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Unread 05-14-2009, 07:40 PM
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Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

Throughout the season I have seen numerous comments that the change to FRP and standardized wheels has leveled the playing field between the veteran teams who have advanced drivetrain designs and new/low resource teams who do not.

I submit that this is not true.

For starters:

The gap is not all that big in the first place. Since 2005 and the advent of the then IFI kitbot (Now AndyMark), the gap was narrowed dramatically. For those who were not around prior to 2005, the kitbot was a complete joke. It was nearly useless. This meant teams all but had to make a custom base/drive train. Many teams failed. I'd estimate that perhaps 20% or more of the teams could not drive reliably. Post 2005, everyone can have a reliable, robust base driving in under a week (and normally 2-3 days). Immobile robots are far less common now.

The introduction of AndyMark products in 2005 narrowed the gap even more. You wanted a shifting transmission prior to 2005? Well you had two options. Option one-use the drill motor transmissions that came in the kit and shift them with a servo. These were not shift on the fly. Option two-design, build, and test your own custom shifting transmission. Both of these options were labor intensive and were not trivial. Many teams who tried option number one couldn't do it reliably. Option number two was a LOT of work.

Along comes AndyMark in 2005. Suddenly anyone with $700 to spend can buy reliable two speed shift on the fly gearboxes for their robot. Now two speed robots are the norm, not the exception. Teams who normally made custom shifting transmissions can now use some COTS components to lessen the labor involved, or purchase the entire assembly to focus on other components of the robot.

These two events narrowed the gap between the haves and the have nots to a very small amount. The only physical differences between the very best 6WD drivetrains and a 6WD Super Shifter drive are weight and ease of maintenance.

Now along comes 2009. Everyone is thrown for a loop and forced to use standardized wheels and drive on FRP. What does this mean in terms of drivetrains? It's claimed that it will cause veteran teams to redesign and start from scratch.

I don't believe this is the case. If anything it made it easier for veterans. Shifting no longer became a priority. Drivetrains became simpler. We spent very little time redesigning our drivetrain and I think most veteran teams would say the same. Essentially all we did was remove one stage of gearing from our transmission and design/fabricate hubs to adapt the KOP wheels to a live axle system. We saved substantial amounts of time by not fabricating our own wheels and additional gearbox components.

With that time saved we were able to focus on a ball manipulation system (which gave veteran teams from 2006 an appreciable advantage. Our experience in 2006 was invaluable this year) and controls.

This is where the change gives the "haves" a huge advantage. Those teams with practice fields, practice robots, and more resources were able to do full scale testing on FRP and spend a lot of time developing traction control algorithms, as well as get their drive team tons of practice on the new surface. If anything this made the gap larger, as low budget teams cannot afford $1400 of FRP for a practice field or to construct a second robot.

In the end, I think the results on the field support this case. Look at the familiar faces on Einstein. Look at the elite teams. For the most part, they're the same as they always are. Sure there's some newcomers, but none are amongst the elite because of these changes. If anything the gap between the best robots and the worst robots was significantly larger this year than in past years. Prior to this year a bad alliance partner meant non contribution. This year it actively counts against you.

I think the game did narrow the gap in one sense only. This was the first year in which 3 average robots could beat 1, or even 2 great robots who had mediocre partners. But when it comes down to it, the best teams usually end up winning regardless.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 07:55 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

I'm with you, Cory. Sure, some teams came out and did well that normally don't. Happens every year, though.

With the 12 teams on Einstein, one was a rookie. You might argue that that means the field was leveled. No, it doesn't. Said rookie was an FTC veteran who knew the process and had mentor teams from all over their area during their transition. Other rookies with similar situations also did well. (Plus the standard disclaimer that it takes a few years to build up veteran status...)

Narrow the gap/level the playing field? No. If you want to do that, tell us "fit it in the box, you can't use x, y, and z, and oh, don't forget that there are three types of floor and 2 scoring objects to deal with, now get the robot out the door in 6 weeks". The more options you have, the more challenge you have--and a low-resource team can determine what they can and can't do and do what they can just as fast and as well as a veteran who can do more, but has a harder time deciding what to do because they have the extra freedom.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 08:48 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

I don't think you can entirely discount the greater presence and competitiveness of rookie teams this year. Perhaps I'm misrememebring, but I've heard that Team 2970 had very little in the way of experience prior to build season, and a falling-out happened with their mentor team. Despite all of this they managed to build an extremely competitive robot this year that got 2nd and 1st at two regionals and led a Newton team to the semis.

While it's my understanding that 2741, 2826, and 2775 (?) had help (as all rookie teams ought to), they were still extremely competitive robots that would not seem a bit out of place if you dropped the first digit from their team numbers.

I mean, _something_ was different than in 2008. I'm not sure what exactly, be it the wheels or not having a gigantic game piece, but it's my understanding that rookies at least did a little better.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:07 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

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Originally Posted by Chris is me View Post
I don't think you can entirely discount the greater presence and competitiveness of rookie teams this year. Perhaps I'm misrememebring, but I've heard that Team 2970 had very little in the way of experience prior to build season, and a falling-out happened with their mentor team. Despite all of this they managed to build an extremely competitive robot this year that got 2nd and 1st at two regionals and led a Newton team to the semis.

While it's my understanding that 2741, 2826, and 2775 (?) had help (as all rookie teams ought to), they were still extremely competitive robots that would not seem a bit out of place if you dropped the first digit from their team numbers.

I mean, _something_ was different than in 2008. I'm not sure what exactly, be it the wheels or not having a gigantic game piece, but it's my understanding that rookies at least did a little better.

Every year there's always a handful of rookie teams who's performance on the field is far above their team's experience level. I don't have any data to back this up, but it doesn't feel like there's significantly more or less of these high achievers this year than any previous year in recent memory.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:08 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

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Originally Posted by Cory View Post
Every year there's always a handful of rookie teams who's performance on the field is far above their team's experience level. I don't have any data to back this up, but it doesn't feel like there's significantly more or less of these high achievers this year than any previous year in recent memory.
I agree totally. There are a handful of really impressive rookies every year; I actually expected there to see more of them this season.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:23 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

Well here's a question that my team has been wondering. What about this year's game made it so that one team could not pull the alliance, and that alliance members could pull you down?

Was it because of the FRP, meaning that it was easier to defend against one powerhouse robot (pin in the corner for the whole match)?

Or was it because the scoring locations were attached to the robots, meaning that teams that could not drive as well would be easy targets?
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:28 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

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Originally Posted by Pikat View Post
Was it because of the FRP, meaning that it was easier to defend against one powerhouse robot (pin in the corner for the whole match)?
The powerhouse teams were able to evade those with simple drivetrains, meaning they were rarely pinned (in my experience of driving at two regionals this year)

[edit]As a driver, this has definitely been my most frustrating year because of this imbalance.(driven since '07)[/edit]
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:33 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

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Originally Posted by NorviewsVeteran View Post
The powerhouse teams were able to evade those with simple drivetrains, meaning they were rarely pinned (in my experience of driving at two regionals this year)
I don't believe that to be the case. What constitutes a simple drivetrain? Nearly everyone had 4 or 6 wheel drive or added a fan. The majority of those who didn't had swerve. I don't think there's any evidence to support the fact that more elite teams than not used swerve or fans.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:37 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

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Originally Posted by Cory View Post
I don't believe that to be the case. What constitutes a simple drivetrain? Nearly everyone had 4 or 6 wheel drive or added a fan. The majority of those who didn't had swerve. I don't think there's any evidence to support the fact that more elite teams than not used swerve or fans.
I mainly meant traction control.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 09:50 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

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Originally Posted by NorviewsVeteran View Post
I mainly meant traction control.
Just because a robot doesn't have traction control doesn't mean that it can't pin anybody on the field. A good driver proved to be a pretty effective traction control scheme this year.
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Unread 05-14-2009, 10:55 PM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pikat View Post
Well here's a question that my team has been wondering. What about this year's game made it so that one team could not pull the alliance, and that alliance members could pull you down?

Was it because of the FRP, meaning that it was easier to defend against one powerhouse robot (pin in the corner for the whole match)?

Or was it because the scoring locations were attached to the robots, meaning that teams that could not drive as well would be easy targets?
One robot couldn't pull an entire alliance because every robot out on the field was a liability. You won as an alliance or you lost as an alliance. It was as simple as that.

As for traction control playing a significant role in the game: simply not true. Watch 816 and learn what Jared and I are talking about.

Richard: a team with a simple drive train could outmaneuver the veterans with "sophisticated" drivetrains, it was a matter of drive skill and throwing your weight around. 2753 could hunt almost anyone down on the field because of their driver skill and practice. They had a 12 wd set up. Does that constitute simple or sophisticated for you?

All those rookies you listed had gifted mentors on their teams and other mentor teams helping them. Their design processes were solidified before build season and this structure lead them to success. I forget who said it, but its a quote I hold dear:

"Build a good team, and the robots will follow"

Truly a simple concept that these rookie teams mastered early in their careers.
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Unread 05-15-2009, 02:19 AM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

Great post Cory, I couldn't agree with you more. This years games saved us valuable time as far as the drive trains, we didnt have to fabricate nearly as many parts and had two more cims to work with. All we did was remove a motor on each side and set it in high gear.

-This game would have been harder for us to design if it were played on carpet because all of our cims would have gone to our DT. Our design would not have been nearly as complex as what we came up with.

-No matter how many rules FIRST puts out there the playing field will never be "level" because there will always be the teams who are willing to put in more hours, money, pre season prototyping.... In my eyes, teams like 67, 217, 254, 330... will always be good no matter what the game is.

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Unread 05-15-2009, 04:58 AM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

I just want to add for '09, that drivetrains didnt make the difference, but man, the orientation sure did.
Wide bots were much easier to drive (turn and maneuver) than the long ones.
What made it worst for teams like us, is not being able to harvest from the ground, not with respect to loading up and scoring more, BUT with respect to being able to "hug" a trailer while scoring when your opponent is trying to get away.
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Unread 05-15-2009, 06:23 AM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

Cory, I agree with you too.

I don't honestly think trying to even the playing field is worth trying to do. The dominant veteran teams willl always be good. There are certain things veteran teams always do. For example,
A veteran team is much less likely to come into a match with a broken robot because they will build it robustly. (this will not change no matter what the game).
Veteran teams will finish early and get a lot of crucial practice time. (again this is something that will not change year to year).
Veteran teams will also generally pick a better design to play the game in general due to experience in designing and likely better prototyping.(However even the playing field is, certain design are always better than others and teams like 1114, 217, 111, 254, 67, 148, 330 etc are more likely to pick these designs.)
One things I've noiced is that veteran teams have many small ways to save weight. In 2007, I saw a rookie and a veteran weigh in, they both weighed just under 110, their claws were the same and so were their drivetrain, but the veteran had weight for a mainipulator and the rookie didn't.(this is another thing that will never change is that veterans will be more adept at finding ways to make weight for alll the subsystems they want and not compromise performance in any specific areas.

These are just some realities, the teams that are dominant will always be dominant no matter what.

Adding low friction didn't really help becuase many inexperienced teams were slipping around while experianced teams used very effective traction controls. (I'm not saying rookie teams aren't capable, they just aren't all as likely to make a good design as a most veterans are).

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Unread 05-15-2009, 07:24 AM
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Re: Did Lunacy really level the playing field?

I am going to challenge one of the basic premises of this thread. It has been stated already in this thread (and several others) that one of the purposes for the changes incorporated into the 2009 game is to "level the playing field to close the have/have-not gap" for the teams.

Says who?

Can anyone show me where this assertion has been stated by any credible source?

Like so many other things, the "need to level the playing field" argument is urban myth. And like most urban myths, it is simply not true. While there are many, many factors that are considered during the design of a FRC game (some of which are obvious to teams, but many of which are not), I can state categorically that particular issue was never a consideration.

And if "leveling the playing field to close the gap" was not one of the intended effects of the game, then I am not sure why we are debating whether that gap was successfully narrowed or not.

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