I have to admit, in the beginning, I was completely against our team buying transmissions for the same reason Charlie B has mentioned. However, we are a rookie team, with a lot on our hands, NO Mechanical Engineers, and a few students that have Inventor design experience (but perhaps no knowledge of gearing and transmissions etc), not to mention considering going to three regionals and nationals. Our guess is that 4 competitions will take a really rugged transmission to survive all of them. So we are considering these transmissions as an option.
I myself am a systems engineer, and only once in a great while actually do a design from scratch. I more often take working power supplies, components, cables etc, and put it together to make something new. I see the point that my company is in it to make the money, but this is real world engineering, and what the students would actually be getting into if they decided to pursue engineering.
I think if done right, these transmissions can be a help to a lot of teams. Instead of trudging through trying to make your own transmission in your rookie year, why not buy one, teach the students (education & inspiration) exactly how that one works, and then in your following year, improve upon the design or just design your own?
I see where this whole thing is going, and as I said, I think I was 100% against it in the beginning (having gone from being a FIRST student, to a college mentor, to now an engineering mentor), I was worried about the inspiration side of things, but I am starting to see the benefit now.
My proposal, instead of limiting snap on parts, would be for teams to be forced to return to the $450 spending limit, so if you wanted to buy two transmissions for $200 each, you only had $50 left to spend on the rest of your robot, and you couldnt buy the snap-in arm(Besides, with so many teams sharing designs now, you dont really have to design your own transmission or arm, or roller anyway, you can just look it up on CD, and manufacture it yourself). The smaller spending limit is more like real engineering, and is a compromise between the teams who dont have sophisticated design ability, and the teams who have unlimited spending capacity. My guess is that there are a lot of rookie teams this year who cant afford to spend the $3500 on the robot anyway.