together. And we're underway!
Excuse my dream sequence here, but you can see what I mean. Robots hitting eachother over the head *does* get boring after a while. FIRST's games are way more interesting than that. With some great personalities and some good editing, even this year's game would work great for TV.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 01:00 PM
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First to Sean,
Interesting start, but here is my take on things. I am proud of the robots we build because they are not battlebots. Our robots could easily be modified to run and maim other devices but what do you learn from that. Between regionals, nationals, post season, practice and demonstrations our robots will easily run 70-100 competitions. Many of them with little or no maintenance during that season. We still use our old robots to test our new ones two or three years later. After the time invested in this program I happy to know that someone out there is not trying to turn our robot into scrap.
As to the motors and materials...One of the biggest life lessons you can learn from this competition is there are real world restrictions on anything you do. Learning those restrictions and how to design and build something within those restrictions is invaluable. Anyone who has gone to nationals can tell you that 300 robots, all designed to do the same thing, rarely even come close to looking alike. That variety is a tribute to the creative process within us all. Use it to your advantage. No matter what you do, you cannot modify the real world restrictions to suit yourself. Learn how to live with that and you will be successful.
As to motors, batteries, etc. There are a number of misconceptions. 24 volts is not better than 12 volts. Power is power, 10 watts at 24 volts or 10 watts at 12 volts is still 10 watts. Our 12 volt SLA battery packs a whale of a punch in terms of power density, they are easy to find, lot's of product out there runs on 12 volts, and insulation is not as critical an issue as at a higher voltage. Yes our suppliers provide us with 12 volt motors but you can walk into any junkyard and get 12 motors to experiment with at home. And you already have the knowledge of integrating a design with them simply from your FIRST experience.
I choose to be involved with this program because it teaches so much. Sure you can learn about robotics from Battlebots, but what else. Do you learn communications by beating another robot, do you learn respect from trying to damage someone's creation, do you absorb any knowledge from mentors, team members or volunteers when they don't exist? This competition gives you all that and more if you take the initiative. Ask any adult and they will tell you how they wish they had any kind of educational experience like this. You have the opportunity to test out a variety of career ideas without anything more than a small time commitment. How invaluable is that? Ask someone who has put in four years of college only to realize it is not what he or she wants to do for the rest of their lives. We succeed even if a student decides engineering or science is not for them. It at least narrows the field.
Finally, I do agree with Joe in a few areas. TV coverage will help expand this program quickly, but it can kill it just as easily. The general viewing public can only take so much of the same thing before it becomes fickle and turns to something else. An easier game with good scoring possibilities and exciting finishes will bring spectators and TV. The hardest thing is to come up with a great game. FIRST has hit a good one every year, some better than others. This is not one of my favorite games but it had some exciting moments. I am glad that thinking up a new game is not my responsibility.
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All is better now, NOS parts are working fine. Why does this year's game remind me of Violet in Willie Wonka? Hmmmm, I see blueberries!

Last edited by Al Skierkiewicz : 04-16-2003 at 01:04 PM.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 01:13 PM
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Re: Re: Re: Safety a Limiter

Ok, interesting aside, we actually did play match 54, but in Newton. odd... lol

I completely agree that FIRST is headed in the right direction, I was trying to point out that we are not there quite yet. I know it's only going to get better, I'm just trying to point out what needs to be worked on in order to get people to come up with solutions. Just seeing a little too much whining without though

You're right, down time isn't a big issue, the people at competition are so pumped anyways, and you have tons of editing advantages with TV.

Glad to hear that your dad understands this game, obviously we are headed in the right direction. I wonder if we will get another, "Ok, you design this year's game" thread from Dave Lavery again...PLEASE!

And George, are you coming up with this commentary on the fly? If so, we NEED you to do some announcing at events, there's some boring announcing going on, that's another problem, and I know we have good announcers in the community, they just need to step up.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 01:19 PM
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*To start this off I believe I took my time to step back and form a very honest and true opinion of the format that FIRST follows and the general problems they seem to have. This post does not represent the views of team 151 but of a concerned participant in a competition with issues to resolve*

Just one thing that some of the previous posts seemed to think and have a misconstrued opinion on. The Battlebots enviroment is about beating apart the other robot. But that is only for the two or three m,inutes in the match. Imediately after the match yoru back in the pit fixing any major damage on your bot and checking up with your competitor and helping him. There is more cross team work done in battlebots than there is in FIRST (I know this for a fact) In the pits at an event you see more people helping each other and less divisions by team. There are two major times in Combat Robotics that the builders are divided. In the battlebox and on the winners podium. (there are three if you want to include forums )
One other thing as far as respect goes you learn to respect each others ability in Combat Robotics. Repect is something people earn. You can earn it in both FIRST and Combat Robotics. Watching a better built /desinged bot kick your bots butt is one time that you learn to respect the other builder.
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Unread 04-16-2003, 01:24 PM
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Different shape field, why not, something brand new, how bout a field shaped like pi?
Come on Jac. OBVIOUSLY this is because it would never end. So, until you can come up with some area that has infinite space willing to host a FIRST event, maybe we should stick with a good approximation like 3.14. Or, how about e^(PI*i) -- you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?
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