1339 Open Alliance (Open Content) for the 2024 Game

Hi Everyone,

Team 1339, AngelBotics from East High School in Denver, Colorado, is pleased to announce that we will be producing “Open” content throughout the 2023/24 school year, beginning at the end of September, once per week, through end of build season. During competition season for Crescendo we will be providing updates at irregular intervals, mostly as we complete our competition events.

We love and believe in the Open concept. Knowledge is the primary resource in the FIRST Robotics Competition; it’s more important than money, space, materials, tools, time, even mentors (at least as far as finding success on the competitive field is concerned). You can have lots of adults, a huge shop, all the latest COTS parts, meet every day, and get a million dollars, and still struggle, if you don’t have correct information and good process for synthesizing it into your robot and team.

The reason we are choosing to emphasize Open content in the off-season and build season is that we believe teams who have access to information, including the choices teams like ours are making early, will help other teams to make their own choices without as much angst and last-minute action. While it’s good to know, in competition Week 4, if Rolly Claw X ended up working better than Pink Arm Y, it really isn’t super helpful for making decisions around drive base styles or team organization. We hope to help those conversations happen earlier and more effectively, so that more teams are happy when their robots hit the field.

Thanks again to everyone for helping FIRST teams do better each year! We look forward to working with y’all this year.

MrN

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I’m putting together interview questions for the people who aspire to be build leads this season. One of them is “Should 5826 join Open Alliance and do regular video updates?” “Discuss pros and cons.” As a medium resource team there certainly are both…

Doing Open content certainly pushes teams to do better for themselves since they are trying to help other teams do better too. It is time consuming and uses team resources. It’s also rewarding and important work. I would recommend considering beforehand if you have anything of particular value your team believes it can add, and then focus your content on those things. 3847 is fantastic at sharing testing results systematically. 111 shared the process by which they decided their elevator and intake design. My team is pretty good at bumpers, so we fill a particular niche. OA isn’t super useful to other teams when it’s just a weekly “we met, built and practiced this week”; that type of content just becomes noise and makes it more difficult to filter.

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Interesting perspectives. Balancing what is good for us (we’ve been trying to get our video production abilities improved for years for instance) and what would be valuable for others. If nothing else posing this question to a prospective Build Lead should get some thought processes moving.

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Thank Angelbotics for making the effort to improve the community this way. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of engaging stories to tell. Looking forward to the pre-season content. Like said on weak content, that also during build season the content becomes missed due to the volume, so having more early will let more see it. It is amazing how much useful OA content from the prior year I’ve only seen recently.

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I like this thread a lot…but yall better keep the tiger bumpers (please).

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One of the things we will be talking about is our Imagery department and their work. Each year since 2007, AngelBotics have changed our “theme” entirely. For 2023 our theme was “KISS”, that is the “Keep It Simple” concept as well as the rock band. The tiger bumpers were part of that theme, taken from the “Animalize” album cover.

Our 2024 Imagery theme is “Vaporwave”, so you can expect pastel shades of neon, ironic graphic references to 80’s and 90’s pop culture and technology, and our own theme song. The tiger bumpers are being replaced by… Something else. Maybe this:

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ROBOTICS IS A 4TH PLACE ACTIVITY

We are hoping that the content we provide through this pseudo-blog will be useful and inspiring for y’all this time around. Probably the most useful thing we can do to begin our weekly posts is to let you know about our team motto, “Robotics is a 4th place activity”. Every other thing that we attempt to do will flow out of this foundation. We reference it in our daily interactions, and check against it when making decisions. It grew out of all the failures we have experienced over the last two decades, has been an explicit part of our culture since at least 2018, and has resulted in a team that is more humane, safer, more fun, and more competitive. As the founding coach I highly recommend that teams create or borrow an idea like this to guide them through every difficulty.

Health Comes First
Physical, mental, emotional, relational health is the most important thing. If you can’t get out of bed, then nothing else is going to happen. We make sure to prioritize our own health, and to watch out for each other. No one is ever penalized on our team for taking care of themselves.

School Comes Second
The entire purpose of FIRST Robotics is to enhance students’ educational experience, and prepare them for a better future than what they would have available without robotics, through college and career options. Students shouldn’t sacrifice their academics to be successful in robotics. Sure, sometimes we need to go out of town for a few days, but routinely prioritizing a robot over classroom learning and grades is not acceptable.

Responsibilities Come Third
Have a pet at home who needs to be fed and walked? Does your family need you to take an after school job to help with the rent? Do you need to pick your little brother up from school? These things take priority over attending robotics meetings.

Activities (like robotics) Come Fourth
Our assumption is that there are lots of excellent opportunities for students at our school. Speech and Debate, Constitutional Scholars, Basketball, Chess Club, Cross Country, and dozens of other things you can be involved in. We highly recommend that all students choose at least one activity, and that they limit their commitments to two things. It’s hard to be good at (and happy in) your activities if you are doing three or more. We love to see our students choose robotics! But it’s not for everyone. We make room for the students who do choose robotics to be able to participate in one other activity or sport.

As you begin your school year and whatever off-season activities and trainings your team will be doing, please consider making your team’s values explicit in a statement like this. It helps new students know what the limits and expectations are; it helps parents know that robotics is here to help rather than harm; it helps you make decisions when conundrums arise.

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Will you use this thread to cover everything? If so, I’ll definitely turn on notifications for it.

Tangentially - I’m not finding that CD has an “Open Alliance” or other category or tag. Come build season, it might be nice to visit a daughter page for OA content like yours. Similar to a subreddit or fanfare. metafilter. com. Does anyone know if this already exists?

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Currently our plan is to use this thread exclusively for team OA content, yes. We should have around one post per week throughout the pre-season and into build season. I doubt we will post much during competitions, probably just a wrap-up after each tournament we attend.

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There is an “OpenAlliance” tag here on ChiefDelphi that can be helpful identifying various build blogs associated with OpenAlliance; But it only works when people use the tags when creating their thread (something I’m not sure that everyone even knows is a feature).

https://www.chiefdelphi.com/tag/openalliance

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I didn’t see that and unfortunately it’s too late for me to edit the original post to add that in. I wonder if a mod can assist me with adding that tag in?

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Thank you to @krf for adding the open Alliance tag to this thread! Now it’s searchable by the right parameters.

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There’s also an open alliance category, not sure if you want to change that as well

One of the many reasons that you all are awesome, Joel. Love having Angelbotics in our local community!

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FALL

Like many of you, we are finding that meeting our team’s expectations requires a great deal of work and planning well before January. I won’t bore you with a rundown of all the things but I do want to update folks in a way that hopefully provides some useful ideas for things you could be doing with your team as you prepare for Crescendo. I also thought it would be fun to just show you some of the cool stuff, too.

KCMT and Colorado Energy Day
We have had the privilege of honoring the legacy of Kendrick Castillo since we lost him in 2019 through spreading the love and joy he had for his robotics team. Energy Day once again gave us a chance to invite ten other FRC teams and several FTC teams to share their work with families from around Denver. The Kendrick Castillo Robotics Challenge was casual and fun, and brought FIRST in contact with several thousand people. Teams even received sponsorships for their outstanding performance and community service work. Thanks to the Consumer Energy Alliance for once again choosing to work with our team and school to put on this event.

The Kendrick Castillo Memorial Tournament (KCMT) has finally found a new home and so this year we didn’t have to host, we just attended and played. Regis University has a LOT more to offer than our little gyms did and the event was so well run by ColoradoFIRST. Special thanks to Debbie English and her crew for doing so much. I am hearing that teams from outside our state are interested in attending KCMT next year; I’ve got to say this is the best run, most fun off-season I’ve been to and I HIGHLY recommend considering it for next fall, y’all. There is SO MUCH and it went so well. Here is a behind-the-glass video of just some team banter that our Imagery leads have been working on.

Steamworks: What If?

We annually do a mock kick-off event in the fall, in order to train students to analyze games and RTFM. This year we are taking the additional step of re-imagining what a robot with modern components could do with a past game, as we look at the 2017 game Steamworks. Our intention is to design and build two robots to play the game, one that is a climber and gear-runner only, and the other that targets the top boiler as well. We think that with modern swerve modules, BLDC motors, and vision (we are adding Apriltags to the 2017 field) we can build robots that might rival the best from that year. While this is a new venture and as such we don’t know how badly it will go wrong, we do see this as a positive way to train our students in all the skills they will need for the upcoming game. One additional point I’d like to make on this: personally I think the chances that we see a “hopper” game with unlimited access to game pieces is very high for Crescendo. It has been a long time since we’ve seen this type of game piece (since 2017, in fact), and with Crescendo being music-themed I think the odds are very good that team 694’s Rhythm Remix will serve as a basis for the game. If you haven’t seen Stuypulse’s 2021 Game Design Challenge entry, well, good luck; it’s apparently no longer on YouTube? I’ll take that as a conspiracy hint. We will keep you updated!
rhythm remix logo

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I was able to find it on the Stuypulse YouTube channel. Here’s a link. Definitely one of my favorites from the Game Design challenge. Very fun use of a music theme.

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MEDTRONIC FOUNDATION JUMPSTART EVENT

On Saturday October 28, ten Colorado teams gathered at Medtronic’s Lafayette office for the second annual Jumpstart FIRST Robotics event. Students and mentors from teams 1619, 4499 and 1339 presented on a variety of topics intended to help teams in their preparations leading up to the kickoff for Crescendo in January. Our team was proud to present on four topics:

  • LGBTQ+ in FIRST for Students and Mentors. Our team is a Silver Level contributor to LGBTQ+ of FIRST and want to contribute to a growing conversation about how to meet the
    needs of students in today’s changing environment.
  • Cadding With Swerve. Swerve drive is taking over the competitive side of FRC. Our talk focused on how to CAD quickly and effectively so that teams can move on to the fun stuff
    that goes on top of the drive base.
  • Design To Be A Picker. Does your team find itself waiting to see if you’ll be a second round pick each year? Are you frustrated by inconsistent performance? Does it feel like there is a secret list that picking teams know and you don’t? How can you create a robot and a team that routinely make it into the playoffs, or better yet, be an alliance captain? This talk walked through tools that can help teams make the best design choices that lead to having control of your own destiny, tournament after tournament.
  • Better Bumpers, More Insights And Lessons From 2023. Last year we presented on how to make bumpers quickly and easily. This year we’ve gotten more insights on how to make them
    easier, more durable, and easy to swap.

We recorded our sessions, and in the coming weeks the teams of student presenters will be uploading YouTube links to their presentations.

Other folks also recorded some of the sessions from all of the presenting teams, and these were great and well worth watching. Here are some screenshots of the topics covered:


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TRAINING TWO TEAMS

There are lots of models dealing with a large number of incoming students (and adults, too). I’m aware of programs with 150+ students, and many that successfully include 50-100 students. For 1339, our team’s growth has been slow but steady. In 2016 we had 20 students, and pre-pandemic we peaked in 2020 with 35. Post-pandemic we have been struggling to keep up, and this year, with 30 returning students, we decided to not bring in any new students. Instead, I asked two mentors who were new to the program if they would be interested in starting their own team instead, with 1339’s support. I and 1339’s second Lead Mentor (Garrett) worked with these two individuals to give them the tools they would need to start a team, and they ended up applying to begin a team for new students only.

As I said, there are many ways that programs deal with expansion. In our case we have the following arrangement:

  • 9586 is coached by two Lead Mentors who are both new to FIRST but have extensive experience in engineering and related fields, and are dedicated to offering a great experience to their students.
  • All 9586 students are true “rookies”, with no FIRST experience. Nearly all are 9th graders.
  • 9586 meets at the same time as 1339, in our building (we have two rooms and each team uses one).
  • We are letting them use our equipment (CNC routers, mill, cutoff saw, etc.).
  • We are training the 9586 students to use the equipment.
  • 9586 is raising and spending their own funds.
  • They are planning on creating a “40% robot” for the 2024 game, with a couple of simple mechanisms to play a support role in competition. They have designed and built a “gear runner” robot for the 2017 game during the off-season to learn about FRC design (see photos).
  • They will be competing in Colorado week 4.
  • The mentors of both teams meet regularly, to guide them through the process of things like student registration, the FIRST dashboard, purchasing supplies, the season schedule, etc.

So far this has worked very well for us. I am able to focus my energy on working with the older students and planning their strategy and training (for instance, none of them have ever designed a ball shooter before, and so they are creating a prototype using the 2017 balls). There seems to be more engagement in this older group as well, as there isn’t any competition with younger team members for roles or resources. And, the older kids have been willing to help the younger team learn basic skills like wiring.

Is This A Good Model?

FRC has always been difficult to pull off and in my opinion, has only gotten more so, in spite of COTS parts. Our state lost 15% of our teams to Covid, and without support I’ve seen many teams struggle and end. Rookie teams deserve support, and I see what we’ve done as one sustainable way to get the good things FRC can offer into the hands of more students. I wish we could have this kind of supportive symbiosis with all the teams in our region who don’t have adequate equipment or training or mentor support.

That said, I know that teams are different and this might not work elsewhere. It wouldn’t have worked for us in the past, we never had qualified new mentors offer to help in this way before. And while it reduced the strain on the adults and students of 1339, in the end there are still more than 50 students in a small two-room building.

I really struggle with how FRC fits into the mix of educational opportunities. There are just a LOT of teams that don’t have money, or materials, or knowledgable and dedicated adults, or space to meet. The big robots are really exciting and fun and inspiring, but (as they say) the struggle is real. I don’t know that today I would encourage other schools to start an FRC team unless they had extensive support. In fact I have encouraged teachers at two other schools this year to either move from FRC to FTC, or not start an FRC team at all and do FTC exclusively. The value proposition seems (to me) to be much higher in that direction, given the current and future costs and challenges.

For now, I am glad that chose to support this new team. I think they have a great chance to be successful. And I do think that with high levels of support, other new programs can start up and thrive. But I am deeply concerned about sustainability among existing FRC teams, and I don’t think that the old “$6000 and six weeks” thing is a good way to recruit for this program anymore, if it ever was.

Pictures of 1339 and 9586

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ARE YOU GOING TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP? ARE YOU SURE? HERE IS SOME ADVICE

This being Open Alliance content for the off-season, I want to make sure that everyone who reads this knows about the process that began just a few days ago for teams to find housing in Houston during Championship in April. I understand that a minority of teams actually attend Champs each year, and that it feels like optimistic foolishness to book hotels this far in advance if you’ve never made it to Champs before. HOWEVER…

Housing Is Now Open
Wednesday December 6th was the first day that teams NOT on the pre-qualified list (about 20 teams total, I think) were able to register for housing through Conference Direct ("CD" for the rest of this post). There was very little advance publicizing of this, so if you didn’t hear about it last week it’s not your fault. Here is the link to begin registering your team for housing: 2024 FIRST Championship presented by BAE Systems - New Registration
and here is the direct phone number for the people at CD responsible for helping teams get registered: 1-844-460-9823

Housing Is Monopolized
FIRST and CD have together made a compact with most or all of the hotels within either walking distance or a reasonable drive of the George R. Brown Convention Center, so that it is pretty close to impossible to book rooms in those hotels independent of this system. If you somehow are able to call the front desk and get them to book rooms for you, it is possible or even likely that they will be canceled once they discover that you are a robotics team, and then you’ll be left with nothing. Here is the full list of all the hotels that cannot be booked except through this system:

  • AC Hotel
  • Aloft Downtown
  • C. Baldwin
  • Cambria Downtown
  • Chifley Houston
  • Courtyard Hobby Airport
  • Courtyard Medical Center
  • Doubletree Galleria
  • Doubletree Greenway Plaza
  • Doubletree Medical Center
  • Doubletree Hobby
  • Doubletree Westchase
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Hobby
  • Greetree Inn & Suites
  • Hampton Inn Galleria
  • Hilton Americas
  • Hilton Garden Inn Medical Center
  • Hilton Plaza Medical Center
  • Holiday Inn Downtown
  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites Downtown
  • Holiday Inn Express Galleria
  • Home2 Suites Medical Center
  • Hotel Derek
  • Hotel Vesper
  • Hyatt House Galleria
  • Hyatt Place Downtown
  • Hyatt Place Galleria
  • Hyatt Regency Houston
  • Hyatt Regency Galleria
  • Intercontinental Medical Center
  • JW Marriot
  • Le Meridien
  • Magnolia Houston
  • Marriot Marquis
  • Marriot Medical Center Museum District
  • Marriot South Hobby
  • Marriot West Loop
  • Marriot Westchase
  • Omni Galleria
  • Residence Inn Downtown
  • Residence Inn Galleria
  • Springhill Hobby
  • Springhill Medical Center
  • Staybridge Suites Galleria
  • Staybridge Suites Medical Center
  • Westin Downtown
  • The Whitehall

This list may be incomplete, but at least you know who not to try calling outside this system.

Prices Through This System Are Better Than You Can Get Elsewhere
The prices negotiated by FIRST and CD with these hotels are better than you will get negotiating on your own or going through a different system.

Housing Is First-Come, First-Served
The longer you wait to apply (say, waiting until your team wins Impact in your week five event) the less likely you will be to get enough rooms in a hotel that is close and convenient. The hotels within easy walking distance of the Convention Center fill up first. At this particular event this is a pretty important perk, as hotels further away don’t necessarily cost much less per night, and transportation to and from becomes cumbersome.

You Don’t Need To Pay Now
But you do need to get through registration. If you don’t qualify for Champs, you can release your held rooms and another team can access them. You’d rather not be one of those teams waiting and watching for access to open up, though; the process is uncomfortable and random, and you’re just as likely to get expensive rooms far away as you are to get your preferred setup.

Like Everything Else In FIRST, This Is An Information Competition
And I don’t want you to be left out or in the dark about it. I’ve taken my team to Houston four times now and have learned from our mistakes and challenges, and those of others who have helped guide me by their experience. I do hope that being “Open” about this helps you and your team make the best plans you can for a season that has less stress than it otherwise would.

Good Luck,
Mr.N

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