Control system and judging question

Hello my name is Jacob I am the head of electrical for team 2169. We had a pretty rough last couple of years COVID hit us pretty hard and we have had very few new members. Because of this I am the only member of my department. I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to win 2 control awards for our team one for each competition we attended. I was rather disheartend when we ended the season with 0 It was absolutely crushing. So I’m wondering what you think of our controll system and if you have any information about how the judging process works. Did I miss understand what the controll award is about?

Let me go over some of the things we did this season to try and win the controll award

1. We made all of our wire runs in CAD and actually used them to improve the controll system. All of our wires were cut and crimped to there CAD lengths before the robot was built. We also printed custom wire guids based on the CAD and used the CAD to get an accurate weight estaminet. As far as I’ve seen online we are one of the only teams that have done this.

2. Vision systems and AI. We have a double sided shooter that uses 2 limelight vision cameras, we also have the ability to change the feed and use the lights as driver cameras. We have a driver camera in the front of the robot and another camera In the front that is being used for computer vision to track balls. This was being ran off of a neural network custom made by programing on an Intel neural Compute Stick 2.

3. We have a multitude of sensors and indicators. We have beam Break sensors in our indexer to intake balls autonomously. We also have a pressure sensor in the indexer that allows us to change our shooting speed for over or under inflated balls. We also have a color Sensor to eject balls of the wrong color. We also have LEDs that indicate the direction we are shooting and the statues of our climbing winch.

4. Redundancy. We have very redundant programing that allows us to take manual control of robot systems if the sensors used to run them autonomously break mid Match. We have redundant power to any system that will accept it. And every wire had spares made to be replaced.

5. Management. Everything is very well managed and well labeled. Envry single wire has at least 2 forms of online documentation. Everything was logged labeled and documented in a way that anyone could understand.

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Awards are very much about your presentation. If you aren’t using the right words and checking the right boxes for the judges, you’re not going to win the award (almost) regardless of the effort you put in.

Go back. Read the award. Read the language. Take the list you provided above. Taylor that list to the award by using the EXACT language of the award in your presentation.

Now, school ALL the members that are in the pits. Have them practice the presentation with the robot. Have them stage the parts. Have spares to let the judges hold. Have presenters, and helpers (to hold parts), and work with your controls guys to be able to demonstrate exactly what you are talking about with a working robot. Turn the presentation into a well oiled machine. Insure the entire pit team is a part of the presentation and can answer questions on the topic.

Practice, practice practice.

If judges at one event ask questions, record them and incorporate the answers into your presentation for the next event.

The teams that win these awards on a regular basis don’t just do a good job engineering. They work the presentation, and tailor everything to be what the judges are looking for. That goes for every award.

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Sorry, not really related to your question, but how well did the pressure sensor work?

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It worked well to detect balls at the pressure extremes over or under inflated. It was not consistent enough to be constantly adjusting the shooter based on pressure though. That was largely because of the sensors we bought trying to save some money. There are more consistent sensors that would have worked for that but they where out of budget.

It sounds like your team may have already done a lot of what I’m going to suggest, but I figure its worth writing this anyways for others reading this thread.

My team won innovation in control at smokey mountains this year. There were a few unique things we did, but for the most part, our control system was pretty similar to other team’s. From my experience in talking to judges, I definitely think that the way you present things is the most important part of this award.

My advice would be:

  1. Don’t get too deep into the nitty gritty of how you implemented certain things. I made this mistake at greater pittsburgh regional - I got too deep into the details on how our software worked, and I did a terrible job of explaining the bigger picture of how it works as a whole.
  2. Try to give a lot of demonstrations of what you’re explaining. This could be turning on you robot to show judges how it functions, or other visual demonstrations of your control system. As an example, I made this visualization for our swerve drive inverse kinematics https://i.imgur.com/fj3C8kN.gifv, and this “heatmap” of our shooter accuracy (the x axis is distance from the target, and the y axis is flywheel RPM).
  3. Make a “judges book” containing pictures and some brief explanations of various parts of your control system. This is something that our team did for smokey mountains, and I think it helped a lot.
  4. This one is more focused on the programming side of things, but try to have a decent idea of how any libraries you’re using work under the hood. Even if you’re just using features of WPILib, being able to explain the general gist of how those features work and integrate into your code can be really helpful.
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You appear to have the technical accomplishments to win these awards, so as others said focus on the presentation.

Something else to keep in mind, your team can also lose awards by not practicing GP all throughout the event.

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One thing to note is that you may not necessarily get visited by the judge of the award you want to win for various reasons. So make sure to figure out which award a judge is judging (this can be gleaned from their questions) so you can tailor your response to try to win that one. If a judge doesn’t show interest in control systems, it will be really hard to win that one.

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I see you were at the 10,000 Lakes regional, which had remote judging. Did you participate in the virtual interview time? How did your team spend the time? Did you focus on primarily the control system, programming, and other aspects of the Innovation in Control award, or was the bulk of the presentation on other topics? How well did the robot perform on the field? Although “pit interviews” here were the remote judging times, there were some judges observing matches still to confirm that self-reported robot performance matched on-field performance.

The other thing I noted is that at your other regional (Seven Rivers) you won the Industrial Design award. If you aren’t already aware, the FRC judging process uses a “spread the wealth” philosophy. The result is that no team can win two awards. The judges evaluating the industrial design award may have just really liked your robot for that award and the innovation in control judges may have had another solid contender.

Lastly remember that the awards are in no way a measure of your team’s success in a particular field. At the end of the day only a single team can win each award, and the judging is done by humans. There are a lot of factors both within and outside of your control that come into play here.

You have a great electrical system there with what sounds like excellent programming to back it up. You should be proud.

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Thank you for the great insight. I was unaware of the spread the wealth philosophy. Yes we did participate in the online judging speaking mainly about the controll system.

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I second everything @Tom_Line has said. I always drill into our students the concept of speaking to the award and using consistent language. Use the language in the award description when you’re speaking to judges. So if the award says “widgets and sprockets” in the criteria, use those exact words in your interview.

But I’ll also add one thing to what Tom said. Written materials are a MUST. Judges can’t remember everything, and not every judge sees every team. So the judge that interviewed your team now has to convince the other judges that your team is best for that award, and they can’t do that if they don’t have written materials to back it up (or, at least, it’s much more difficult). And these materials need to be short, concise, clean, and easy to read. Don’t just print off a copy of your code, use visuals and good branding. If you’re specifically interested in controls, give the judges a one-pager specifically about controls using short and concise bullet points.

This goes for all awards, by the way. The judge that interviews your team then becomes your team’s advocate to the other judges (that didn’t see your team), so those judges that DIDN’T see you need to be convinced by the judges that did. Make their jobs easy by providing these written materials.

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Kudos on the exceptionally clean electrical and pneumatic layout and wiring/plumbing.

Someone has already mentioned ensuring you are not the only student team member available to speak about what you have done. The judges are asked to consider answers from students, not mentors. If that is too difficult, make sure the team members can tell the judges when you can be available or they can contact you so you can get to the pit quickly. It is generally ok for the judges to speak with you while you are at the practice field or in the queue for an upcoming match. Keep in mind the judges have to meet with a lot of teams in a limited amount of time and unfortunately, will give up if a team is too hard to find.

The judges will also watch matches to confirm the claims that teams make about their robot so make sure your robot really does what you say it does.

Many people have already talked about working to improve your presentation. Many of the judges looking at robot attributes have technical backgrounds so you should present as much objective data as possible showing the value of the features you have added. For example, lots of teams install LED strings, some purely for decoration, some for signaling robot status. Obviously, the former adds nothing towards winning the Innovation in Controls Award and the later would.

Lastly, my opinion is you are spending too much time on item #1 by going into too much detail. At the various companies I have worked at, we only drew in wiring channels, sized based on estimates of the number of wires following that path. All wires were trimmed to length, individually, after being run since real life is different from the CAD often enough that precutting the wires can lead to wasted time and materials. You should also consider using COTS wire guides since you have only so much time during build season and they are made from resilient materials that are meant to take a lot of abuse. For weight estimates, just use the average/typical lengths for a group of wires that all follow the same path. If a few inches of wire is going to put your robot over the weight limit, you have bigger problems.

Edited to add: just saw what @Alex2614 wrote about the judges being your advocate to the other judges. Give them as much ammunition to fight for you as possible. It probably doesn’t hurt to thank them for volunteering and to tell the other judges about what you have done. Some judges are introverted and need a bit of a push to advocate for you when in the presence of judges who naturally tend to dominate the conversation. Judges are people too.

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Agreed it is much about the presentation. I don’t know what things in particular they are looking for but this year one of our mentors went to be a judge so she could find out what they were really looking for. She then worked with our students to make their presentations more judge friendly. Also it is good to know what the judges are judging when they come to your pit. Just ask them. Our mechanical lead student used to answer all the questions from all the judges. Once we started asking we would make sure the right student talked to them and sometimes ask the judges to come back in a little bit and we went and found the right student.

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Having been a judge in all three programs now, I can say that this is 100% me. I often leave judging rooms thinking to myself “should I have advocated harder for team x? It really sucks they didn’t get the award,” or “Should I have written down more info to use as ammo?” or even sometimes “Did I dominate the conversation too much? Did I give the other judges’ teams a fair chance?” But when teams have written documents, it’s much easier to be impartial in comparisons. Judges get attached to the teams we interview, and the written documents help even the playing field by mitigating the “human element.”

There have also been several times when I’ve left the room thinking “man, I wish team x had better materials, because I couldn’t justify fighting for them after seeing what the other judges showed me from their teams.”

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There are usually 3 sets of judges that visit the teams. One set is considering teams for Chairman’s and Rookie All Star. One set is looking at robot attributes. One set is looking at team attributes. They all wear the same blue polo shirts so it is up to the teams to figure out what the judges are there for and ensure the judges get the right sort of answers/information. For instance, you launching into a passionate description of your sophisticated control system will not help your team if the judges are not from the robot attributes group.

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I have served as the head robot design judge at our Regional FLL Championship for many years. Drawing out what the more introverted judges saw is possibly one of the more important things I do since it makes the process “more fair” and less dependent on the personalities of the individual judges.

With the team I am going to mentor next year, I am going to ask that one of the adults serve as a judge and one serve as a robot inspector for exactly the reason @Bmongar stated. I found I was better able to prepare my FLL teams after I started volunteering. Most areas could also use the help.

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You need to sell it. Portfolios, brochures, and handouts.

You need every student singing the same song and then you need to do all of that better than other teams. Then comes the last thing you need…

Luck. Because no matter what you do, you need one of the judges to become the advocate for your team in the “chair throwing session” that happens when all of the awards are decided in the judging room (I borrowed that phrase from someone else who is currently taking a CD break) but trust me, it’s reasonably accurate.

In the meantime… Keep doing what you are doing! This is cool stuff!

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Point of clarification here. Chairman’s (soon to be Impact Award) judges do not interview in the pits, unless they are pulled in for separate awards, which is unusual.

At least, this is how it’s been explained to me before. Mileage may vary by event, and other parts of the country may do it differently. But this is how it’s always been explained to me by judges. My only time judging FRC was 2021 in the virtual environment, so I haven’t actually done an in person event.

I always appreciate judges and judge advisors like you! Kudos!

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