BEST vs. FIRST Robotics

Would anyone here be able to provide objective insights into BEST vs. FIRST robotics? I am not looking for BEST bashing but rather trying to grasp the differences between the programs and what the pros and cons of each are. Is BEST more akin to FRC or FTC? I know little about BEST and am trying to understand why some would prefer it to FIRST. I understand the CD crowd will be biased toward FIRST but hopefully there are some here that have done both and can objectively compare the pros and cons of each. Thanks.

Primarily Cost.

If you can afford FRC there is more to get out of it depending on how far you want to take it.

So in BEST you are given a KOP and you can only build from what they give you in the KOP, with the small addition of like bolts, nuts, and 1 sheet of plywood if I remember properly. In comparison to FRC/FTC, if you can build under the weight limit and its safe, it’s okay.

In my opinion BEST is extremely nice for teams of high school/middle school students, who have a very low budget and want a robotics program that works in the fall and fall only.

I found BEST a little boring as the challenges we over the top and I felt that they were too complicated for their own good. Think an More complicated Stronghold. They also have Chairman’s-esque interviews, and they give similar awards to FRC, for creative design, spirit, ect.

If I were in charge of a school’s decisions on BEST VS (FTC or VEX) I almost certainly would pick FTC or VEX because as a student there is much more room for creativity in design, which is partly due to being able to purchase parts instead of having to make them (which make me thankful everyday that I can just go purchase gears instead of having to make them.)

In addition FIRST puts on this magical spectacle through the competition that BEST has a really tough time replicating and at least for me the spectacle drove me to engineering more.

I hope this answers your questions, and like I said this is just what I saw going from BEST->FTC-> FRC.

In BEST you can only use a very specific set of items whereas in FTC/FRC you can use whatever fits on the caw/isn’t dangerous. This presents a different kind of engineering challenge which may be more desirable to some teachers.

Also the BEST control system is VEX hardware so it’s easier add on or transition to if you have experienced VEX mentors/students.

So I’ve been doing both BEST and FRC for a few years now (BEST team 93, FRC team 1002, CircuitRunners), and led a BEST team myself and have been on leadership for FRC. Aside from cost, BEST and FRC have a few main differences that I can think of. I will try to be unbiased, but I have been more involved in BEST than FRC.

Business/Marketing
-BEST puts the emphasis on you competing with your team as a company. You have a marketing presentation and a marketing booth.
-FRC puts your Chairman’s presentation emphasis on outreach and talking about your team rather than your robot (in BEST, your robot is your “product”).

Robot
-BEST robots are smaller and made from more raw materials (i.e.
wood and PVC). The parts list is a lot more strict (usually condensed to a very specific 2-3 pages) so there’s a greater challenge and I would say room for creativity.
-FRC has much more freedom in respect to materials, but the robots you build will look a lot more impressive because they’re bigger and usually made mostly out of shiny (and pretty) metal. Also there’s a lot of prefabricated stock that you can buy for FRC.
(In respect to robot, I can’t really definitively say which is more difficult. It’s really your own personal opinion. Each competition has its own challenges because of its constraints.)

Notebook
-BEST has the Engineering Design Notebook, which is a really long and effort-intensive documentation compilation. I’ve done it for multiple years, and is honestly one of the reasons I prefer BEST over FRC. The entire thing puts your entire season, strategy, design, research, and all, into one binder.
-My FRC team has made notebooks before, although I don’t know if other teams have. It’s not required, but we’ve done it just to have something pretty in the pits to show judges. In this respect, I feel like FRC places less of an emphasis on business than BEST does.

Overall, my personal opinion and love lies with BEST (I did lead a team after all). I like that BEST puts such a great emphasis on business: the entire competition is structured like you’re a company showcasing your product. While there are BEST teams that only compete on robot, the BEST award (highest award you can get) is aimed towards well rounded teams and weights Notebook, Booth, and Presentation very highly, higher than robot performance.

However, FRC is a much larger community, in my opinion. I definitely love FRC for the experience and environment. The feel you get from FRC events is distinctly different from BEST events. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but I love FRC for the competition environment. From my personal experience on my team, FRC is often a more stress-high and tense competition. Maybe it’s just my own team, but the people on FRC tend to be a bit more high-strung throughout the season. BEST is smaller and more chill, giving it a kind of family feel. Now don’t get me wrong, my FRC teammates are still like a second family to me, but BEST does feel friendlier to an outsider in my opinion. (Keep in mind this is only my personal experiences on Team 1002/BEST team 93).

That’s my own personal attempt at summarizing the differences. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.:slight_smile:

I have a lot of experience to share that I think might be helpful. I’ve done FRC for more than a decade, and did BEST since the day they had an exploratory meeting in Denver in 2008 or thereabouts.

SIMILARITIES:

  • Both have a six week build season, with a hard cutoff date that ends up flexing if you do more than one event.
  • Both focus on a complex game that has subtle scoring opportunities that must be worked out by the teams.
  • Both require (or are greatly enhanced by) training in tools and machines, the engineering design process, and resource management.
  • Both often result in unique and creative solutions, with few obvious cookie cutter designs.

DIFFERENCES:

  • Time of year. BEST being in the fall actually makes it practical as a training tool for brand new students.
  • Adults are strictly prohibited from identifying problems, designing solutions, or building the robots in BEST. In fact, my team added an extra layer between adults and BEST team members by having veteran students act as mentors instead of the adults.
  • Scale and speed. BEST robots are tiny and slow. The playing field is also small, and the events are small.
  • BEST is free. This also means that, aside from decorating, teams are limited to the parts given (or a 1/1 replacement, such as a new piece of string).
  • Culture. FRC teams come from so many different cultural settings; BEST seems to attract more teams that are made up of religious home school associations.

I’d say that BEST is more like a miniaturized FRC than either Vex or FTC is. We stopped for the 2016/2017 school year but will be returning; the kids really liked it better than Vex.

Thanks for the insight. For the record I’m not asking about BEST vs FIRST in an effort to make a decision as to which one to do. I’m just trying to understand BEST in relation to my FIRST experience.

So what I gather BEST is somewhere in between the scale of FTC/VEX (12x12 fields) and FRC. From what I found on the BEST website their fields are 24x24? That seems 4X the size of FTC/VEX but about half that of FRC.

What do you mean “free”? Are there no entry fees? I understand the teams receive a “KoP” and can’t use anything that isn’t in the “KoP” but do they not have to pay for the parts?

You’re right about the field size, more or less. Fields are built by volunteers from 2x4s and are painted, usually in four colors, as teams compete against themselves rather than going head to head.

Motors and control system parts are loaned to teams and returned after their final competition, so there is no fee at all to participate. It is legit free.

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Technically, you can compete for no cost. However, from experence, you usually need to pay to buy replacement or extra parts yourself. For teams competing for Booth, the money comes out of pocket. A good booth honestly doesn’t cost that much (max a few hundred) in terms of materials especially when compared to the thousands of dollars FRC usually adds up to.

Hmm, but that also means teams can’t keep the stuff they build right? While that has a bunch of its own pros, not being able to keep older projects for off season or training use also seems like a con.

You can keep everything in the KoP except for the box of returnables (mostly electronics). However, there’s always the option of paying your hub for the returnables kit, or buying your own VEX kit to attach to your robot after the season is over. In Georgia, you can keep your returnables kit until May, even though the season ends in December, for outreach purposes.

And therein lies the magic reason why BEST would appeal to educators over FIRST or VEX in our poor rural state. I never knew BEST was “legit free”.

The whole reason I started this thread was because I was trying to understand the appeal of BEST over FIRST or even VEX. Being in a rural state with little major industry (thus sponsors to support teams) we have a VERY hard time growing FIRST in Mississippi and it is not from a lack of trying. Certain geographic areas of the State such as the Gulf Coast have more potential and have thus been somewhat more successful but in general it is just very difficult to sustain teams in Mississippi much less grow them.

Mississippi has two major state run universities: Mississippi State University (MSU) and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). There are, of course, others (USM, Alcorn, Jackson State, Delta State, etc.) but MSU and Ole Miss are the two major universities in Mississippi. Historically, Mississippi State has been the major engineering school in the state; however, Ole Miss also has very good engineering programs as well and are striving hard to grow their engineering programs. Unfortunately, MSU refuses to support FIRST in any way. MSU is the center of BEST robotics in Mississippi. Mississippi State benefits from countless FIRST alumni attending the “de facto” engineering school in Mississippi yet MSU refuses to provide even the smallest scholarship to FIRST students like so many other schools do that recognize the value of FIRST graduates. Ole Miss does offer a FIRST scholarship in an effort to attract more outstanding engineering students away from MSU. Mississippi State simply doesn’t have to offer scholarships to FIRST students in Mississippi because they know that most of the engineering talent is going to MSU anyway. Unfortunately, this trickles down to the high school level to some extent as well. Why should high schools in Mississippi value FIRST if MSU doesn’t and favors BEST?

So now I know WHY schools would prefer BEST over FIRST. Because it is “free”. Just a couple days ago Toyota announced a $175,000 grant to MSU to further support BEST. In the announcement it was stated that there are 25 BEST teams currently in Mississippi and that this grant will hopefully allow them to expand that to 30 teams. Not 30 more teams, just from 25 to 30. So I have to wonder. $175,000 divided by the 5 new teams is $35,000 per team. I am not in any way bashing Toyota, nor my alma mater MSU (HAIL STATE !!!) but where is that $175,000 going? If a corporation gave FIRST $175,000 grow FIRST in Mississippi, I am certain I myself could get many more than 5 new FRC and/or FTC teams started. Then my question becomes, what about sustainability next year? How long does this $175,000 last supporting those 5 new teams? Once this $175,000 is gone what happens to those teams in the future? If BEST is “free” does MSU need $175,000 more next year and every other year to support those 5 new teams? Where in the heck is that $$$ going to come from? We have had countless FIRST teams come and go over the years in Mississippi for this very reason. Somebody gave some high school some $ to start a new team and they lasted a year or two and then died because there simply is little to no follow on funding available in this state to sustain teams in the long term.

I am generally a firm believer in you always get what you pay for. So now my question is for the thousands of dollars we all pay to play in FIRST what are we getting that BEST doesn’t offer? For those of you that have done both BEST and FIRST, is FIRST really worth it? Now that I understand that BEST is “free” I have to ask WHY would teams that have done both prefer to pay $$$ to do FIRST rather than BEST if it is “free”? Is FIRST really that much “better”? If us FIRSTers in Mississippi ever want to really grow FIRST in Mississippi we have to be able to articulate to the powers that be at places like Mississippi State why FIRST is important and worth investing in in addition to BEST. In this state given the choice between “free” robotics and “it costs a lot of $$$” robotics the “free” option will win every time unless we have “legit” rational as to why FIRST produces superior results. To the average Joe/politician/school board member/science teacher struggling as it is, “robotics” is “robotics”. How do we put verifiable “metrics” on this to quantify and justify support for FIRST programs when there is a “free” alternative?

For the record, everyone that knows me knows I am die hard FIRST. But with no first hand experience with BEST how do I justify the expense of FIRST given all of the above?

I am actually the student director for BEST in Georgia so feel free to DM me if you have any additional questions!

Basically BEST is a 6 week build season where you build a robot (max volume is 24"X24"X24" and max weight is 24lbs) to complete a set of tasks on a 24’X24’ field. You are given a kit of parts that contains mostly raw materials such as wood, sheet metal, plastic, 4 motors, and a few servos, and can complete any combination of tasks on the field. Normally, the field is broken up into 4 quadrants and 4 robots play at a time with limited or no interaction. Most of the tasks require much more intricate manipulators than in FRC because you are normally picking up, carrying, and scoring specific objects. BEST also has a marketing aspect called the BEST award, which is completely optional to compete for, where you are basically creating a team identity and selling your robot as a product. Some of the components of the BEST award include a marketing presentation, an exhibit that is themed around your team identity and the current year’s game, spirit and sportsmanship, and interviews with judges. The entire competition is payed for by the hub where you compete so the only thing that the team pays for is travel to the event, food, shirts, and any marketing things you buy. The kit of parts has two components, a consumable kit and a returnable kits, and you are expected to return the returnable kit to your hub at the end of the season for them to reuse the following year.

BEST is great at exposing students to STEM who may not have the opportunity to compete in pricy competitions such as FIRST. In my honest opinion, FIRST has much more of a “wow” factor that BEST doesn’t quite have and is quite frankly just more fun. I personally learned significantly more from doing FIRST and having to build such a large robot that has to endure an entire season than I did from building a BEST robot which can be pretty delicate and doesn’t have to survive through much. To me, FIRST events are also much more exciting and inspirational to compete at. Don’t get me wrong, I love BEST and how it does a great job of teaching students with limited resources about engineering and getting them involved in STEM, but if you have the funds, you can get sooooo much more out of FIRST.

Thanks for the great info Kristin! So now that FIRST in Georgia has gone to the District model vs the Regional model how do you feel that “wow factor” compares to BEST? One of my perceptions of the downside to District competitions is they inherently have less of a “wow factor” than the big regionals in big venues that seem like part rock concert.

Also, is the “delicate” nature of the BEST robots attributable to the lack of robot to robot interaction? In other words, do you feel the alliance vs. alliance nature of FIRST robots with bumper to bumper defensive action not only contributes to the “wow factor” but also to better engineering due to the need for machine robustness?

The delicate BEST robots end up delicate because:

  • You are making them out of low quality materials, like cheap 1/2" plywood and cotton string,
  • The robots don’t interact with each other and thus don’t need to be particularly robust, and,
  • The students making the BEST robots tend not to have a lot of experience that would help them make robots that last, and of course, mentors can’t help with this.

BEST is honestly better for low resource schools and regions. It is a great inroad into robotics and STEM. FRC does many things right, including the WOW! and the opportunity to work within an environment that’s much closer to working in industry. But the sustainability model of FRC is basically: “here’s some money to get started, you’d better find mentors and sponsors and get a reasonable shop together by next year or you’re doomed to quit or lose in every qualifier”. And I personally know some people who are quite sick of that model.

BEST is still significantly smaller than any district event we have. Last year we had about 18 teams compete in Georgia, although that is partially because we, as the new leadership as of 2015, are slowly trying to get into the swing of things and focus on the teams’ experience. Also, BEST matches are not quite as exciting to watch as FRC matches because you have 4 robots competing independently at one time. I will say that this year was slightly more exciting than past years because we had a “DJ” and two game announcers who also are FRC GAs and did an awesome job, but it still didn’t come close to any FRC event I have ever been to.

The delicate nature definitely has some to do with the last of interaction between robots, but more so to the materials used to build the robots and a lack of robustness. Most BEST teams have very limited machining capabilities which leads to a fair share of robots held together with duct tape and zip ties. Part of building the robots is literally recreating the wheel and motor hubs, which can end up badly if done wrong. Also, there is a lack of online communites, such as CD, for teams to help one another, so most teams are on their own with very limited resources.

I’m now struggling to understand the roll of the mentors in BEST. If mentors aren’t allowed to work WITH the students what are they there for? How do students learn? Just keep trying and failing until they get it right while the mentors sit and watch and have to keep their mouths shut? From an FRC perspective this seems strange.

Mentors are allowed to work with the students and teach them skills, but there is a huge emphasis on teaching the students and letting them do most of the work. For example, if a team has access to a CNC, the mentor can teach them how to use it, but the students need to be the ones operating the machine when making their parts. Also, at competitions, only one mentor is allowed in the pit to help the students and it is frowned on to see a mentor working hands on the robot.

I have been involved with FIRST robotics since 2010 as a student and I now serve as a college mentor, so I too am a die hard FIRSTer. However, earlier this year I was given the opportunity to mentor a local BEST team (my first experience with BEST). I have to say that I was very impressed.

My favorite part of BEST robotics was the creativity that was required of the students. In the consumables kit that was given to the team was some PVC pipe, plywood, thin sheet metal, etc. Some may look at this as a negative side of BEST, “What!?! All we get to use is this junk?” However, I think this makes the students much more creative. Just think how differently you would have built your Steamworks bot if all you had to work with were 4 motors and 4 servos. Along with this, unlike FIRST, in BEST robotics students can’t just buy a planetary to throw on the end of a 775. Instead, they cut their own gears and pulleys and couplers and shaft collars etc.
On the flip side of that coin, compared to FIRST, BEST robotics is fairly limited regarding the complexity of the robots. (You won’t see swerve drive on a BEST robot)

As a fellow die hard FIRSTer, I would have to say that BEST gives you the most “bang for your buck.” Just like anything else, you and the students will get out of it what you put into it. I had a very good group of students this past year who spent many long nights in the robotics room. The main goal of any High School or Jr. High robotics program is to get students excited about science and math and engineering. From my experience, BEST does just as well as FIRST does in getting students excited about STEM.