Brainstorming after kickoff

We were having a discussion the other day about modifying (read: improving) the way our team typically handles the brainstorming process for the initial design of their robots.

So I was wondering, what kinds of ways do your teams do brainstorming? Do you focus on mechanical designs or strategy for playing the game? Do you differentiate? Do you do it as a large group, split into smaller groups, as individuals? How long do you spend on this process? etc…

This is probably a situation where we could all learn and improve from one another’s experiences about what works, what doesn’t, and new things worth giving a try.

When I was on Team 64, we would sit down the first day and just talk about Strategy. We did not focus on the HOWs, just the WHATs that we wanted our robot to accomplish. Example for last year was that we wanted to be able to move freely in all directions.

Then the next couple of days we started combining all those ideas into one ‘design’. I call it a design even though we had no idea what the thing would look like. After we got that all done, we started coming up with the HOWs, and the actuall specs of the machine.

Hope that helps =)

Last year we were in our library for our own kickoff. The instant kickoff feed was over and we were done our food we deliberated for about 3 hours on any thing we could use on the robot, then made little clay models of possible designs. if anyone remembers 87’s scissor lift ball dumper, that was my idea i thought of at that meeting.

Alright, I’ll give you some inside knowledge from Team 237.

The process actually begins around the start of school of the year.

Usually we will have meetings and recap some things that have gone on during the off season and also start and break into teams.

The Electrical and the Mechanical teams do some fundamental excercises and recap what has and hasn’t worked in the past on robots. Like, what kind of wheels are better for different surfaces and the like.

Then kickoff day, some of the team watch the actual kickoff on the net or on the NASA channel.

The day after, we have a kickoff event, this year it is going to be a brunch. At the event, the game and all the details are announced to the team, thus officially begins the six weeks of he11 for the T.R.I.B.E.!

Then for the next six weeks, we meet at the High School from 4-8 every weeknight to work, later or more days towards the end if needed. Noo weekends unless we are very desperate to finish something. (An unfortunate result of a school that charges you to use it on the weekends.)

Anyways, the first week we, have the knowledge of the game down, the goals of the game that we want to accomplish, prototype and then final designs for the robot, and hopefully if we are on schedule, the miller and the lathe wake up from hibernation and the chips start flying by the end of the week.

Then from there on it is a series of,
Build the robot, take it a part, improve design,
Rebuild the robot, take it a part, improve design,
Rebuild the robot, take it a part, improve design,
Rebuild the robot, take it a part, improve design,
Rebuild the robot, take it a part, improve design.

Then finally on the 6th week we train drivers and get feedback from them, and (yup you guessed it), take it a part, and improve the design some more.

This crazy process has actually proved itself to be sucessful in the 4 years the team has been around!

Motto: If it sounds like an off-the-wall idea, it doesn’t mean it won’t work. It will just take a little bit longer to get it to work!!

I find it helps to make an exact scale model of the FOP. It is pretty east to buy a 2 by 4 ft piece of masonite, glue some foam board and wire on. I go to a craft store like Franks and buy some wooden or foam balls. Having an exact 1/12 (1 inch - 1 foot)scale model helps you understand the game, brain storm, and dream. The parts should cost about 20 bucks.

It also is useful in explaining the game to visitors so it can be used for recruitment or fund raising efforts. It is a good team icebreaker for new members. As you work on the model, you are
developing the collaboration skills needed for success - everybody
contibutes - nobody quits. Once you have the model, you can use it to run simulations with scale robots - Gee - how long would it take to gather 20 balls off the carpet? On my old team, once the model was built - the adult mentors would leave the room and let the students hash out the robot goals for the year.
(shh- We would peak through the window to watch!)

Our team is planning on changing the way we did it in the past…its always been very disorganized in the past…some people would gather and watch kickoff but nothing more then that…we always would start work on the robot the next day or so…

This year we are sending our people out east to see the kickoff live…plus we are sending a commando unit into the depths of kokomo to watch the kickoff there too…Then we are gonna race back to LA-fayette and start building our field and try to have atleast part of the field done by the time the group meeting takes place the next day…

I think we are going to borrow from the strategy the technokats use and have smaller groups of equal skills and such and each group designs a robot based on a list of specific requirments and then have everyone make presentations and work from there…

Luckily that first week after kickoff all of our college advisors from purdue dont have school so we can be working basicly 24/7…

Colleen,

All the other advise has been outstanding. I would add a few things to the mix.

  1. Understand the game completely…last year there were two games in one, the qualifying matches and the finals.

  2. In the initial brainstorming sessions accept all ideas without question. Make the largest list of ideas possible.

  3. Break up into small groups for planning but return to the large group for decisions.

  4. Make a full size cardboard mock-up of your robot. We use the mock-up throughout construction for space considerations.

  5. Buy mountain dew in large quanities.

Ken Loyd
Team #64

We’ve done a bunch of different brain-storming type activities. Here’s what we are finding to be successful. It’s very important to be explicit in your instructions to the group, so that everyone is on the same page.

First, figure out all possible “strategies” that your team can generate. You might want to break this into separate sections on “offense” and “defense.”

You need to keep the discussion focussed on idea creation at first. Feasibility studies or specific mechanisms are not advisable at this point. You also have to keep the group from degenerating into debating the pros and cons of a specific idea. This usually kills the ideation phase before you have mapped the “rules space.”

The advantage to mapping out the entire space is that you will have an idea of what other teams are going to try. This will make it easier to prepare counter-strategies. It also keeps the air clear to consider different ideas. You may be surprised to find that your “darling” idea is not the best approach.

Once you have listed all strategies, you should do at least a preliminary feasibility study and allocation of resources. For instance, in 2001, the small balls on the field were very difficult to score and they did not count for much. I don’t recall a single match where anyone actually did anything with those balls. This strategy would be a high resource/low result strategy and should be eliminated by a feasibility study.

You also want to put a decision making process into place before you get carried away. The worst possible occurrence is to have two camps, each arguing vociferously for their strategy throughout the six week build phase.

Example decision making structures include:
classic hierarchy (pres, vice pres, director, manager)
Banana Republic dictatorship (El Presidente makes all the actual decisions)
pure democracy (everyone votes equally on everything)
republic (representatives vote on everything)
anarchy (everyone does whatever they please and hope for the best)

Which option you pick depends on how many people you have and how well trained they are.

Pure democracy and anarchy both inevitably lead to disaster. Democracy is a slow process. Anarchy usually leads to people undoing what other people have already done.

Andrew, El Presidente for Team 356

Our team watched the kickoff all together at someone’s house last year and then everyone went home to brainstorm and let it all soak in whilst I got to memorize the rulebook.

The next day we all met at the local pizza place (very fitting since we lived off of pizza during build season) and formed different teams. Each team would work on a strategy and then we would have mock competitions against each other. We had mock fields drawn on tables, used cups as goals, and these funky mock M&M’s as the balls on the field, and something else for the robots, I can’t remember. Oh yeah, it was also really fun because I got to slam down my gavel whenever there was something illegal since I was the rule book girl.

Everyone participated in this and it was fun and we basically got the essentials of what our team wanted to focus on. Then a smaller group met for another few hours worked on more strategy. Then the designing went to individual groups.

Last year NASA MSFC, hosted a kick-off for all of the local NASA sponsored teams at UAH (University of Alabama in Huntsville), then we went off to building the playing field. The next day we got our kit and began brainstorming, and from thier it was basically play by ear and make deadlines and not meet them. My key advice to any team MEET YOUR DEADLINES. That really hurt us last year.

This year, as Student Lead, I hope to send a few people to Atlanta(including myself) and bring back the kit. Hopefully the brainstorming will have started once we return with the kit.

We’re still working on a schedule so we won’t have the same problem as last year. I’m really interested in hearing other ideas, we need as many as we can get.

*Originally posted by Ken Loyd *
**
5. Buy mountain dew in large quanities.
**

^ This is the best idea ever… and it works!!!

On the two teams I have help, we split into smaller teams of say 10 people and go off in separate directions and brainstorm. We brainstorm the entire task…from limitations and opportunities of the competition, to scoring issues and opportunities, to stratigies for defence a well as offense, to to rough designs.

We then come back together as an entire team, and each subteam presents their ideas, and final concept. The entire team discusses their ideas, questions them, and usually suggests and askes things they probably didn’t think of. (and sometimes they have, and have great answers that the questioners team had not thought of)

After all that…we take a break to let everything get obsorbed in our brains, and come together (next day) and as an entire team, we try and do the same thing. (we cluster as subgroups though, like mechcanical and controls, so that we can kibitz about ideas and functions that we can provide to the robot…to maybe take the whole thing up another level of reality.

After the team decides on a rough concept, our functional subteams go off and hone the concept with more specific design ideas. (in controls, mechanical, mfg, etc…)

We then come together regularly to provide status and keep everyone up to date on the design/build status.

I’m sure my description is a bit tough to follow…but I hope it helps.

http://first.bghs.org/images/Pic5.jpg

*Originally posted by colleen-t190 *
**We were having a discussion the other day about modifying (read: improving) the way our team typically handles the brainstorming process for the initial design of their robots.

So I was wondering, what kinds of ways do your teams do brainstorming? Do you focus on mechanical designs or strategy for playing the game? Do you differentiate? Do you do it as a large group, split into smaller groups, as individuals? How long do you spend on this process? etc…

This is probably a situation where we could all learn and improve from one another’s experiences about what works, what doesn’t, and new things worth giving a try. **