900's Championship Cheesecaking Chronicles

Can we stop calling it “cheesecake” yet? I’ve never been one for euphemisms. I prefer to call things what they are. In this case, it should be called the collaborative effort of multiple teams to build one of the craziest contraptions I think I have ever seen in my 11 years of FRC experience. Granted, that’s a mouthful so maybe “cheesecake” is easier to say.

I’m very proud of my team. My students are amazing and our other mentors are a dream team so let me start by describing the robot that my team constructed over build season. It was an impressive feat of engineering. It had a swerve drivetrain (yeah, first time we’ve ever done that and we did it during build season). It had an onboard Nvidia Jetson board that was processing video footage in realtime using cascade classifiers to detect the recycling bins (which don’t have retroreflective tape).

Mechanically we built an arm that could extend over 7 feet and grab a recycling bin from the step. It could do it autonomously and then slam it into the ground before doing it a second time. It wasn’t fast but it was awesome. Oh, did I mention that along the way we had to redesign adapter plates to drive the arm using two AndyMark 4-Stage GEMs? We tried it with a single 5 stage but we corkscrewed a 1/2" steel shaft. We also destroyed some AndyMark raw boxes. We dealt with alignment issues and taught our students about overhung loads at not one but two regionals and even at the championship.

We also used carbon fiber tubing to reduce the weight of the arm so we could actually get a bin from the step without tipping over (at least all the way). We had originally built a claw that was made from balsa wood and carbon fiber layups that our students did in our own lab. That claw didn’t work mechanically though so we ended up having to redesign it and rebuild it for our second regional using aluminum tubing that was bent by hand because we couldn’t easily get access to a bender.

And let me tell you, that second regional was a doozy. We were a “sleeper pick” by the number one alliance. They picked us because we complemented their alliance and we helped them boost their scores high enough to come out above the others’ average. We helped them go on to win the event. We couldn’t have done it without them and they couldn’t have done it without us. We worked collaboratively.

It was an amazing robot but I’m not proud of the robot. I’m proud of what my team did to build it and make it work. This all brings me to what happened on the Curie field between my team and three of the other best teams we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Much has been said about it already. Some people seem to think that 1114 or 148 pressured a poor helpless 900 and 1923 into doing whatever they said… HAH! As if. Have you even met my team? We built a 7 foot lever arm supported by two 1/2" steel shafts with 1/8" keys trying to drive a dynamic 20 pound load… we’re not just stubborn, we’re insane. No, no one pressured us into anything.

It all happened because we were hungry to win. We knew getting those cans off the step was the key to winning. Over build season we built a robot to do it after all. We built that robot for regionals and we knew it wasn’t enough for championships but we had to get there first. We knew what it would take to win. We had seen 1114 working on a really complicated mechanism in their pit and we decided maybe they were on to something. While our drive team was playing matches and keeping “Go Big” (that’s the robot’s name by the way, the practice robot is named “Go Home”) working on Friday the pit crew and scouts were hard at work trying to find out what it would take to mount those mechanisms onto our drive base.

It turned out what it would take was a new drive base. Swerve is heavy and hard to program. It’s a great drivetrain but it wasn’t needed for what we were going to do. If this was going to work, it was going to take some out of the box thinking. So we did what we do… We bought more stuff from AndyMark (thank you to all of the AM crew, you are all amazing). We bought an AM14U2 kit (KOP chassis) and a pneumatic kit. Our pit crew went about assembling a new drive base and getting a crash course in pneumatics. We left the pits on Friday night with a plan and a new drive base. The electronics from the old robot were stripped once we were done with our last match.

We left and then did what teams do in St Louis. We went to the arch and had dinner. Then we went back to the hotel. Another mentor on the team stayed a little later and got some contact info for another mentor on 1114. We had gone back to the hotel with the plan to put the KOP drive base into CAD and then stuff the electronics in. It was a miracle they all fit. Then, we found out something else from our Canadian friends. The drive base we had assembled needed to be even smaller.

So we made it smaller and stuffed the electronics in tighter. We then sent the CAD files over to 1114. Yeah, that’s right, two teams working collaboratively in CAD the night before alliance selections to build a robot from parts at the arena. It was an impressive feat. It wasn’t over though. It needed to go from CAD to robot the next day. It also wasn’t a sure thing. Someone else could have chosen us for alliance selections just to mess this plan up… if anyone even knew what we were doing.

The next morning we took the robot apart and then set to work rebuilding it all. We have a time lapse video of it coming together. Zebracorns and Simbotics mentors and students working shoulder to shoulder. Our pit became a tangled mess of components, tools, robot parts, and human beings. I’m sure it was a spectacle for all of those around us.

The integration testing was a challenge. 1114’s programmer had code written for this whacky contraption but we kept running into issues with our Talon SRXs in PWM mode. It was likely a bunch of loose cables but we solved it by just adding more of them onto the robot. We ended up with 10 of them on there instead of the 7 we had planned.

The device, dubbed “Crossbow” by 1114 was a masterpiece of engineering. It used electric solenoids as firing pins to launch harpoons sprung by surgical tubing at the recycling bins. These harpoons then retracted along with the 4 stands that were spread out from the robot. The stands came together in a tangled mess of wires, pneumatic tubing, nylon line, and aluminum. It was spectacular. And there were safety stops build into every aspect of this thing. There were pins built into it for transport, along with multiple lines in case of failure, which wasn’t likely, the lines were dynamic and designed to withstand far more force than those harpoons could ever put on them.

At this point, it was about 2:00 in the afternoon and we had missed all of the inspectors packing up on the Curie field but Ed, being the amazing LRI he is, had us covered. Did I mention that while we were doing all of this, the rest of the alliance was out winning the Curie field? We missed the handshake with the opposing alliance in the finals because we were packing up the robot and bringing it to the field inspection station.

The inspection process reminded me of inspections from when I was a student. It was a frenzy of duct tape, filing, and zip ties. The inspectors were fantastic. They were helpful, courteous, and kept a good sense of humor throughout the process. It was intense but a lot of fun. We had to trim about 6 pounds of weight from the robot. We dropped the steel weights on each of the stands and then went on to cut out some wire and surgical tubing. Did I mention the bill of materials? According to the inspector, it was one step above a napkin. I told him we were going to give it to him on a napkin but we decided typing it in Notepad was a little better. I can’t thank the inspectors enough, they were great to work with even though they didn’t cut us any slack.

Once we were through with inspection we went about practicing the setup and teardown of this contraption. It was a complicated monstrosity. Four pods plus the robot. We had it down though. It could be setup quickly and transported onto the field. If you saw us on the side of Einstein, that’s what we were doing.

Was it an elaborate ploy? A threat of mutually assured destruction in a literal arms race? Maybe. Maybe not. We were ready to deploy it and it had been tested. I don’t know if it would have worked on the field and I don’t care. The experience of working alongside 1114, 148, and 1923 to build something so insanely complicated so quickly was astonishing. We now have some incredible stories to tell and we’re going home with another banner. We were on the number three alliance in the world and for that, I’m ecstatic.

We took a robot built collaboratively over the course of a day all the way to Einstein. That’s the stuff of legends in FRC. The students and mentors of 900, 1923, 148, and 1114 aren’t going to forget this experience. We worked well together and created something amazing. We fought hard and did what we had to do to win. In the end, we didn’t make it as far as we were hoping to, but we were ready to go all the way. The hunger was there.

To our alliance partners, thank you. Everyone on 900 is awestruck by what we did together. The students and mentors of 148, 1923, and 1114 are an inspiration. It was a pleasure working with you.

I’ll leave you with something I’ve been pondering. I really want to know why it takes 3 days to build a robot. Our alliance can do it in 7 hours and we can take it to Einstein. :wink:


You guys are an incredible team and this is one of the coolest and most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.

Did you end up with the harpoons, or does 1114 have them?

Great to hear the story behind your “cheese caking”.
Do you guys still have the robot that was built during the build season, or is it in pieces now? I feel like it’s still sad to just let go of a project that you have worked on for so long.

We have one of the harpoons, and we have kept “go big” intact.

That’s really cool. I saw that video you guys posted of it on Instagram and was awestruck. And as a side note, I think this is the longest Chief Delphi post I’ve ever seen.

We held on to one of the harpoons, and we’re definitely going to be messing around with that stuff in the offseason.

Our original robot is still mostly mechanically intact, though we had to strip out the electronics for the midgetbot. It’ll come back together easily enough.

Cheesecake is a euphemism?
As far as I recall (and looking back confirms), cheesecaking was allowed, and even encouraged (if formally in violation of the rules) until the answer to Q416 came out o/a 16 March. It became explicitly legal (and apparently still encouraged) on 17 March. Why would an encouraged activity need a euphemism?

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Wow, this is amazing.

Not only were you all EXTREMELY GP with your alliance members, but you collaborated and worked extremely hard on the bot. I can tell that this idea and design were extremely smart, especially on such a short notice. It was a risk, and quite frankly, I think it was worth it.

I feel inspired.


Did you have a team member in the alliance station during the elimination rounds while you worked on altering your robot?

Are you asking if we had another member of our team helping with the bins? If so then no. The others had it well in hand.

Marshall, your post is amazing in its entiret. You have covered all of the points of interests that I personally enjoy. I should have looked it before I came to my own conclusions about your teams experience with the crazy insane transformation of your robot.

I know the LRI for the Curie division, I have heard many wild and intriguing tales about the testing and inspection of your transformed bot. Congratulations to your team and the highly respected alliance that y’all were apart of, best wishes to you all.

Only one question for your team though. Once y'all saw the scores of the robonaut's alliance along with the dominant highroller's alliance did your alliance think it a wise decision to continue using the harpoons?

Well now that thats cleared up, amazing story. We (team 1225) were speculating what you guys were doing down at Einstein when setting Crossbow up. We pretty much speculated the whole time, watching through binoculars, having a couple members get close up looks. We pretty much knew that it had something to do with the recycling bins, but we weren’t sure of how it worked, how many of them it got, etc. Until on the bus ride home in the middle of the night I found a short video clip of your harpoon firing. Anyways, good job to you and your alliance for getting to semifinals in Einstein.

Such a great story - you make this particular alumnus quite proud! How would you prevent this setup from getting in the way of accessing the landfill?

Let us know when you have some video of the machine posted.

Finally a video!

I am sorry for the wait. I had the video ready, but wasn’t able to post until I got back to NC.

I hope this thread and video clears up any confusion about the spirit with which this awesome collaborative effort was accomplished. We were not forced to do anything and in fact willingly did what was necessary to benefit our friends on team 1114, 148, and 1923.

Personally I experienced the most collaboration and hard work come together between teams in those 7 hours than I ever have in FRC. What an amazing experience.

Anyway, here’s what everyone has been waiting for. I’m sure there will be some better footage out by 1114 soon.

What Team 900 accomplished this weekend was nothing short of amazing. Their determination and tenacity in integrating our “Frog and Lily” setup into their newly built kitbot was at levels I’ve never seen before. They were constantly in our pit early in the event to ask us questions about what we were working on and how they could get it on their robot. I’ve never seen a team so focused on in event modifications. It was honour to be on the same alliance as a team with a culture that matches ours so closely.

I just want to say that 900 is a dope team and we wish we could have pants that are half as magical. This is the kind of work 422 wishes we could have the chance to do; we have mad respect to your whole team and we’ll see you around.

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I think that this is the craziest, most insane, wild, and awe inspiring act of in competitions build I have ever seen and I dare say will see in a while. Wish I could have been at championships to see it in person.