OCCRA
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Unread 10-14-2018, 09:17 PM
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Why I love OCCRA

This time of year my team is deep into the final stretch of the OCCRA build season. The kids are up to their eyeballs in the usual last-gasp sprint towards the opener one week away, but the nature of the program means I have my own time to reflect on the things I like the most about this time of year.

I see plenty of very cool off-season events and programs out there in the world, but I’m not aware of any OCCRA clones, and that surprises me. I wish every FRC team had an opportunity to take part in something like it.

If you don’t know what OCCRA is all about, it’s a 6-week build season and a 5-week competition. This year’s game is described in this thread: https://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/s...d.php?t=166439

There’s more good info here: http://www.juggernauts.org/occra.html

A sample video from a few seasons ago shows some good up-close OCCRA robot action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_YgYgE82MY

There are a bunch of things that make OCCRA special when compared to the benchmark of FRC. I’ve been keeping a mental list for a few years and finally decided to write it down. Turns out, it’s a bit wordy. Here goes anyway:

OCCRA is 100% Student-run. In OCCRA, the students are completely self-governed. Students organize themselves to lead the design, build and competition phases. By rule, mentors are mostly out of the loop, except for an optional 1-hour window of weekly design feedback to the students. From my perspective, it turns out to be a nice balance of mentorship and student autonomy. Mentors are there mostly for safety and to watch helplessly as the students transition from Lord of the Flies to a close-working team. Many FRC teams encourage students to select a non-FRC Captain during OCCRA, to help younger members have leadership thrust upon them.

No precision machining. There’s no CNC, no waterjet, no laser fabrication. CAD all you want, but you’ll have to make your robot with hand tools and a drill press. This ensures equal footing in manufacturing ability regardless of team resources. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but I think this spurs more creativity, not less. Students figure out how to design things they can make by hand, often with some genius MacGyvering skill. Which leads to…

Super cool robots. One of my favorite elements of OCCRA. Lightly-constrained minds make for a wild variety of great stuff. The vastly different approaches are evident in the final products, with a more eclectic mix of mechanical design than typically seen in FRC. A slow stroll around the pits of an OCCRA event will expand your mind.

Game design. Each year, the OCCRA Game committee comes up with games designed to showcase offensive skills and minimize defensive strategies (there are no bumpers). Rules are structured simply and fouls are almost nonexistent. The overriding priority is to motivate teams to accomplish the game objective, “to rise to the challenge”, rather than prevent the opposition from doing so. Scoring is easy and visible to the audience and players at a glance. At the conclusion of a match, referees look at the field and count game pieces. When they agree on the score, it’s done, and the winner is announced. As an example, 2016 was a six-foot tall Connect-Four style game with 10” rubber-ball game pieces. Dead simple to understand, challenging to achieve, and exciting to watch. FIRST could really take a lesson here.

Simple Rules. The rule book is short and meant to be clear about safety, game objectives and robot design limits. Lawyering will get you nowhere, as any dispute can be resolved with a simple – “you know what we meant”.

"Placebo" robot. OCCRA keeps a spare working community robot on-hand to sub in when your team’s machine fails to answer the call. It’s designed to play at least some element of the game at a minimal level. It shouldn’t win any matches and it’s a minor mark of shame to have to use the Placebo, but it keeps your alliance partner from being completely screwed over if you break your own robot before a match. The past few years, the Placebo has been donated by The Robot Space. Really cool idea.

Bang for the Buck. Here’s an area where OCCRA has FIRST beat by a mile. Everything about OCCRA emphasizes the ‘keep it cheap’ philosophy. The field fits in one trailer and many components are recycled year to year. The teams build robots with no single part over $100. Many teams recycle previous years’ drive bases, modifying them to play the new game. Some build new with reclaimed spares. Corporate sponsors are lobbied to support the series and many donate spare parts & supplies. Team participation costs are shockingly small. If you’re a brand new team to the series, you’ll pay $3500 your first year, which gets you a very complete kit of parts & supplies, but you’ll pay just $350 each year thereafter. The ratio of student STEM exposure to dollars spent is through the roof.

Easy Electronics. Vex Cortex is cheap & cheery. Plenty of support available online and RobotC is a good entry point for new programmers. NO Autonomous period. This eliminates the barrier of intimidation that might otherwise keep kids away from the laptop side of the team.

Awesome tournament schedule. There are FIVE one-day tournaments in five weeks. Each tournament is either a weekday evening or a Saturday morning event, with teams spending 4-6 hours total from load-in to load out. They play 4-6 matches each and winners are declared for each event. Best matches go towards a Championship which sums up each team’s performance over all the events. Here’s the best part – if your students have a terrible event because of some problem with their robot, they are motivated to move on and succeed at the next event, as they can overcome a number of poor matches and still succeed at the Championship. Which brings me to…

NO BAG DAY! Not to wade too deep into the FRC bag-day debate, but OCCRA offers another data point to consider. Students have complete free will to add, subtract and modify features on the robot they will compete with on any given day and time. Want to rip off an intake and change it completely? Go ahead, knock yourself out. Teams who take advantage of this freedom will succeed at a higher rate than those who don’t. Or maybe they’ll spin their wheels and not succeed. Either way, the learning process is fast and the results gratifying. Week 1 robots look nothing like Week 5 robots in terms of capability, and to see continuous improvement at a weekly measurable rate is a thing of beauty.

Diversity Tournament. At one of the 5 tournaments, each team plays two matches as an all-girls’ drive team and pit crew, 2 matches co-ed, then two as an all-boys. There’s also a mandatory mentor-drive team match that only counts for bragging rights. Forcing kids out of their comfort zone for at least one tournament is a great experience. And more exposure to drive team is always a good thing.

Easy Hosting. Want to host a big robotics event at your school but FRC is too over-the-top? No problem. Hosting an OCCRA event couldn’t be easier. Since OCCRA is a big team effort where all schools take turns supporting build, reset and teardown, the trailer shows up at your school the day of the event and with a subset of competing teams they assemble the simple field in no time. The tournament starts and finishes that night. Your gym is clean and you’re home in bed by 10pm. Many hands make light work.

One Gym. This is another big enabler for more schools to host robotics. OCCRA tournaments have a small physical footprint. 20 teams, each with a table-based pit, coexist with the field. Bleachers full of families and friends get to watch the matches and see the teams wrenching on their machines between matches.

The small things. There are a bunch of little details done right when a group has been doing something well for a very long time. There’s a well-organized year-end banquet. Posters. A professionally-produced yearbook that showcases every robot, every student and all the awards and wins. These little touches are everywhere.

I’ve shared these notes to emphasize that I believe that any region with a high enough concentration of FRC teams could really benefit from the addition of an OCCRA-style fall season competition.

If you have questions that I can answer as a participating mentor, drop me a line. If you have questions that would be better answered by the organizers, let me know and I will pass them along.

Rich
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Unread 10-14-2018, 09:31 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

No bag and no CAW and you haven’t descended into anarchy!?!?!?

Kidding... thanks for the more in depth material on OCCRA. I appreciate it!
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Unread 10-14-2018, 10:08 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

This sounds like a wonderful thing. Please, someone bring this to California!
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Unread 10-15-2018, 08:54 AM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

Rich,
Thanks for the great write-up and I am glad to hear that you and your students are enjoying the new game challenge. I look forward to seeing their robot in just a few days.

I have been on the OCCRA game design and planning committees since the beginning 19 years ago. It is a bit of a hidden gem in competitive robotics. It is really great, but has remained rather small in scale. We typically have 25 teams or so from Oakland County competing each year. We have always run this as a county project under Oakland Schools here in Michigan.

The essence of the original OCCRA concept is: "We want a fun and exciting annual challenge with large robots which is as easy as possible for schools to join and students to participate in."

At the time, in 2000, we felt that FIRST was too hard, and was becoming an arms race defined by who had the most money, best machine shops, and best adult design staff (Sound familar?). FLL, FTC, VEX and other feeder programs had not emerged yet, so FRC was the only league for our students, and we wanted more. So we made our own league.

To realize this goal, what we did was we went through an exercise to see what were all of the items we could REMOVE from the FRC experience and still maintain the essence of the competitive robotics experience for the students. Minimize costs, minimize rules, minimize technical requirements, minimize field complexity, strategic reuse of parts, etc, etc, etc. We actively resist scope creep and despite all of our reductionism, I still have many students and mentors tell me every year that OCCRA is their favorite robotics experience. Over time, we have actually made OCCRA simpler, and our customer feedback keeps getting more positive.

We strive to keep the entire-end-to-end OCCRA experience "light-weight" and fun. Many would not think it would be possible to run a full blown robotics competition on Thursday night, starting setup after school and being packed and out of there by 9:00pm, but it is. Many would not think it would be possible to run a county wide program with 500+ students, a kickoff, 5 tournaments, and a banquet for less than the cost of running my single FRC team, but it is.

OCCRA continues to be something we are very proud of. I think it has the highest value ratio of any robotics competition I have ever seen. Many of the core people from FiM have ties to OCCRA. I say for certain that the FRC District Competition format would not exist as it is today without OCCRA. OCCRA was a full working prototype of a successful low cost, volunteer driven model of competitive robotics. We had no doubts on some of the key changes we wanted in FRC in 2008 because we already had proven them in OCCRA over many years.

The OCCRA league concept is very portable and could be replicated anywhere. All you need is a half dozen very dedicated people to run it, a funding grant source of $50K or so, and a bunch of schools who want to join. It has great return on investment, and very low entry costs. For existing FRC teams, it can cost almost nothing. For the 2018 season, our 33 OCCRA has purchased exactly $0 in materials. Everything has come from FRC surplus.

I would be happy to consult with anyone who is interested in learning more. Reach out at jimzondag@gmail.com
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Unread 10-15-2018, 07:31 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

There are very few organizations/programs/companies/products within the robotics community that I've heard universally positive feedback about. OCCRA is one of them. I love their game design philosophy and how they stick to it to continually produce simple yet dynamic games. I've only been an OCCRA observer from afar, but I've learned a lot from how they operate and been able to apply it elsewhere.
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Unread 10-16-2018, 12:51 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

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Originally Posted by sanddrag View Post
This sounds like a wonderful thing. Please, someone bring this to California!
I've been working with a small group on starting a similar program in California, unfortunately we're focusing on the Bay Area. 696 would be more than welcome to join, though!
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Unread 10-16-2018, 03:01 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

OCCRA was a major source of inspiration when we started our "BetaBots" game here in Quebec (http://betabots.ca). It's been quite popular here and this year we're doing three competitions each with between 6 and 12 teams.

We don't have as many teams as Michigan (who does?), but are growing, so our needs were a little different.

Our goal was primarily to get new teams, new students, and new mentors, ready and warmed up for the FRC competition in January. For the rookie teams we loan out our BetaBot base kit with a complete FRC control system so they have something to practice on. We felt the cost over a cheaper system was worth it so they spend their time getting familiar with what they'll be using come January.

Our secondary goal was KEEP IT SIMPLE - save some energy for January. We design the game so a robot with one single actuator could be able to play the game effectively, and not bias the game heavily to a team which can make multiple mechanisms. We do have an autonomous portion to illustrate the potential benefit a team can get by making a small effort in this area. Programmers need something to do.

The third goal is have people make bumpers, at least once, before they arrive at an FRC competition with a bag of material and a sewing machine

We also have FRC judges at the competition, and they've told us they like having a chance to get their new team members ready too.

Maybe all the people doing special games (like Bunnybots) could give a joint presentation at Champs?
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Unread 10-17-2018, 08:08 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

It's always baffled me that there aren't competitions in the fall for FRC-class robots. It's just such a good way for members to get up to speed on all the skills they'll need during build season. There's nothing quite like building a robot to learn how to build a robot! OCCRA is really great in that it allows for iteration on robot designs.

BunnyBots has been going for ten years here in PNW with 25 robots underway this fall and another one being hosted by 449 in the Chesapeake District. We go out of our way to make the FRC-size field trivial to build and setup. We do that to lower the barrier to teams hosting their own event and make it easy for teams to practice. It doesn't have OCCRA's iterative aspect, though.
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Unread 10-17-2018, 09:29 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

Disclaimer to Canadian teams: I'm going to pretend that you guys call provinces states.

In 2018, Michigan had 508 teams. The next two largest states (team wise) were California and Minnesota, who combined had 528 teams, only 20 more than Michigan. Michigan also had 12 teams on Einstein, composing half of all teams on Einstein. No other state came close. Every Einstein alliance had a Michigan team on their alliance. Out of the 6 alliances on Einstein, 4 were captained by a Michigan team. Additionally, 3 more Michigan teams were first picks of their alliance. 1 was a second pick and 4 were the third pick. Only one alliance- the Tesla alliance- never played a Michigan team. An all Michigan alliance was the finalist on Einstein, and the winning alliance was captained by Michigan powerhouse 2767 with the first pick being Michigan HOF team 27. 6 out of 8 teams in the Einstein finals were from Michigan- a feat no other state has ever done before. 10 Michigan teams were in the elims at IRI, more than any other state (or any other district, as the second highest number of teams picked was from New England, spread out over several states). 17 championship wins are from 12 separate Michigan teams. The following 33 teams have brought back 60 (!) division wins to Michigan: 217, 67, 469, 33, 494, 51, 302, 503, 862, 2767, 3357, 27, 65, 66, 68, 70, 201, 245, 247, 308, 548, 910, 1023, 1711, 2137, 3452, 3538, 3707, 4003, 4130, 4967, 5050, and 6090.

You may be wondering why I posted all of these numbers. It's obvious that Michigan is good from these numbers, but they don't show the cause. What is the cause? Almost 20 years ago, OCCRA was founded. This created a common link between Michigan teams and was the testing ground for Michigan's greatest accomplishment in FRC: the district system. With OCCRA providing the groundwork to let Michigan have a more competitive event format, allowing students more practice to build robots, and giving more schools access to robotics (several Oakland County FRC teams were originally only OCCRA teams), in addition to Michigan's inherent advantages in robotics as a state with a lot of manufacturing knowledge and sponsor money due to the automotive industry, led the metro Detroit area to boom in FRC quality, which then spread throughout the state out west and even up north.

OCCRA is part of why Michigan dominates FRC year in and year out and even though my team hasn't taken part in it (never enough interest in students to do something like this in the fall, although we have apparently looked into it), the statistics lead me to recommend establishing a program like this in an area where it is possible (interest and enough teams).
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Unread 10-17-2018, 09:37 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

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Originally Posted by lcraig910 View Post
Disclaimer to Canadian teams: I'm going to pretend that you guys call provinces states.
But... but... we don't

I'd encourage you to take a look at the total number of teams at worlds - it makes sense that FiM was 50% of Einstein teams, when about half the registered teams were there. I may just not understand what OCCRA does completely, but I think it's hard to say that one program is the cause for all the success your region has had.
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Unread 10-17-2018, 09:44 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

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Originally Posted by tmpoles View Post
But... but... we don't

I'd encourage you to take a look at the total number of teams at worlds - it makes sense that FiM was 50% of Einstein teams, when about half the registered teams were there. I may just not understand what OCCRA does completely, but I think it's hard to say that one program is the cause for all the success your region has had.
I did say pretend. I didn't want to write "states/provinces" the entire time.

I never said one program did cause it, but OCCRA is a large reason behind the success. Back in the early to mid 2000s, very few offseasons existed. The only one I know of in Michigan from back then is Kettering Kickoff. This program allowed for teams to practice during the offseason, both building and competing with a new, FRC-sized robot. This program, as Jim Zondag says above, was also a major reason that the district system was implemented, which is a major reason behind MI's success (we started getting more matches before any other region, and got the 6 hour unbag time, which is IMO better than a practice day because you get to work in your own shop). This, in addition to my previously mentioned inherent advantages (automotive industry, big sponsors, etc.), caused and continue to cause MI's success.
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Unread 10-20-2018, 02:53 PM
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

It's great to read how many people have really enjoyed participating in OCCRA. This is my second year being around it, and first being part of the Game Design Committee. I think I can confidently say it is probably the single best program that promotes area growth and team/student improvement. Any area that has even thought about having a program like it in their area should definitely make the effort to do it. I know I and 33, and I'm sure many others involved in OCCRA, would gladly help anyone interested in starting something similar.

We just had our first event of the season today, and teams are already doing even better then last season. I think the game is going well so far, and I hope everyone participating this year is enjoying it!
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Unread 10-26-2018, 09:25 PM
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RichQuinn RichQuinn is offline
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

OCCRA Update - we had our second tournament (of 5) last night and the rate of improvement is exactly as rapid as I remembered from last year.

The kids started their first tournament a week ago with a lot of cobwebs and a lack of familiarity with their brand new robots, but they've already tweaked their machines and controls, and took advantage of all the drive practice they could stand.

In a shocking development, the Placebo robot has not been used yet. I REPEAT - THE PLACEBO HAS NOT BEEN USED YET. This is huge. That means every team's robot showed up and ran for every match. (I'm sure I just jinxed someone - probably Lakers. Sorry, my bad.)

Another thing I enjoy about this game - the field design is simple enough that anyone can replicate the basic tasks without the need for any complicated field elements. Need to launch over a 48" fence? OK. Find something 48" tall. You're all set. Go practice driving in the basement.

I keep remembering other small things I like but the list is already pretty long, so I won't drag it out further.

Our kids uploaded matches from the first two tournaments to Youtube, so feel free to have a look. You can click the link in my sig or google it. Note that there's also a pretty cool off-road enduro series with the same name so careful you don't get drawn down a different type of rabbit hole.

If you are serious about starting something similar to OCCRA, I'm your biggest cheerleader. But your biggest helpers will be the folks from FRC 33. Just give Jim or Nick a buzzzzzzzz...

Rich
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Unread 10-26-2018, 09:34 PM
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Nick_Coussens Nick_Coussens is offline
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AKA: FUN - Michigan Region Recap Host
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Re: Why I love OCCRA

Quote:
Originally Posted by RichQuinn View Post
Our kids uploaded matches from the first two tournaments to Youtube, so feel free to have a look. You can click the link in my sig or google it. Note that there's also a pretty cool off-road enduro series with the same name so careful you don't get drawn down a different type of rabbit hole.

If you are serious about starting something similar to OCCRA, I'm your biggest cheerleader. But your biggest helpers will be the folks from FRC 33. Just give Jim or Nick a buzzzzzzzz...

Rich
3538 has also recorded full field match video for all the matches from the first two competitions and posted the link in the CD thread here with playlists for each event. Thanks 5053 and 3538 for doing this! OCCRA really is a full community effort.

And we are definitely glad to give advice to anyone interested in starting something similar in their area. There are also plenty of Oakland Schools staff and other people on OCCRA teams who I'm sure would be able to give plenty of advise.
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OCCRA: Game Design Committee (2018-Present)

FRC/VEX 33: Killer Bees, Design/Strategy Mentor (2018-Present)

FRC/VEX 2451: PWNAGE, Design/Strategy/Scouting Mentor (2013-2017)
FRC/VEX 2451: PWNAGE, Team President/Driver/Student (2009-2012)
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