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Unread 04-07-2012, 03:50 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

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Originally Posted by StevenB View Post
Powerhouse teams have a very strong understanding of the playing field, because they take time to build a nearly complete one and prototype with it.
<snip>
Powerhouse teams are focused on performance.
The first item is not necessarily true, while the second one is absolutely true. We build some of a wooden field, and even then, not until week 3 or 4. BUT we IMAGINE a perfect field and... (see below)
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Originally Posted by Siri View Post
For example, do we need to find some kind of fast-fabrication sponsor?
No, you just need to prototype faster. Kids tend to work slowly, we teach them how to work fast.
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Originally Posted by Ninja_Bait View Post
But the real key is being able to practice.
Yes indeed.
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Originally Posted by mikemat View Post
I've allways believed the key was building a robot not to play the game, but to play a strategy.
Also yes indeed.

The very first step in winning the game-of-the-year is to work out how the game will play. We ALL know how Baseball is played (for example) and so oddball strategies like a Bunt, which aren't at all obvious, can win a game.

We take the rest of Kickoff Saturday and play the game many, many times, learning as we go. What do the robots need to be able to do? Anything subtle we need to think about? Then we send everyone home to think on Sunday.

Monday, we start by defining Capabilities. we determine which we need, and by Wednesday we can start on methods to achieve Capabilities. Then comes the prototypes - dozens of them. They are demonstrated by Friday (yes, FAST prototypes).

Meanwhile, the drivetrain team has a rolling platform ready for Saturday. The drivers drive, drive, and drive some more.

By week 5, the practice bot is driving and playing, we're assembling the competition robot.

In the whole process, the simple things like scoring are designed to be simple and therefore quick. Any task that can be simplified, is. We want the drivers to focus on the things that can't be predicted, and the mundane tasks are either automated or very simple.

This year, shooting and ball gathering is brainless, just drive to the right spot. Pushing down the bridge involves A) deploy mechanism and B) drive up to bridge. It lowers and you drive up without stopping. We go to ultra-low gear for balancing, but the balance itself is manual.

Kind of like modern aircraft cockpit design: Reduce the pilot's workload so they can focus on what is critically important.
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Unread 04-07-2012, 04:01 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

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Originally Posted by DonRotolo View Post
No, you just need to prototype faster. Kids tend to work slowly, we teach them how to work fast.
No hints for the lesser OPRs? That's ok, I'll be happy to pick your kids brains at Philly. This is definitely the key I haven't been able to make work. Good to know we don't necessarily need off-site help. Thank you, Sir.
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Unread 04-07-2012, 04:15 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

In my experience, fast fabrication correlates to high performance. It doesn't really matter if it's through a sponsor or the team simply has a lot of machines at their disposal, but being able to go from the design phase very quickly to the assembly phase seems extremely important.

Our team has a manual lathe and a CNC mill in our machine shop which, is not really comparable to the resources at the disposal of "powerhouse" teams. In order to have enough time to manufacture a practice and competition robot, we had to finish the detailed CAD by the Monday of week 2. For us, time is simply that much of an issue.

Contrasting this with 254 (for me, the local powerhouse team) reveals a large difference. Talking to mentor, I learned that they typically finished the CAD around week 3 or 4. This gives them approximately two to three times more time to prototype, strategize and design. It's hardly a surprise how dominant they were at SVR.

I don't think that this trend of designing until late and manufacturing fast is unique to the poofs. To me, being able to get parts fast allows for extra time to prototype and design for the "powerhouse" teams that "normal" teams don't have. Quick manufacturing turnaround, to me, makes all the difference.
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Unread 04-07-2012, 04:49 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

I also haven't people mention communication.

I feel like the powerhouses talk to each other. I'm not saying there's a magical forum where only the powerhouses post, but just through mentors knowing each other, students knowing each other, and alumni moving back and forth, the powerhouses must share ideas.

So at the end of the day, you're not just seeing the best robot built by team xxxx, but you're see the product of ideas from team xxxx, team yyyy, and team zzzz, but each team takes this feature and implements it differently.

This will obviously not play as much of a factor as having a full field or having quick machining capabilities, but I feel like somewhere down the line, talking out your ideas with multiple world class teams/mentors doesn't hurt either.

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Unread 04-07-2012, 05:08 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

Well that's the interesting thing. These ideas don't appear on Chief Delphi until week 2 or 3. Which is interesting.
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Unread 04-07-2012, 05:48 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

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Originally Posted by Grim Tuesday View Post

How do these teams come up with these ideas?

Why do other teams not come up with them?

The other question is, are these teams powerhouses because they come up with this kind of idea? Or do they come up with this kind of idea because they are powerhouses?
Teams come up with these ideas because they jump through hoops backwards to come up with them. A 'powerhouse' team, as they're dubbed, doesn't want an average design. They want an extraordinary design, they want the best design, they want the winning design. They look for key elements of the game, and they design their robot around that. Then, not only do they come up with a design, they crunch the numbers for it. I'm sure you've seen JVN's design calculator. Those great teams, from what I've heard and read, do extensive research and screening into their design, figuring out how to make it better. The result is a robot design they is both unique and effective. The result of THAT, is a robot that dominates the competition. If you look at 2011, roller claws that opened like pincher claws were a great design. They're the product that out-of-the-box thinking. This year, stingers seem to be that unique design.

As to why teams DON'T come up with those designs, there are a lot of reasons for this. Maybe they don't have the resources to build a great design they come up with. That always plays a factor. Maybe they misread the game; if you thought making hoops was all you'd need to do to win matches, and disregarded the bridge mostly, save for a simple manipulator, you'd find yourself on the short end of the stick. Or maybe they just don't have an extensive design process. They come up with a design that works well, but they don't refine it or verify that it is indeed the best design. Those are just a few reasons that come to mind.

As to your third question, I think it may work both ways. A team becomes a powerhouse by thinking of out-of-the-box designs that win. They then continue to come up with those designs because they have the experience of a process that gave them a good design. It can take years of refinement to get the design process down. But one you've got it, I'd imagine it's pretty hard to lose. So long as things are documented well enough.
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Unread 04-07-2012, 10:48 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

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Originally Posted by ttldomination View Post
I also haven't people mention communication.

I feel like the powerhouses talk to each other.
Well, if you want to know how 217 became a powerhouse, just pin down Paul Copioli and ask him about it. Getting him to *stop* talking about how they've come as far as they have is harder than getting him to start -- that is to say, he's more than willing to share.

What I've gotten out of my conversations with him is that the secret is that there is no secret: hard work and dedication on all fronts, with an honest eye to what needs improvement (be it fundraising or design capability or student recruitment or sponsor involvement or what-have-you).
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Unread 04-08-2012, 01:28 AM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

The thing that has always stood out for me about the Elites is not just the things they build (plenty of non Elites used roller claws and were not nearly as effective last year) but how efficiently they use their time on the field of play. 2 minutes is a very short time and one of the most frustrating things I notice is when a team spends one minute of time doing something as trivial as acquiring a single game piece (I actually saw a team spend one whole minute trying to do just that last year trying to grab a tube from a human player during a match. I can understand doing something like that during a practice match but during a qualification match I would have benched the whole drives team for that) It's like everything is on a schedule and they make sure they are in position to meet that schedule every time.
The relentless pursuit of perfection does not simply come from designing "Killer Apps" as Ellery Wong on my team would call them but then too hone and perfect the proper use of them (if you gave the use of any of the Elites robots to any old team in FIRST it would be a decent robot than a dominant one because they wouldn't know how to properly use it to its fullest potential. They would not use the best strategies. They would not know how to get the most out of their alliance partners. They would not keep their plans on time because second tier teams just do not understand those things and it shows through every aspect of their team compared to an Elite. Like Dean says it's not just about the robot. 67 is a dominant team not just because they build terrific robots with Killer Apps. Not just because they have an adult coach, not just because they have great scouting and strategies, not just because they have great sponsors or school support or supportive parents or dedicated students. It's because they pursue and expect success in what they do.
When I look and see the (far too many) teams who are the antitheses of that the first thing that always sticks out to me is the severe lack of urgency to anything they do. The chronic apathy they bring to the table. Never mind if they win or lose it's disturbing how readily they accept missing matches or doing embarrassingly incompetent thing on the field as if it was the whole point of coming out there in the first place.
The Mids see what the Elites are doing and do some of it well but to make it to the Elite level have to take an honest account of themselves and shore up whatever is lacking and many Mids have grown to become Elite over the years because of this.
Too many teams get bent out of shape by the presence of Elites because they are perceived as "pushy and mean". Type A's always come off as that but they have a pretty good idea what is needed to be done to win the match and are just trying to get the other teams on board with what to do. It's natural to resist people telling us what to do. We're independent creatures by nature it's perceived as weak to allow others to tell us what to do but if I have a large group of killers trying to break into my house to slaughter me and my family and Chuck Norris shows up at the back door I aint telling the guy "I got this." I might want to listen to the opinion of the team with all the blue banners on the matter.
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Unread 04-08-2012, 10:21 AM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

I agree with much of what has been said here especially Koko Ed's thought that complacency is also at fault. I believe that many teams approach the game wrong if they, in fact, really want to win. They view it as "How can we do the task well, quickly and within our manufacturing means." The elites look at how to accomplish the task the BEST way (that means strategically). They MAKE their design work. They worry about the actual design process last--and rightly so. They know that you have to score, and quickly, to win. There have been phenomenally manufactured robots who have been horrible on the field because the designers were thinking more about manufacturing than strategy. Conversely, there are numerous instances where middle or lower level bots have made it to divisional finals because they had the right strategy and made a robust bot albeit not a manufacturing marvel.
I have thought about this thread for the last two years and think that the elites have figured it out early--game theory and design strategy trumps all else. Now, what makes them elites is that they are able to combine that with deep pockets and better manufacturing processes (iterations, prototypes, quick cnc turn around, practice bots etc.) Many teams have one or the other and then it becomes a hit or miss getting to the finals--you need both to consistently visit Einstein.
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Unread 04-08-2012, 10:58 AM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

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Originally Posted by ttldomination View Post
I also haven't people mention communication.

I feel like the powerhouses talk to each other. I'm not saying there's a magical forum where only the powerhouses post, but just through mentors knowing each other, students knowing each other, and alumni moving back and forth, the powerhouses must share ideas.

So at the end of the day, you're not just seeing the best robot built by team xxxx, but you're see the product of ideas from team xxxx, team yyyy, and team zzzz, but each team takes this feature and implements it differently.

This will obviously not play as much of a factor as having a full field or having quick machining capabilities, but I feel like somewhere down the line, talking out your ideas with multiple world class teams/mentors doesn't hurt either.

- Sunny G.
This is HUGE. Talk to these teams! Make friends with them! The benefits are immensely helpful! I was picking the brains of several Poofs yesterday at the Central Valley Regional, and learned so much from them, and became inspired to learn CAD because of them (if you ever get the chance, talk to these guys. They're awesome!).

Start networking... fast. If you aren't sure if the "elite" team will talk to you (which 99% of the time they will), talk to some other teams/ They may have contacts with other teams, who know a guy who's uncle's brother's nephew is on that elite team. You never know, and all the extra connections help along the way.
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Unread 04-08-2012, 11:04 AM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

The real advantage I see in the over-bumper intake this year is not just the large pickup zone, but also the ability to easily pick up balls next to the edge of the field. With a through-bumper intake your bumpers prevent you from getting sufficiently close to the ball. The ball is practically just the right size for this, and I do not think that is a coincidence.

Also, when a team has little manufacturing capability at their disposal you will often see ideas shot down because they don't know how they could build it, so it must be impossible. My policy is that every idea is valid for the first two weeks (provided it isn't blatantly illegal or anything, of course). You'd be surprised the things I've seen made with drills and saws alone.

During the first few days after kickoff there is no discussion of actual, physical designs. Instead, the team talks strategy, what we need to do, and how to play the game. Plus, a field is under construction right away.
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Unread 04-08-2012, 11:26 AM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

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There have been phenomenally manufactured robots who have been horrible on the field because the designers were thinking more about manufacturing than strategy. Conversely, there are numerous instances where middle or lower level bots have made it to divisional finals because they had the right strategy and made a robust bot albeit not a manufacturing marvel.
I also echo everything Don Rotolo said, which I would summarize as "build a machine that plays the game and is easy to operate, and show up ready to play", which is easier said than done.

I don't think there is one single feature that separates the best from the rest (on the field). "Elite" or "powerhouse" teams, or whatever you call them, do a good job at everything (concept, prototyping, fabrication, maintenance, resources, practice, tactics, strategy, scouting, etc.). They are always looking for ways to improve as the season goes on, and they are able to do this year after year.

In general, I think that what a team does the first week or so after kickoff is most important. That's when you set the course for what to build and how to play. After that is mostly how well you accomplish what you set out to do, and how well you can correct your shortcomings from week one of build. It would interesting to record all of your discussions when you were speculating about what the game will look like, and then play them back later. It would be much easier to design a robot if you could foresee how the game actually played out, but nobody has that luxury. If you could improve your speculation and imagination skills, you would have a better chance of building the right machine for the game, and not waste limited resources building dead-end features that aren't useful.
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Unread 04-08-2012, 01:35 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

I think this year the "elite" thing to do was the multi-purpose appendage. The teams who made their appendage do everything from ball collection, bridge manipulation, and aid in balancing. The ones like HOT, Bomb Squad, Titanium, Greyhounds, and countless others that get the job done, and done well.

Year to year, I think that what defines a powerhouse team would be, as stated before, the ability to receive a game and be able to sense what the key factors are, and rapidly prototype to prove that what you're about to spend the next 5 weeks refining is the absolute best idea for that game.

It also doesn't hurt that they have dozens of Blue Banners as moral boosters
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Unread 04-08-2012, 01:57 PM
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

MENTORS! Everyone has mentioned lots of valid things in this thread so far, but all of them come when your team gets more and more mentors involved.

Not mentors to design the robot. Not mentors to build the robot. But, overall mentor involvement enables teams to develop sponsors, find resources, prototype more parts, develop better strategy, work with more students, etc....

The one non-random pattern to all the "powerhouse" teams is that they have lots of mentors involved in their team.

On our team we have 15-20 mentors/year. This allows our us to have different sub-groups that focus only on their area (ie; mechanical fab, design, electrical, programming, machining, chairmans, animation, etc..). When we are developing our strategy and initial designs, we are not worried about getting the animation completed or updating the website....that is handled by someone else. We try to grab as many potential mentors as we can....Students parents that are engineers, Former FIRST students, Teachers, etc..

Another powerful thing mentors bring is experience. Yes, real world engineering experience...but more importantly in FRC, the best experience is actual FRC robot design experience. Knowledge of the motors, electronics, gearboxes...where they can be used, how strong or rigid something needs to be. Great students can influence a team for a little bit, but mentors help keep a team strong over a long period of time...which is what is needed to become a "powerhouse" team.

Just like Karthik has been saying for year in his Effective FIRST Strategies seminar at Champs. Step #1 - Develop a simple plan that fits within your teams capabilities. Step #2 - Execute that plan as well as you can. Step #3 - Show those capabilities to potential mentors / sponsors. Ask if they are willing to help improve your team by donating mentoring time. Step #4 - Utilitze new mentor/resources to improve your team. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Over time the performance of you team (be it on or off the field) will improve. Continue to iterate and improve until you are performing at the highest levels, sutain that level over a period of time and you too can be a powerhouse team.

Now, I am not saying just any one will do. They have to be able to fit your team and the goals laid out for it. They need to be able to provide some tangible benefit to the team. Mentors are the most valuable resource in FIRST. When you find a "good" mentor, they will be able to provide something much more than a bunch of tools, machines, or money would be able to.

Mentors = More Time, Experience, Opportunity, Resources, Students...Better Organization, Strategy, Ideas, etc.. It's really unlimited what coud come out of getting the right mentors involved with your team.
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Unread 04-08-2012, 02:27 PM
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Chris Fultz Chris Fultz is offline
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Re: The missing feature: A common thread

I believe a common thread to consistent high performing teams is that they "take their time" to get to a design decision, and then execute that as absolutely best they can.

Many teams will post that they have a design and are building within a few days of the game announcement. In many ways, that is detrimental.

Take time up front to understand the game itself and the rules. Talk about strategies and how to possibly play the game. Determine the main aspects of the game and then assign a value to them to assist you when making design decisions. Think of a "perfect match" and then decide how much of that you could do. Try to think like a top team, ask yourself "what would team xxx do?".

Talk about what you want the robot to do, make those decisions, then decide how to make the robot do those things. In many ways, you need to really understand the problem you are trying to solve before you design to solve it.

Once you know what you want to do, work on prototyping the how. Use FTC, VEX, LEGO's, pipe, cardboard, CAD, whatever to experiment. Then make room (schedule, space, money, resource) for the most important systems and begin to get into details.

This is where you need to then be realistic with your capabilities, resources, materials, budget, etc. Push and stretch, but be honest with what you can really pull off. A good design that is well done and robut will always beat an awesome design that is thrown together.

When talking about the game, try to keep high level for the first part of the discussions. More on this one to follow.
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Last edited by Chris Fultz : 04-08-2012 at 02:31 PM.
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