I’ve heard from a lot of people that are optimistic that we will be able to resume “normal competitions” in 2021.
I’m not one of those people.
I feel strongly that FIRST will need to come up with an alternate competition concept to engage with teams in 2021. This concept will need to be mindful of the set of facts that COVID-19 has provided us… Money will be tight for many teams as sponsors tighten their belts in preparation for an unpredictable economy. Regions will be experiencing different conditions as states/countries each have their own policies. These conditions are subject to change for every region at any time. There’s a high probability that many teams have restricted access to their facilities. There’s a high probability that a lot school districts won’t allow extracurricular activities at some point next school year.
The list goes on.
I’m wondering what ideas everybody has regarding how FIRST can structure some kind of FRC game/challenge for 2021, keeping in mind all of the factors and variables noted above.
In my opinion, any kind of 2021 FRC challenge needs to:
Have a registration fee that reflects the economic realities of the COVID crisis - “be affordable”
Maintain a flexible timeline such that teams can still participate, even if they’re working around district/state policies that restrict their access to their robot/facilities
Cater to the strictest COVID measures OR give different regions the flexibility to provide different experiences depending on what is feasible due to local regulations
Enable teams to participate with as little as a 10’ × 10’ area with optional field elements (tape on a wall instead of the entire goal and other resource saving measures)
Offer some degree of competition, and not just a showcase/science fair - Something akin to the VEX Skills Challenge
Provide some degree of educational challenge within the realm of STEM - perhaps doing an engineering notebook for their 2020 robot for teams that won’t be able to build/upgrade their bot for 2021
Cater to the “more than robots” side of the program with productive and engaging opportunities that don’t require outreach to large numbers of people - one idea would be to have teams submit a program sustainability outline that shows how their team can survive and thrive over the next 5 years, how their local FIRST program can survive, and how FIRST as an entity can survive and thrive.
I’m sure there are many more bullet points that an alternate 2021 competition structure must hit… what are your ideas?
Honestly, I’m looking at the possibility that anything we do will have to be in-house. With a team of ~20, what sort of kits can I get (looking mostly at control system and actuator components) to support up to 8 small teams building something, for a total cost of normal registration? If I can get them in teams of 3-4, building robots somewhere between FLL and FTC, then I can design a game for them, no problem, and hold a competition at the school, with just people from the school community present. It would be much smaller than a regional, and be composed of not just locals, but locals who all interact within 1-2 degrees of relationship. Combined with other normal measures (masks, cleaning, 6ft, etc), that’s as safe as you can get for this sort of thing.
I would like to see a robot skills challenge of sorts. You’re given a field that can be made out of cardboard and plywood with various goals and obstacles and you submit a 2:30 video of your robot completing the course scoring as many points as it can. The robot score is taken into account, as well as a panel of design and programming judges that look over a technical binder submitted by the team to give awards based on creative design, innovative controls, etc. It could still go through the regional/district model where it’s local teams and then bigger areas and then a champs scale competition, only virtually. Registration would be lower, cross-team mingling would be fixed, and you still get to make a robot. Save funds too by lowering scope of the robot. Max frame perimeter of ~80”, max weight of ~90lbs etc
A lot of these ideas with mini challenges sound awesome, but right now I’m working under the assumption we won’t be meeting until there’s a vaccine until I’m given any indication otherwise. So I know for my team in particular, IF that is indeed the route we are gong, an infinite recharge event after vaccine is out becomes more doable than any sort of mini-challenges before then. I imagine schools not allowing extra curricular may be acting in the same vain. Assuming the requirement is a vaccine, right now optimistic projections see a vaccine coming our early 2021. I don’t know the timeline for distribution, but even if we were not to have one in time for the normal competition season/champs, I could see events being postponed to spring/summer of 2021 like they were trying to do in China and other hard hid areas. Week 14 regionals anyone? The issue is we don’t have any sort of definite timeline on when we’ll have a vaccine which makes planning really difficult. Not having to build a new robot provides a more flexible timeline and more time for a vaccine to be distributed, but that still may be too late as teams are left in the dark not knowing what to expect. Whatever happens, I just can’t wait until we’re able to safely play with robots again.
Focussing on these aspects for a year or two might actually be a good thing for some teams.
Perhaps some teams could step back from competitive activities (and pressure) and spend a year learning how to design and build a good X, where X is some mechanism they have never built before or have never been able to build a good one.