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Unread 10-26-2006, 07:11 PM
KenWittlief KenWittlief is offline
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Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

One of the aspects of FIRST that many people have a difficult time grasping and eventually accepting is that the FIRST competition is not fair. We don't try to hide this fact, we have always been very open about it.

There are many reasons why the FIRST competition (the games on the field) are not fair. Teams are not evenly matched. Some teams have vast resources and experience, other have little or none of either.

I believe it was necessary for FIRST to be created this way back in 1992. There were only 32 teams, there was only one competition held, so not much could be done to have teams compete on an equal footing.

As FIRST grew there were only a few regionals, and eventually the 1st national event - still small by todays standards. Any team that had the funds could attend the Nationals (at WDW no less) every year if they wanted.

Now that we are hovering around 1000 teams, with many regionals, some becoming super-regionals, and with 300 teams able to attend the Championship, is it time for FIRST to take steps toward making the competitions more fair?

This issue comes up almost every year. People float ideas for different divisions - big teams, small teams, rookie teams, divisions based on funding, years of experience, 100% student built vs mentor designed and built....

Another issue that comes up every year is "FIRST is about inspiration" vs "FIRST is a competition". Big teams with complex and professionally manufactured robots contend that little teams with plywood robots are inspired by the super-robots, even if the little team is trampled by them on the playfield, and has no chance of placing well on their own merits, much less winning the Championship.

Over the years I have mentored small teams, and I have watched the students enthusiasm drop on their 1st day of their 1st regional, when they realize they have little chance of placing well, and no chance of winning the event. We have all sat in the bleachers as one by one other teams are picked for the playoffs, and I know how dis-heartened the students feel when the last team is picked, and we are left out.

FIRST has taken some steps to keep the smaller teams in the mix. The alliance system, pairing teams at random, gives weak teams the chance to be on the winning side of some matches.

At the same time, as FIRST has grown, winning a regional has taken on more importance than getting a nice plastic trophy, it is also an open door to attend the Championship. Saying that FIRST games are all about inspiration isn't the whole story anymore, if the big successful teams get to attend the Championship every year, and the smaller struggling teams don't.

So I'm wondering, have we grown big enough yet, do we have enough teams and regionals now, to take some steps toward making FIRST fair, like other sporting events? Ways to allow teams to compete on their own level, where they have a reasonable hope that, if they do well, if they try hard and work hard, they could win of their own accord?

I don't expect anything to change this year, but I'm interested in hearing other peoples ideas on the subject of how FIRST could be improved to make the competitions more fair. Please treat this thread as a brainstorming session, and hold your wet blankets and buckets of naysayer-cold water at bay. Let the ideas be presented without shooting them down, and lets see where the ideas might led us?
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Unread 10-26-2006, 07:49 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

The simplest (doesn't require whole new divisions), although cleary not ideal, way would be to make a championships for the bottom 25% (or some other amount) ranking teams or some idea like that. It would work, but not very well.

Maybe a division at championships where you can only compete if you haven't won a regional (or bigger) in 2-3 years? This would replace one of the four divisions. This seems better, but still not ideal.

If they truly try to fix this problem, it would take some serious work and thought.
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Unread 10-26-2006, 08:26 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Cromat,

That only works if your definition of fairness is "equal chance to get to Champs, sort of." Probably the better definition to move toword would be "equal chance to build a good robot."

It's a very very complicated issue. Teams with more members will inevitably have better odds than teams with few members. Teams with better shops will inevitably have better ability to do more with less materials than other teams. Teams with more money will still be able to iterate through more designs than other teams.

So basically, what you're trying to do is find an optimized solution that maximizes fairness and creative potential, and minimizes draconian rules. Now if someone can actually come up with a good equation for that, the solution becomes a trivial numerical problem to solve....
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Unread 10-26-2006, 08:51 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

I see FVC as that solution. In this competition huge funds do not make a major difference, and having more team members is not necessarily an advantage. It is not the same as the full FRC, with less prestige and excitement, but rather than teams entering the big competition as rookies and getting demolished, I think that Vex is an excellent alternative. It can be an introduction to FIRST. If a high school has a vex team for a year or two, goes to some off-season competitions with borrowed bots as a pre-rookie, then decides to join the full FRC, the team would not be at such a disadvantage.

As for fully leveling FIRST, government funding for rookies and struggling teams would have a huge impact IMO. A few thousand dollars to a team or a government incentive for companies to sponsor FIRST teams would allow newer teams to get some of the resources that the veterans have. This goes back to Dean's homework - make sure your representatives know about FIRST and receive invitations to events in your area.

At the same time veterans should reach out as much as possible to both local and distant teams. Check the little box on TIMS that you are willing to mentor a team, and then if a request comes in, see how much you can do. Maybe you can just be an e-mail or phone buddy for a rookie coach, or you could help set up a basic powerpoint presentation for them to get more sponsors.

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Unread 10-26-2006, 09:12 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Howland
I see FVC as that solution. In this competition huge funds do not make a major difference, and having more team members is not necessarily an advantage.
I have not been involved with a Vex team. What is the difference that makes your statement true? Are Vex teams only allowed to use VEX parts? Are they allowed to fabricate or alter the parts?

If that is the limitation, then a parallel for the FRC would be a more restricted KOP class of robots, or a design that uses the KOP drivetrain... something along those lines. At regional events the top 3 teams with the best performace in the "Limited KOP class" might go on to the Championship?

Early on FIRST teams were very restricted regarding what could be used on the robot, I think at one point it was something like the KOP, one sheet of plywood, 8 feet of PVC, four square feet of sheet metal.... Would that be similar to the way the Vex competition is set up now?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cromat44
Maybe a division at championships where you can only compete if you haven't won a regional (or bigger) in 2-3 years? This would replace one of the four divisions.
the four divisions at the Championship crossed my mind on the drive home tonight. If we did have different classes or levels of regional awards, there could be 4 divisions of competition at the championship: rookie / expert / unlimited / student built...

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Unread 10-26-2006, 09:58 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by KenWittlief
I have not been involved with a Vex team. What is the difference that makes your statement true? Are Vex teams only allowed to use VEX parts? Are they allowed to fabricate or alter the parts?

If that is the limitation, then a parallel for the FRC would be a more restricted KOP class of robots, or a design that uses the KOP drivetrain... something along those lines.

Early on FIRST teams were very restricted regarding what could be used on the robot, I think at one point it was something like the KOP, one sheet of plywood, 8 feet of PVC, four square feet of sheet metal.... Would that be similar to the way the Vex competition is set up now?
From this year's manual:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hangin' Around Manual
<R5> Robot construction is constrained to the following:
a. Any Official Vex Component may be used (except as limited below).
Only one (1) Vex Microcontroller
Up to two (2) Vex Y-Cables
Up to ten (10) Motors or Servos (Any combination, up to ten)
Only one (1) Battery Pack from the Vex Power Pack (Vex P/N: 230-0036)
Up to two (2) RF receivers
(plus a few smaller items such as rubber bands and decorations that I'm omitting to keep this short...)
e. No additional components may be used.
So while the parts can be modified with holes and such, they already have many holes predrilled and are easy to bend by hand, so machinery would not make a huge difference. There are some individual kits for certain items such as programming and they cost anywhere from $20 to $100, but I doubt a Vex team will exceed $700 in parts (easily less if they buy wisely).

I would rather not see FIRST limit the available components on the full robot. But, yes, essentially that is what Vex is right now. Right now FIRST allows students to become involved in such a variety of areas that anyone can find something meaningful. We have one mentor who specializes in custom transmissions, and sometimes students work with him during the design process. If we were to restrict drivetrains (or any other component) then current mentors may find lose their current area of specialty, and students would not be able to learn as much in that field.

For having the divisions such as Student Built, I think that this may hurt the program a bit and the guidelines would have to be very clear. If a mentor suggests something and makes a sketch in AutoCAD, then watches the student, does that count? What if the mentor cuts the piece himself for safety reasons? And might teams decide that they have a better chance of making the championships/finals by not recruiting engineering mentors? (I would hope not, but there is a possibility)

This year I think that FIRST took a step towards fairness with their new alliance selection process (regardless of people's feelings about this, it indisputably gave weaker teams a better chance). Maybe they have something else lined up this year that would help younger teams.

-Steve
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Unread 10-26-2006, 11:12 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

I would like to see something that promotes most of the students on a team talking with other teams about the process of building the robot. Talking about how they came up with their ideas. How they found their money.

Some of this is contained in the Chairmans Award submission. Most of this type of information is given to the judges, but I want teams to talk about this with students/mentors/teachers/parents/people just visiting their nephew on Saturday/ on other teams too. I loved being a judge at IRI because most teams jumped at the chance to tell me all about their team and robot. The enthusiasm was amazing.

I've heard a lot of presumptions about how teams win. Rather than assuming, I want the how of their win to be questioned. Not in a "you shouldn't do it that way" but in a "How can I learn from them" way. What are the benefits of the way they did it? What are the negatives? How compatible is that with how we want our team to run?

Sometimes people need a little encouragement to meet new people to share and interact. I'm not sure how that could be accomplished, but I'm sure someone has an idea.

This doesn't necessarily directly address the issue of 'fairness' with regards to winning the robot competition, but I think helps with inspiring teams that don't often, or ever, win the competition.


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Unread 10-26-2006, 11:51 PM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by To Kill a Mockingbird
'Atticus, are we going to win it?'

'No, honey.'

'Then why-'

'Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.'
As much as I would like to see the playing field leveled, I believe that as with anything in life, a slight to moderate imbalance is necessary to keep the program moving forward. When everyone is exactly even, who do you look up to for ideas and inspiration? If you're a team with limited resources, what inspiration is there to try wild, innovative, and new ideas to try to beat the "better" teams, when all you have to do is go with some stable, boring idea to beat the average run-of-the-mill bot?

With the ever increasing amount of off-the-shelf resources, such as the IFI and AndyMark transmissions and wheels, IFI Kitbot frame, and the EasyC programming environment, it's becoming easier and easier for rookie teams to build better robots. Rather than seeing strict rules put in place to stifle the "better" teams, I would rather see more resources being developed to help rookie teams build competitive robots.

Instead of lowering a team's expectations, let's raise the amount of competitive resources available to them.
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Unread 10-27-2006, 12:01 AM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by artdutra04
...it's becoming easier and easier for rookie teams to build better robots. Rather than seeing strict rules put in place to stifle the "better" teams, I would rather see more resources being developed to help rookie teams build competitive robots.

Instead of lowering a team's expectations, let's raise the amount of competitive resources available to them.
I completely agree. This year's game was particularly new-team friendly since it didn't require the development of very complicated systems to remain competitive. Not only were arms not required, but you didn't even necessarily need to make a shooter. There were plenty of one-point bots that were successful. A low-ball bot made it all the way to the Championship Finals, and they might have even won if things had gone slightly differently.

Games that have multiple angles to approach from encourage new teams to focus on an area they believe they can do well. If they don't have the experience to develop a complicated arm system or a top-notch autonomous routine, there should be plenty of other ways they can solve the problems presented by the game to remain competitive.

I think the 2006 and 2004 games are the best examples of this in recent history. I can't wait to see what opportunities the 2007 game brings.
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Unread 10-27-2006, 12:15 AM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Marra
I completely agree. This year's game was particularly new-team friendly since it didn't require the development of very complicated systems to remain competitive. Not only were arms not required, but you didn't even necessarily need to make a shooter. There were plenty of one-point bots that were successful. A low-ball bot made it all the way to the Championship Finals, and they might have even won if things had gone slightly differently.

Games that have multiple angles to approach from encourage new teams to focus on an area they believe they can do well. If they don't have the experience to develop a complicated arm system or a top-notch autonomous routine, there should be plenty of other ways they can solve the problems presented by the game to remain competitive.

I think the 2006 and 2004 games are the best examples of this in recent history. I can't wait to see what opportunities the 2007 game brings.
Both of you are exactly right.

If the rookies have a nice base available to them, along with secondary scoring objectives, the game will be more available to all.

There were a lot of corner dumpers this year that could beat some of the shooters.

In Phoenix, we were barely shooting correctly and were beaten pretty easily by corner dumping teams (I'm thinking 1006, fast eddie or something like that).
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Unread 10-27-2006, 08:09 AM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

I have to say there is a little generalization taking place here. At both the Midwest and Milwaukee regionals this year, rookies not only placed well but were in the winning alliance. As a matter of fact I think there were four rookies in the final match at Midwest and three at Milwaukee. The current alliance and scoring structure goes a long way to giving low scoring rookies (or any team) a chance to keep pace with other teams and be in a position to pick alliance partners. I believe that all teams at both these regionals had a great experience. When rookie teams are picking, they do not have the historical knowledge to pick powerhouse teams, they just go on instinct. It is up to the veterans to help insure that all teams at an event feel special, get help when needed and enjoy the weekend.
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Unread 10-27-2006, 08:27 AM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

ok 1745 is a team with small numbers(15 kids), little funding(last year we spend $248 on the robot), and little engineering support(I'm the most formally educated mentor on the team).

and we like the way that things are now. yes it may not be "fair", but the way we see it FIRST isn't about winning a robot contest, its about trying your best to complete a really really hard task in a really really short amount of time. just showing up with a finished robot is winning enough for us, any thing more is icing.
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Unread 10-27-2006, 10:05 AM
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by artdutra04
With the ever increasing amount of off-the-shelf resources, such as the IFI and AndyMark transmissions and wheels, IFI Kitbot frame, and the EasyC programming environment, it's becoming easier and easier for rookie teams to build better robots. Rather than seeing strict rules put in place to stifle the "better" teams, I would rather see more resources being developed to help rookie teams build competitive robots.

Instead of lowering a team's expectations, let's raise the amount of competitive resources available to them.
that is one way increase the level of fairness, or to have classes or levels of competition in which teams can play

you could either have a KOP-only division, and let the super teams play in a totally unrestricted class (use whatever motors / controllers / parts...) you want

or you could turn it around to take some of the restrictions off the smaller teams, so they could buy completed assemblys from someone else, and focus more on one aspect of the design: SW, control systems, auton mode.

My gut instict is telling me we could not (and most teams would not want to) limit the game in ways, so that all teams are more or less equal, and then have all teams compete for the same trophy: ie, only 8 students and 2 mentors per team, or all teams can only use the KOP and nothing else...

I think we would have to move in the direction of having different levels of play within FRC, so that teams can target the level/class they have resources and people to do well in - that means the expert/vetran game could be opened up even more: super-bot class, maybe with $50k robots playing for the top title.

Ali was the HeavyWeight boxing champion or many years, and Sugar Ray Leonard was the top of his class in boxing. They were both champions, but they never had a match against each other. There should be a similar path for FIRST to explore.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephen Kowski
i don't know if I buy it....in our rookie year we went and won at the Peachtree Regional as a rookie with almost no money. I see teams all the time that I know (since I talk with them) don't have a lot of resources build great, competitive machines. ...
I think there are some hasty generalizations being made in this post that may or may not necessarily be accurate. Please consider this as you try to "make competitions more fair" because I think there is an issue with the problem statement that was given.
I expected there would be some contention on whether FIRST competitions actually are fair or not. Every kickoff meeting I have attended in person Dean Kamen makes a point of saying the competition is not fair, and that it is not designed or intended to be fair.

Some of the aspects of the way the games have evolved are not to increase the level of fairness, but intead to keep the games exciting, interesting, and to let the weaker teams stay more involved.

Originally teams played against each other, there were no alliances. Your ranking at regionals depended mostly on how well your robot and players performed.

But now with the 3 team alliances, your team only represents 33% of your alliance. A really good team could be matched with weak teams in every single match, and not place well in the rankings. Likewise a weak team could be matched with excellent robots in every match, and end up in the top 8 of the rankings, even if their robot never scored a single point all day.

that is one aspect of fairness that could be addressed. Alliances exist in part to keep every team engaged, but the result is that the team that scored the most points, or played the best defense at an event, may not make it into the top eight, then everything else is out of their control.

the other aspect is the resource and team sizes. The smallest team you can have is 4 students and one mentor (you must have 4 students on the playfield). I think it would be great if smaller Highschools could have teams with only 4 -8 students, and they would have a reasonable chance of being the champions in their division or level, whatever that means, without having to defeat a team with 60 students and 20 mentors and a multibillion dollar corporate sponsor.

I think the issue of whether FIRST is fair should be clear - when compared to other sport-like events and contests that students can enter. I hope we focus here on ways to open the competition up to more teams, so they can compete against other teams 'like them'.

that doenst mean we have to make it easier for everyone - we could make it easier for smaller teams, and make it more challenging for the powerhouse teams.

Last edited by KenWittlief : 10-27-2006 at 12:51 PM.
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Unread 10-27-2006, 10:41 AM
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Taylor Taylor is offline
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

"Well, since Johnny is a slower runner than Alex, we'll put his finish line 10 meters closer so it's a fair race."
You'll never hear that at the Olympics.
As the coach of a small team with limited funds and limited experience, I think the way they've got FIRST set up is fantastic. If our team went in and won the whole thing as it is, it would be absolutely spectacular. However, if we were given accommodations, I think any victory would be cheapened. I would rather earn it.
As it is, we celebrate our small victories. Winning any matches were cause for ecstacy. Even though our dumper bot wasn't one of the strongest, we feel we contributed with our defensive play and strategizing. I think preparation is critical - the team members have to come in with realistic expectations. If we finish a regional or offseason with a winning record in match play, we'd probably go crazy. If we get picked as an alliance partner, I can't imagine the emotions from the kids, especially the veteran members. Sometimes the struggles make victory so much sweeter.
Also, I believe it is up to the veteran teams to show a great example, keep the bar raised high, and go out of their way to help out. In November, all the FIRST teams in Indiana will meet at Kokomo for a workshop. Teams will learn from the masters - Baker, Fultz, Florence, Beatty, etc. about all aspects of being a FIRST team, from fundraising and sponsorships to pneumatics and drivetrains.
The great equalizer in this competition is knowledge, highlighted by chiefdelphi.com itself. We can share ideas, philosophies, experiences, successes and failures.
One thing I do think would help is awards. Perhaps make some awards that would go to smaller/younger/poorer teams other than Rookie All-Star. Being publicly recognized as an up-and-comer would create a ton of inspiration for a team. Perhaps the Look-Out award? Wait-Til-Next-Year award?
gah. Now I sound like a Cubs fan.
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Unread 10-27-2006, 10:56 AM
KenWittlief KenWittlief is offline
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Re: Ideas to move in the direction of making FIRST competitions 'fair'

Quote:
Originally Posted by boiler
"Well, since Johnny is a slower runner than Alex, we'll put his finish line 10 meters closer so it's a fair race."
You'll never hear that at the Olympics.....
yes and no. Im almost certain no woman has ever won a large-open class Marathon race. Men have an inherent advantage in long distance running.

That doesnt mean women have never finshed before all the men crossed the finish line, but when open class races are held, the men and women are ranked in separate classes. Best male runner, best female runner.

They dont move the finish line for the women, but they do acknowledge the obvious differences in performace ability.

to address the concern of some people who seem to like playing 'against all odds', if FIRST did create levels or division of play, you could always sign up for the open class / unrestricted / super-bot class and go head to head against the best teams in the world, if thats what you want to do

but keep in mind, alliances may no longer exist then, and you would have to win on your teams merits alone.

Last edited by KenWittlief : 10-27-2006 at 11:07 AM.
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