2158 Offseason Blog

Hello every, I’ve finally found courage to post something I’ve been working on since 2019. Its a blog from a mentors perspective on team 2158, The Austin Cans. The blog follows our build progress and our progress as a team as we’ve been improving the past seasons. I’ve been inspired by a few great blogs and thought I could add an interesting perspective, attempting to improve as a team. Specifically improving team culture, student experience, building competitive robots and getting better as mentors.

Might be a little late to the off season build blog part, but don’t worry our progress is all there, just hasn’t been shared publicly much.

Here links to this years off season posts.

If you want to look back into previous seasons

If you want to read my favorite post its “District Championship Recap” it was around here that everything in the world started to return to normal and the feeling was great.

I’ll probably end up making a new topic for the 2023 build blog so it isn’t cluttered by the off season activity. During the season I will be trying my best to post once a day, sometimes as competition approaches the days start to run together and posts might get combined. Competitions will be getting a combined recap post.

With all of that out of the way lets jump into today’s current post. :slightly_smiling_face:

50 Days to Kick Off

Only 50 days left? Wow time flies, the team has come together amazingly over the past four months. Everyone has been extremely productive and engaged. But we are not ready for the season to begin yet(we never are, it might just be me), because of the various school holidays we only have 6 more meetings left before kick off. One of those meetings will be a team build event and one is our mock kick off event so really only 4(!) workable meetings left. Wow a lot to get done before then. Its time to feel the first crunch of the season.

Productivity/Something Else?

In the past we’ve struggled to keep everyone busy, but we haven’t had that problem this year. Our team has never been this large(51 students) either. I think its a combination of a few different things. Students are motivated and willing to find new tasks needed to keep themselves busy. I think this is partly because we have set some lofty goals for this year(swerve, better programming, having a working robot sooner, 100 hours of driver practice).

It also helps that we have 20 second year members, 1 third year member, for a total of 45% of the team’s member having previous robotics experience. Last year we had a smaller ratio of experienced students to new students. 2021 was a hard year for the team and recruiting members was especially hard. These second year students are teaching the new members and finding new work as needed.

A Returning Programming Student Leads New Members

Subgroup Leads

Our sub group leads have been in their role for about 3 weeks now, they are quickly figuring out their responsibilities. Two of their most important responsibilities are ensuring Trello usage and creating/presenting their sub group’s progress during the weekly team recap. The team recap helps every team member keep up to date with each sub groups progress. We are constantly working on improving our recap. We try to make sure that there are gifs or pictures for each talking point. This year we’ve added off season recaps to give ourselves some practice before the season starts. When we get back from our Fall break I will talk to the team in small groups and gather their feedback on how to improve recaps. The team will have completed 3 recaps by then so the students should hopefully have some feedback that we can use to improve.

Another import part of our leadership structure is our weekly sub team lead meeting. The sub group leads and myself sit down in our lobby for a meeting. The leads talk about their sub group’s progress, if there are any blockers and what tasks they plan on working on next. We also talk about how to be an effective leader and any problems that we are having and how we can resolve them.

You know its super serious when we are sitting in the corner on the floor.

Progress Report

It’s been a busy two weeks at the lab. Some manufacturing students have started bolting all of the field perimeter to the floor including the driver stations(we might have been knocking those over frequently during our driver practice sessions). All that remains to get bolted down is the last driver station. Students have been busy assembling swerve modules. We’ve hit the magical number of four assembled modules! Which means last night they got bolted to the frame.

CAD still has a few finishing touches to finish up on the belly pan before we can put electronics on it. They would have finished it last night but we were interrupted by the fire alarm going off in the middle of our meeting.

The fire department was nice enough to stop by and turn it off so we could get back to work. The fire alarm was caused by a loss of pressure in the sprinklers, we had this problem a few times before. We used our fire alarm break to do an impromptu game of captain is coming before getting back to work.

The students had some fun this….

Programming has swerve working in simulation for autonomous and operator control. I imagine it will need a bit of work on the real hardware before everything is working. They have also been working on adding more advanced form of logging. This will help us debug faster and make better use of our limited time with the robot.

The business team has been organizing our out reach events. A new event we’ve added this year is demoing our robot at local farmer’s markets. They’ve also been working on a replacement to CAN talks and creating a video to practice syncing pictures and videos to music.

In addition to all of this progress the new members are still busy learning! CAD has finished making their first gear box and they are moving onto mechanism to pickup gears(2017). Programming students are working in small groups to program our kit bot. Business members are learning how to edit videos, take good photos and write compelling essays. Manufacturing students are making practice parts on the lathe and mills, getting practice at making parts within tolerances.


Also post at canned-thoughts.com

Four Meetings Before Kickoff

Only four more meetings left for us before kick off. The off season has gone by so fast. We didn’t manage to finish the CAD for the belly pan of our swerve drive robot before Fall break so the CAD students jumped right into that. The belly pan was released late on Wednesday night and was cut out on the router during Thursday’s meeting.

One of my favorite features of the belly pan is the new female plugs we added for USB B, USB C, and Ethernet. These plugs are mounted in the top left corner near the battery and will allow us to access the Roborio for imaging, Spark Maxes for firmware updates and Ethernet for tethering to the robot with out having to flip our robot and remove the belly pan.

Female USB B

One of the areas we struggled with last year was that it wasn’t until day 29 that we had a robot frame moving and driving. One of the reasons that it took us so long to get there was we didn’t have an electronics lay out. With the work we’ve done on the swerve drive base we will hopefully have a test sled that will (if the game isn’t swerve hostile) be ready to use as our practice bot on kick off. The CAD for the swerve frame and electronics layout will be released to the public soon, our students are working on a write up for it.

Overhead view

Bottom View

Preparing Cutting The Belly Pan


The programming sub team has been busy working on adding a battery monitoring feature. We have in the past had some issues remembering to change batteries. This usually happens late at night when we are debugging something and all of a sudden everything seems to break. Then we notice the battery voltage is sitting at 8 volts and we change the battery. Things return to some what normal and we go back to our debugging journey feeling a little silly. Its hard to remember to change the battery. Its also bad to run the batteries down really low and we have been guilty of this. It degrades the battery’s life and performance.

The basic idea of this feature is that we can monitor the current drawn from the PDH and have a timer that tracks how long the robot has been on for. After a period of time the driver station will play a sound alert and display a message on the dashboard informing the users of the need to change the battery. They are in the final rounds of testing it at the moment. Hopefully this will prevent a few late night headaches during build season(We’ll also be releasing this soon).

Kick Off Preparation

Kick off is right around the corner and that means we have to get a few things done before hand for smooth sailing during build season. These tasks we’ve identified to ensure are done before kick are things that have blocked our progress during previous build season.

Things to do before kick off:

  • Order metal for 2 x robots
  • Order wood for team field build
  • Order poly carbonate
  • Go over evergreen rules as a team
  • Run mock kick off
  • Go over kick off game plan
  • Make sure twitch isn’t blocked on the school internet

One of the things that I’ve started working on this year is documenting our team’s processes as we go. I’ve lead the kick off for the past three years now and someday I won’t be the one to lead kick off. It’d be nice for some one to be able to pick off where we’ve left off and to enable that I’ve been writing down the processes in our team’s Notion page. Our kick off game plan isn’t ready just yet to see the light of day, hopefully within the next week it will be.

Writing things down also gives us an opportunity to improve. Our past kick offs have not had any good instruction set, if you had been to one or two previously you knew what was going on. If it was your first time it was a struggle to keep up. We had a document that described the process at a high level but relies a lot on previous experience to fill in any missing parts. Our kick off game plan will list the different activities we plan on doing and what the desired outcome of each activity is.


Two Meetings…

With only two meetings left in the year I’ve finished our kick off plan early enough to share with the community. The basic idea is a series of group activities followed by a whole team discussion. The activities we plan on doing are Rule Reading, Ways to Score, Scoring Analysis and What Our Robot Must Do, Could Do, and Won’t Do. Each activity has detailed instructions and expected out comes. Some activities include helpful tips, or outline our reasoning for changing it from last year. If you want to see how we plan to run kick off you can find all the details on the Kick Off Resource Page

Mock Kick Off

This week we are running a Mock Kick Off exercise with all of our students. Last week we covered evergreen rules as a team, this means that we can get by without reading the whole rule book during our mock kick off. This is great because we don’t have enough time during our weekly meetings to get through our entire kick off plan. We should be able to squeeze in ways to score, scoring analysis and team discussions about both. If we are quick we might be able to do the What Our Robot Must Do, Could Do, and Won’t Do activity.

In order to complete the Ways to Score and Scoring Analysis activities we need to have a game summary sheet. This summary sheet should contain the important rules, key locations on the field, rules related to scoring, how to score points and how to earn ranking points. You can find a 2017 Game Summary we’ve created here.


The swerve drive finally came all the way together last week Wednesday. It took a bit long to get the top brain pan cut on the router. This plate holds all of the electronics on it so couldn’t get far on wiring with out it.

This is our first time using Wago 221 Inline Splicing Connectors and they are great to work with. The student’s love not having to crimp power poles any more. I love not wasting 50 cents on a failed crimp. They are also so much easier to take apart, and you can’t assemble two of them side by side making an impossible to remove connection.

During assembly we’ve identified a few things we want to change with our swerve frame and electronics design:

  • More wire zip tie down holes along the edges
  • Pass through holes for battery cable (Whoops)
  • Roborio mounting holes are slightly out of alignment
  • Offset top and bottom panel mounting holes. So we can unbolt one plate at a time.
  • Add motor and encoder wire pass through holes near spark maxes
  • Velcro strap for battery containment

A great first go at the brain pan. Most of these changes are simple and have already been made. The current frame size is the smallest we would ever likely make a robot at 24" x 24". It is a bit of a struggle to get all of the wires nicely cable managed, and we have room to add 12 more motor controllers.


A few returning members on programming have been working on testing our swerve code. They’ve fixed a few bugs and we are getting close to being able to drive. The entire swerve project is only about a two months behind :slight_smile: .

The new members have been learning closed loop position based control. A few years back we made a simple arm test fixture that can easily be added to robots to practice position closed loop control. It is a piece of 1 x 1 attached to a sprocket and a 50:1 gearbox to a Neo.

Metal For 2023 Season

This year we’ve actually managed to get a metal order in before kick off. We’ve ordered the following:

  • 4’ x 8’ of 1/8” aluminum sheet
  • 48’ of 1” x 1” 1/8” aluminum box tube
  • 24’ of 1” x 1” 1/16” aluminum box tube
  • 24’ of 2” x 1” 1/8” aluminum box tube
  • 20’ of 3/8” aluminum round stock

The shop already has the following items on hand:

  • 24′ of 2” x 1” 1/8” aluminum box tube
  • 30′ of 3/4″ aluminum round stock

This should hopefully be enough metal for two robots this year. Its not really a huge problem if we have to order more metal but it can save two days and a lot of stress if we have it on hand.

Another Night of The Robots

We hosted another Night of the Robots event last week. I feel bad for our 2022 robot and our batteries(we will be getting new batteries for competition), it now lives a rough life demoing for 3 hours at a time. Most of it has held up great, but a few of our Neo 550s really don’t enjoy being ran for that long. No complete failures yet surprisingly but I think we should add some cooling to them.


Mock Kick Off Feedback

Last week we ran our team’s mock kick off on Wednesday. All of the activity’s instructions can be found on our Kick Off Resource page. We had three groups of new and returning members read the 2017 game summary, complete the “Actions That Score Points” activity and finally go through the “Scoring Analysis” activity.

There were a few things that I missed in the 2017 Mock Kick Off Game Summary. The reveal video, not sure how I forget to include it, but one group started watching it and I told the other groups to watch it. Another thing that would be helpful to include is information about qualification matches, team ranking, and alliance selection. Most of the returning members are familiar with these topics but new members are not.

Another thing to do before next time is to take aside the group leaders and explain the instructions and handouts for all of the activities. I explained them to each group leader individually but having to do it 3 separate times wasn’t as much fun. We also need to instructions for popcorn reading the rule summary.

Activity Feedback

After the activities were all done we sat down with the group leaders and collected feedback about the mock kick off and activity instructions.

Some lesser points of feedback:

  • Returning members probably don’t need to attend every Mock Kick Off in the future(Returning members will be group leaders)
  • Its hard to emphasize the importance of kick off to new members(mock or not)
  • Should call on veteran members to explain bold terms in the rule book
  • Add more game piece time to score examples
  • We should add name tags for members during kick off

One important discovery was that our team discussion format wasn’t going to work for kick off. We have 50 members on our team this year which breaks down into 8 different groups. The plan was to have each group present their list from each activity. This has worked previously when we’ve had ~4 groups. With double the groups we’d be covering (mostly) the same thing again and again. Eyes in the room will quickly glaze over and people will stop paying attention.

Our new team discussion format will have each group selecting a representative still. However instead of presenting their entire list at once each group representative will say one item on their list. The next group representative will say a different item on their list(no duplicates allowed). This continues until a group runs out of items to talk about on their list. Eventually only one group will have anything left to say. We’ll call this group the “winner” and give out some candy to the group. This should help keep things interesting and will motivate the students with sugar.

This new discussion format won’t work for the Scoring Analysis activity. I think we’ll have to have each group present their top scoring strategy and anything else important. But this new format should work for the Games Rule and Ways to Score activities.

Scoring Analysis Template Feedback

The scoring analysis sheet wasn’t perfect, our test run exposed a few flaws some areas we could improve. The first is that we should make use of background color to help explain the purpose of cells. Yellow will be used for column headings and row headings. These items also have a description available for more explanation. Grey will be used to identify cells that are not supposed to be edited by the user. Red will be used to note any errors, such as the sum of time to complete adding up to more than the match time.

The format of the sheet has also been changed a little, we are no longer planning on breaking actions down into items that don’t score points. Instead we will roll that time into the action that does score points. We’ve also added a checkbox to indicate if the action earns a ranking point. The final major change is the addition of a “greedy” cycle row, this row uses all of the leftover match time to fit in as many cycles as possible. You can find the updated template here.


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