I’m not sure that’s the case.
I’ll illustrate why my perspective is that this isn’t the case:
Lets look at two groups of teams from last season: the teams that one the most regionals or districts, and a set of teams I would consider as being universally accepted as excellent.
The first set consists of 1023, 1519, and 1983. Each won four of some combination district events, district championships, or a Championship division.
If you look at images of each of those three robots, you can see that while there’s probably some very creative parts of them, none of them won a creativity award at an event, and their overall designs aren’t particularly unique (this isn’t a knock against these guys, I swear! I know that a lot of work went into these robots, but there are also a decent number of teams that came up with very similar designs, especially at the top tier they’re performing at).
Lets look at the other set of robots I mentioned, which is 118, 148. 254, 1114, and 2056.
I cannot speak for anyone inside of these teams, I can only speak to what I have observed and heard from their member, and I don’t have any pretense that I really know what goes on inside these teams.
That being said, I almost never hear or see from them that their goal going into a design process is to be creative. The unique qualities of their designs do not, at least to me, seem to come from purposely looking to be more creative, but rather because those unique qualities make it significantly more effective in completing its design goals. These teams also don’t seem to be hesitant about “uncreative” activities-- such as adding a ramp to their robot last year. Of these, I would label 148’s at the most creative, but if you look at the documents that John has been so kind as to release publicly, that appears to come much more from carefully reading the rules, and seeing things that other teams don’t see, than it does from a conscious motivation to be more creative.
Now I’ll go off the deep end a little about what I think of similar robots and solutions to that, as a fan and as a mentor. From my perspective as a fan of competitive robotics, I want to see exciting matches with robots that take full advantage of the game-- from a robot perspective, this means that robots are all functional and that they aren’t ignoring some aspect of the game. I like robots moving fast, possibly crashing into each other, doing something exciting. This can be equally achieved by designs that are all similar or that are creative. Football (take your pick, American or otherwise) isn’t a boring sport even though every player is a human being.
From a mentor’s perspective, I want my students to learn, and I want my team to achieve or surpass the goals we set for ourselves. Typically these goals are effectively summarized as “win.” A subset of winning is learning how to set ourselves up to win-- I believe that in order to really win, it’s important to teach students the skills that make it possible for them to “win” and be successful generally in life.
How does this relate to unique robots, you ask?
The most creative robot I’ve ever built was also (in my opinion) the best one I ever built (if you’re wondering, that robot is 2220’s 2014 robot, Scorpio-- and how good it actually was can certainly be debated), but it was not the best because it was creative. The creativity came in when we were trying to fit our design constraints-- specifically, that it had to be able to shoot a ball parallel to and only a few inches off the ground. This necessitated creativity in the design of our shooter, the placement and organization of our electronics, the pivoting mechanism, and even the placement of our battery. Our goal was never along the way to make a more creative design, but in trying to fulfill our goals, we had to be creative, because robotics is hard. The “only” issue with this particular design feature was that it turned out to not be particularly useful in the game-- but if it had, we would definitely have pushed it more when speaking to the judges.
When it boils down to it, I’m not of the opinion that targeting creativity is the best way to increase diversity in design-- I think that comes much more from having an effective strategic design process and use of time during build season, which is something that I see teams that don’t perform well consistently struggle with. I don’t have the answers to what makes a successful team, or what can help more teams become more successful, but personally, emphasizing creativity in the abstract isn’t where I’d start. It doesn’t work to force people to be more creative by telling them to be more creative. FRC is structured in a way that makes creativity essential already-- the strict deadline, an interesting challenge. Add a couple more ingredients (good design criteria and drive to “win”) and I think we’re closer than we think to having more creative designs-- really, what I think most teams are missing is the design criteria part.
One of the benefits to emphasizing this though might be that it gets teams to actually read what the award is about, and not just assume they know what it is based on the name (I’m pretty sure that the Creativity Award is second only to the Team Spirit Award in terms of how much teams misunderstand what the award is actually about).
Anyhow, that’s my perspective. Hopefully it’s at least a vaguely interesting read-- I certainly had fun thinking about this.