An ethical question

This year one of our mentors was an engineer for DEKA, the research firm that Dean Kamen runs (responsable for such things as the Segway and IBot). Our team is a rookie tema and one of our biggest hurdles we had to overcome was maling things… we basically made our robot with a hacksaw and a drill press…

So during the competition we needed to drill a hole through some hardened steel. Needless to say the machine shop at the competition wasn’t up to it (they broke a few bits trying). So our mentor and I drove over to DEKA (a few blocks away from the NH regional) and used their shop. It is massive and has millions of dollars of machinery… its undescribable the feeling seeing this place… But it raises the question was he right to hold this resource away from our team. He was worried that since DEKA has such a connection with FIRST it would be wrong to sponsor a team.

I’m just curios about what other people think about this. I totally understand where he is coming from, but even if our team had been given one day a week in that place we could have done so much.

P.S. - our team did great at the NH regional… we placed 14/51 and got all the way to the quarters… partially due to the transmissions the guys at DEKA were able to fix…

I rephrased my question down below

This is against the rules.

But it raises the question was he right to hold this resource away from our team.

I don’t know if I need to explain how entitled and arrogant this seems. Be thankful for what you were given, as it’s something much more than many of the people you’re competing with could ever hope for. Please, consider the dedication and work that your engineer did give you, not the things he didn’t give.


The way I see it it’s a tough question and different people are going to have different points of view. The way I see it is that some of the teams do better at constucting a robot than others because of the facilities available to them. The fact is a lot of times it depends who’s involved with your team and who your sponsors are. Some teams don’t have the resources to do certain machining and such and allow the sponsors to do it. I personally don’t see an issue with this as long as the students are still able to learn. It just so happened that one of your mentors was involved with DEKA, and if they helped you out during the six weeks so be it, other teams had major corporations backing them too. So far I don’t see any issues. Now here’s where I don’t agree with what you did, having facilities and an advantage available to you at a competition that other teams didn’t. Other teams had to wait and possibly miss matches because something broke and they had to wait to get it fixed while you didn’t have to worry about that. Personally it just seems that having that advantage at the competition is different than during the six weeks.

That’s my two cents, feel free to agree or disagree.

[EDIT] I didn’t realize M Krass posted before me and checking she is right…it is against the rules at competition.[EDIT]

As far as DEKA not sponsoring a team, I think DEKA would understand all too well what FIRST is about and help too much. We had too few tools and too little adult support. The only thing we had was the money, and even that, we had enough not to have to worry about it, but not enough to, say, make a second bot. Part of the point of FIRST is to work your [booty] off. You need to struggle for sponsarship, struggle to get engineers to help you, struggle to find a good mentor, struggle to get team members that are actual help, struggle to learn what all the kit parts can do, struggle to learn what non-kit parts and tools can do, struggle to learn this years game, struggle to design something that should work, struggle to make the thing you designed, struggle to debug said creation, and struggle to fight such things as the time limit, plummeting grades at school, and failing relationships with non-FIRST friends and relatives.

FIRST is about struggleing with everything, and refusing to backdown. It’s about fighting every step of the way, and succeeding. Without this struggle, what would be the point? Without this struggle, I wouldn’t be NEARLY as proud of myself, and my team, as I am right now.

FIRST is a struggle because it’s supposed to be the greatest thing you will do in high school. For me, it was exactly that. It’s the first thing I’ve actually worked hard at in my entire life.

That’s why DEKA doesn’t sponsor a team. They could remove almost all struggle. Then what would that high school team get out of FIRST? Not too much, in my opinion.

I think one of the few things that FIRST needs most is compassion. Though to me this seems like an obvious aspect of graciousness, for some people it isn’t.

I think that Madison’s answer was correct, that this wasn’t allowed according to the rules.

However, looking at it from a compasionate viewpoint, I see a few things:

You’re a rookie team, you couldn’t compete unless you drilled this hole. This couldn’t be done using the resources at the competition, which you tried to use. You used the machining resources from your local sponsor in town to DRILL A HOLE.

Though I wasn’t at that competition, I’d be more comfortable playing against you at full capacity, even if you had to do something like that, than having you guys not up and running around because the on-site machining resources were insuffcient to allow you to compete.

I think I feel a bit of sympathy for your team again here. It sounds like your sponsor’s engineers, which happened to be affiliated with Dean Kamen, felt a little uneasy about using the multi-million dollar machine shop to manufacture parts for your team.

Let me assure you that many teams have absolutely no reserves about using tens of thousands of dollars in machining time from their sponsors, using the most current machining methods in industry. If this was the sole reason why this resource wasn’t used - because your sponsoring engineers felt that would give them an unfair advantage, I urge you to inform them they need not feel this way. The best machines in the country typically have high quality manufactured parts.

However, if your engineer felt that you, as students, would not come across the same amount of inspriation by having parts delivered to your doorstep from a machine shop, I would have to agree. Many high school students (myself included when I was in high school) simply assemble the finished products to “make” their robot. After coming on to a team where students manufacture over 95% of their parts on site within our own machine shop, I can say that students have much more to gain by getting their hands a little dirty, being encouraged to stick to tight tollerances, and manufacture parts on their own.

Maybe you ought to ask the engineer a bit more about his reasoning.

In the future, I would ask that DEKA opens its doors to ALL teams in NH that need to do special machining operations like you described. I think that would benifit everyone at the competition and allow everyone to perform to their highest potential.

Good luck for the rest of the year!


I can see where your mentor is coming from. For a rookie team, you weren’t too bad off. It annoys me that some teams are able to simply have their engineer mentors design and build everything if they are sponsored by a big tech corporation like, say BAE. (For the record, our team is sponsored by BAE, but they give us very little money and no tech help).

Sure, he was right to hold it away from your team. It would be nice had he not, but you as a team are not necessarily entitled to anything he might have access to any more than you are entitled to his bank account.

Clearly, you have more to learn about the ways of FIRST, young grasshopper. FIRST is adept in the ways of doublethink–they promote competition while simultaneously advocating “Gracious Professionalism”, which can sometimes seem to mean cutting yourself down for the sake of others. Gracious Professionalism is only to be practiced sometimes, however. It is apparently waived in certain situations–such as if you are mildly annoyed by the loud cheering of a certain team. Or if you are a FIRST official, and a team member loses his custom safety goggles in the cheering pit, and he needs to go on and find them, and you respond with “tough”. This, of course, is judging from the behavior of certain teams and officials from Manchvegas. And this practice of doublethink in the FIRST arena is something I have yet to master.


We’re a second year team. We’ve had some bumps in the road with definining gracious professionalism, with getting along with mentors, etc.

And for the record…as a fellow attendee of Manchester, I hereby absolve you of any guilt in the eyes of Team 1073 for your little jaunt over to DEKA. If FIRST didn’t have the tools to fix your robot and they implied that they would…well, it would hardly be graciously professional if they did not allow you to fix it when you could, would it? Being a rookie team and finishing 14th is amazing–we thought we did well last year when we finished 22nd! In my eyes, your illicit trip to DEKA is absolutely fine.


Forget the fact that is was DEKA - is it against the rules or the spirit of FIRST that you went off-site to get the work done during a Regional? I won’t attampt to answer that question - per an earlier post it sounds like it is. Maybe a better solution would have been to go out and buy or borrow a bit tough enough to do the work and then ave it done at the regional site b the on-site crew.

Regarding ‘holding back on the facility’ - Rolls-Royce and General Motors / Allison are two of our major sponsors. Rolls-Royce makes gas turbine engines and could machine any of our parts, but they do not. We have never even asked. Same holds true for Allison - they make truck and tank transmissions and I am sure could make beautiful parts for us - but again, we have never even asked. The team makes do with what tools and capabilities we have. When we have a part that we cannot make we go pay to have it made.

Remember too that you are talking about very expensive machines and machine tools. DEKA (or any other sponsor) could not let you work in their shop - for your protection, their protection and the risk to their equipment.

Like said above, be thankful for what your volunteer brought to you - and I certainly hope your post has not gotten him in trouble…

First off I want to appologize. Neither our mentor nor anyone on the team understood that it was illegal for us to do what we did. We had already lost 2 matches because we had sat there immobile because our drive train was broken. We were desperate for a fix, especially after the machine shop could not help us. All it was was drilling holes through the rod (lacking proper term) that comes our of the transmission. I’m sure if we had known we were breaking a rule we would have found a way to do this without going off site.

Our team is grateful for everything we got this season, and we fought for it all. Last spring I founded the team, and for the most part it has been run by students. The students raised all the money (we ran on a total budget of $7,000), we found all the engineers, and aranged for the facility and tools.

We live in a small town were there are literally no companies so finding sponsorship was hard. We especially had a tough time finding mentors. We went to the extent of looking in the town directory and calling people whos perfessions we listed as “engineering”. Still the majority of our mentors were parents of team members. We are extremely grateful to everyone of them for all they gave to us.

Finally I want to rephrase my question. What I really want to know is if people think its right for a company associated so closely with FIRST to support a team. Also I’m not suggesting they make parts for us, but allow our team to use their shop. It would seem to me that this would give our students a closer experience to what actual engineers have. I’m not in any way disagreeing with our mentors desision.

To put this in perspective, you dont need special equipment to drill hardened steel - you only need special drill bits

I speculate that your mentor knew they had those bits at DEKA, and probabally is not allowed to remove them from the building, or if he did, would have to bring them right back, therefore making two trips

so taking the part with him and drilling it at DEKA only saved him a trip - its not like he used a plasma cutter to fashion news parts for you - it was only a drill press

as for your other concern, DEKA is an acronym for DEan KAmen - its literally his company, and since he is the founder of FIRST, it would be a conflict of interest for him to sponsor his own team - Im sure Dean is closely aware of the new games each year, rules, ideas for how the new game will be played…

how would it look if he sponsored a team and it won a regional, or the championship, or won the chairmans awards

people would think it was all fishy and smelled accordingly

Since Dean started this whole program 13 years ago, and has managed to donate enough time and life-energy to make FIRST an independant self-sustaining entity, I dont think he also needs to sponsor individual teams.

But its not necessarily Kamen himself sponsoring a team if he allows the resources of his company to be used by a team.

And to make a counter point, Dave Lavery is deeply involved in the making of this years game, and he still participates on a team (I believe)

But it raises the question was he right to hold this resource away from our team.

The question in your original post, as shown above, is far different from that you posed later. The later question is far more reasonable and appropriate.

I do not believe that the sponsorship of DEKA represents any conflict of interest, just as I do not believe Dave Lavery’s assistance to team 116 is a cause for concern. Similarly, Nypro gives no advantage to the team it sponsors.

The interest, you’ll recall, is not winning. The interest is inspiration. So, if by seeing DEKA’s manufacturing and research facilities, your students are inspired to go farther and do more, FIRST is doing its job.

I have no doubt that there are teams with machine shop capabilities that can easily rival those available at DEKA. Those capabilities, while rare, are not unique.

I trust most of the people involved in FIRST enough to respect the importance of keeping some things quiet. They seem to understand, above all else, that their behavior and attitude affect students’ perceptions of engineering just as much as their mechanical aptitude and machining skills. Integrity is as much an asset as a CNC mill.

…as far as going to DEKA to have your parts drilled – I don’t think there’s anyone, myself included, who’d begrudge you for that or deny you an opportunity to play the game. I was simply pointing out that it is against the rules.

allowing the resources of your company to be used by a team IS sponsoring a team - those resouces would otherwise be used for business purposes - everytime a machine tool touches metal its costing the owner money - besides Dean is not going to hand the keys to Deka to a bunch of students and let them have free access to the shop, so employees will need to be present, machine operators, supervision… <= this is sponsorship

Dave works for Nasa or JPL - he doenst OWN JPL.

another way to look at this is that Dean has founded this program, so in a sense he sponsored all the teams at a different level, making the FIRST organization possible, without which there would be no teams at all.

I am thinking…How lucky you are to have access to DEKA! (Can I be envious and still be gracious?) One of the major points of this competition is for students to be exposed to engineering and engineers by working with them. I, for one, know in my heart that Dean would go out of his way to make sure that any DEKA employees would not have an unfair advantage over other teams. He would personally make sure that the rules would be strictly followed.
As to the issue of going to the shop to drill a hole to get you back in competition…I think that is legal if you can pass the tests. Would DEKA have opened it’s doors to any team in need when the local shop was not able to fill the need? I think the answer would be yes and therefore I see nothing wrong with it. Was the work performed during the time the competition shop is normally opened? Yes again, so it’s OK. These statements are bound to bring a lot of dissention but this is my philosophy: If you come to play, then I am bound to help you and so is everyone else. Can someone cross the line on this issue? Of course they can. I don’t think you did, but this is a personal opinion.

The Nu-trons, a 7th year veteran team finished 49th out of 51 with at least 75% of rookies doing better than us. We had no downtime, every single minute the robot was in the pits we were repairing design problems. To illustrate how bad it was: I’m one of the programmers, I had to implement new feature in the software. I had less than 10 minutes to do this between matches.

Here’s my major issue: it was against the rules to take parts off site. We would have killed to take some parts back to our lab in Boston and work on them so we wouldn’t have the problems we did. The other issue would be at what time you did this. Since, the machine shop closed early.

The machine shop at BAE could do almost anything, they even let us borrow drill bits. The guys did a lot of work for us and for that we are extremely grateful. However, the schedule claimed the machine shop was open to 5pm Saturday. At 3pm, they told us they were closing shop. They said, “Come un are you going to give us crap? We worked all day for you. Some competition sites don’t even have a machine shop.” With the new rule stating you can’t build parts after a competition, everything has to be done on site, we were extremely dissapointed. Needless to say, not everything got fixed. I hope Annapolis has a machine shop :frowning:

I would have no problem with even Dean Himself leading a team.

In fact, I have often felt that if Dean and Woodie were forced to actually lead a FIRST team, FIRST would be very different.

As to ethics, of course it would be a difficult spot for them to be in, but I think that we could all deal with it.

FIRST is never going to be “fair.” In my view, we should give up fairness as even a goal. “Fair enough” is the only thing we can hope for. Deka sponsorship of a FIRST team is fair enough for me.

Joe J.

A tight spot to be in for DEKA, yes, but I tend to agree with Al and Joe on this issue. It wouldn’t bother me if DEKA sponsored a team at all. FIRST always needs more sponsors and a sponsor that already understands FIRST is a great one.

It does appear that there is an infraction of the stated rules, but it doesn’t appear to violate the spirit of the rule in my humble opinion. Had this rookie team fully known that one rule (out of the whole manual and 14 updates) I’m sure they might have found a way to get the drill bit to the competition. In the end, there seems to be no unfair advantage created.

The team going out to get the hole drilled does not bother me in the least. I know what the rules say but i would rather them do that then not play because there robot did not have a hole.

I agree with the argument that they officially broke a rule but no one should nail them for it. I also would rather see everyone (not just rookies) running rather than sitting there because the rules do not allow them to fix their robot.

The fact that we all agree to ignore that the official rule was broken just supports the argument that this rule should be modified somehow.

Good point, Raul.

I think a good modification of the rule would allow a team to do anything under the sun to REPAIR their robot. I think the rule should stand as it is currently written with regards to teams adding on to, or modifying their robots.

You are very fortunate to have a mentor willing not only to spend his time, but his company’s resources to help your team out. It seems to be an unfair advantage (seeing as all our team had left were hacksaws, a drill, a dremel, and assorted socket wrenches) but that’s life! Some people get luckier than others. I would strongly advise that your team would try and follow the rules if at all possible :slight_smile: but as long as you didnt strip someone from their righteous title, the functionality of your bot is most important in my book!