Dear LRIs & RIs, please read

LRIs and RIs,

I have just sent the following to all LRIs. It is intended to be consistent messaging regarding robot inspections and processes. LRIs should be passing it down to RIs under their watch at their events. It may be informative for the broader FRC community so in an effort to provide full transparency this is the entire message just sent to LRIs verbatim.



I’m going to apologize up front for the length of this message and admit that this is not exactly the best forum to deliver it. I would much rather be having this conversation face to face with each of you but this is the only method currently at my disposal to convey this messaging consistently to all. So please take a break when you have some time, sit down, and read this in earnest. I hope none of you take it as accusatory as I certainly don’t mean it to be. I think it is far more important than any robot rules discussions we will have on the upcoming weekly training calls. I am happy to discuss further with the group on any of the weekly training calls or discuss individually (here, via email, or call my cell) at any time but I don’t want to unnecessarily side track the LRI training calls beyond the scheduled agenda. It may be possible for Ted to somehow forward this messaging to everyone’s email for easier reading. I unfortunately don’t have that ability. If you would like me to email this to you directly as a Word doc so you can share with your RIs please just let me know and provide me your preferred email address.

So here goes…

If you haven’t seen it, there is an ongoing thread on Chief Delphi titled “Inspection Culture & Applied Rules” ([Split Thread] Inspection Culture & Applied Rules). I would encourage each of you to visit that thread and at least peruse the highlights of the posts. I have read every post, word for word, most multiple times. Al and I have both posted numerous times in that thread in efforts to clarify our understanding of team’s perspectives, ask questions, and try to steer some of the discussion in more constructive directions that we can use to better understand team’s feedback and paths moving forward. Some of the points I make below I have literally copied directly from my posts in that thread so if you read my posts in the tread you may see some of the language here again.

I am saddened and frustrated by much of what I have read in that thread. I am not naïve or surprised by it but find it troubling to read the depths of distrust and animosity towards RIs, LRIs, and the inspection process some teams have. Al and I, and I’m sure all of you, know that the inspection process has never been “perfect” and it never will be, but the reoccurring themes in this thread has brought to my attention many aspects and shared team experiences that highlight that we, the entire inspection staff, have room for improvement. As always on public forums like Chief Delphi, there are a wide variety of opinions and some of the discussion can be quite intense. This should not diminish the overall message that some teams are trying to express to us, the Robot Inspectors. Quite, the opposite. It should make clear to us that there are real inspection issues that teams are very passionate about and we must consider their very valid points of view and endeavor to address them moving forward.

Here are some takeaways I have noted from this thread that I want to share with the LRI team here and I want each of you to share with the individual RIs at your events. This messaging is not inconsistent with what we have conveyed, or attempted to convey, at in person LRI training in Manchester in past years but I feel that messaging may need reiterating because it has been quite a while since many of us have seen each other and some polite reminders may be in order.

  1. By far, teams have indicated they have a positive or at least neutral inspection experience most of the time but the memories of those limited negative experiences far outweigh the positives and are the ones that leave the most lasting impact. Those limited negative experiences and interactions with RIs/LRIs/the inspection process can have long lasting negative impacts on the students involved and sour rather than inspire them.

  2. Please keep in mind the team’s perspective while you (and your RIs) are working with teams not only during the actual inspection process but throughout the events with all team interactions. The RIs/LRIs have significant authority over teams as they hold the power of that “golden ticket”, the inspection sticker. Teams are obviously there to get on the field and play matches and the RIs/LRIs, no matter how courteous and well intentioned they endeavor to be, are viewed as adversaries by some teams. Clearly not all, probably not even most, but definitely by some. That authority the RIs/LRIs have over teams can be perceived by some teams (students and adults) as an “Us against Them” or “David vs. Goliath” battle simply because of the circumstances of the situation and/or their previous negative inspection experiences. While we have always trained that RIs should consider themselves “part of the team” to instill a sense of empathy towards the teams they are inspecting, it has been made clear in this thread that this mentality is not universally accepted by some teams. We (the collective inspection team) know we are there to help not hinder and do everything we can to get teams on the field, however some teams either do not believe that, welcome that, or even want that. I hope the majority of the teams are not of that inkling but we must be cognizant of those that are and react accordingly. The difficulty we face as Inspectors is detecting those distinctions and knowing how to act accordingly.

  3. Teams generally want their inspection process to go as fast as possible so they can get on the field as soon as possible and make as many filler line practice matches as they can. Teams “pay to play” not “pay to be inspected” and FRC costs a lot. My guideline is the inspection process for a robot that turns out to have been 100% robot rules compliant shouldn’t have taken more than 20-30 minutes start to finish. Very experienced veteran RIs may even be able to do it in 10-15 minutes. Of course, the RI isn’t clairvoyant and doesn’t know ahead of time whether or not the robot is 100% legal or not until they get done with the inspection. So if the inspection is taking much longer than about 30 minutes, the LRIs probably need to know about it. It likely means the RI has found issues with the robot that warrants more time, or possibly the inspector is being overly thorough or providing too much possibly unsolicited or unwelcome advice and feedback, or worse the whole inspection process is going negatively. This isn’t to say that all inspections should be done in 30 minutes or less. Just that if an inspection is taking longer, then the LRI should probably stop by and see how things are going and be prepared to step in and help mitigate any issues detected.

  4. Some teams are eager for feedback or ideas that the RI feels can assist them and make their competition a better experience. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some teams just want a “no frills” “cut and dry” inspection only. No unsolicited advice. They feel they know their robot better than any stranger so they are not interested in any suggestions. Some teams have plenty of “in house” mentor experience already and other teams are less fortunate and struggling. The RIs have a very difficult task of interpreting where along that spectrum a team falls and even further, which individuals on which team subscribe to which philosophy in the limited engagement time they have with teams during the hopefully brief inspection process. Our nature is to want to help. That’s why we signed up to be RIs. But to be perfectly clear, Robot Inspectors should never be providing unsolicited “design critiques” of team’s robots. Teams spent weeks on their robots, know the strengths and weaknesses of their machine better than anyone else. Cursory outside analysis of their robot by the RI is likely to be viewed as hostile criticism and may cause teams and students to feel their efforts are underappreciated, or even worse may be offended by the unsolicited advice whether or not it is qualified and helpful or not. I am in NO WAY even remotely advocating that RIs not help teams and provide advice if the team seems to want it. That is certainly part of being an RI. Just be cognizant of when they want advice and when they don’t and the line between “helpful advice and suggestions” vs. “needed to pass inspection”.

  5. When providing advice and helpful suggestions to a team that is clearly receptive, make it ABSOLUTLY CLEAR what is a suggestion and helpful advice and what is an actual ROBOT RULE VIOLATION. Teams are under a lot of stress and pressure and are already often nervous during the inspection process. It is easy for team (students and/or mentors) to misconstrue a comment or some helpful advice or well-intended suggestion a RI makes as a robot rules violation and believe the issuance of their “golden ticket” inspection sticker is contingent on compliance with those comments, advice, or suggestions that are NOT actually a robot rule violations. RIs need to be extremely cognizant of this and be extremely careful about not only what they say but how they couch it to the team and make sure all parties involved fully understand the difference. RIs certainly shouldn’t be making up their own robot rules and should only be enforcing the rules as written and published in Section 9 and 10 of the game manual.

  6. If there is EVER any uncertainty as to the intent or interpretation of the Section 9 robot rules or Section 10 inspection rules or how the rules apply to a situation at your event please don’t hesitate to reach out to Al and I. Slack is usually the most expedient and provides benefit to all LRIs to see but if you need an immediate answer and we are not responding on Slack feel free to call.

  7. Please be aware that some teams even feel it is inappropriate for RIs/LRIs to provide any feedback at all beyond the actual checklist and robot rules violations. Their view seems to be that this may provide an unfair advantage to some teams that a RIs interacts with that other teams don’t have equal benefit from and thus some teams would be given an unfair advantage. This view is aligned with the teams that feel robot inspections should be “by the checklist”. Nothing more, nothing less. I personally have a hard time reconciling this as within the spirit of FIRST and my personal view is this is contrary to the concept of Gracious Professionalism and that we should all (inspection staff and everyone else) be there to help each other. Just be aware this is not a universally accepted view by all. The issue some take with RIs/LRIs providing any sort of advice or helpful suggestions to a team stems from the authority the RIs/LRIs have over teams and likens it to a Ref on the field giving a drive team strategy advice during a match. I personally don’t equate the ref/match scenario to the RI/inspection scenario but again some do and their viewpoints should be respected.

  8. Please hold all teams to an equal standard. Do not allow a mentality of “well they are an experienced team so they should know better” creep in. All teams experience turn over from year to year. Especially during this COVID pandemic many teams are struggling and have lost a couple years of experience. Many teams are rebuilding and “young” again this year. COVID or not, a low or high team number should never be construed to equate to any level of experience and perceived experience should never factor into the inspection equation. That said, we all know there are teams that will have more robot rules related issues and need more help than others. Do not allow favoritism or inspect with any bias and make sure every team receives any assistance they need to have the best event experience possible.

  9. Please be cognizant of subtle cues, facial expressions, body language of the team members. Be sure to “read the whole room” not just focus on a few individuals you are primarily interacting with during the robot inspection. This should provide indicators of how the inspection is going. How engaged the team is. Whether or not the team/students/mentors are understanding of the RI’s comments and discussion regarding any robot rules issues that need attention before they can get their sticker. Whether or not the team/students/mentors are supportive and accepting of any advice or suggestions the RI may offer outside of robot rules violations.

  10. Please be cognizant of your own (RIs/LRIs) subtle cues, facial expressions, and body language as well. Remember you are persons of authority over teams and their ability to reach their ultimate objective of playing on the competition field. Consider how your body language and “stance” may unintentionally signal hostility or seem imposing.

  11. Obviously we want the inspection process and the entire event to be the best experience possible for everyone involved. As previously stated, teams are in a stressful situation, on edge, nervous, etc. We want to put them at ease. Please do your best and encourage all the RIs to do the same. However, be mindful that well intended jokes used to lighten the mood may not be received as intended and some might not “get it”. Comments that could be construed by a team that an RI is “out to get them” like “Wow, that is a beautiful robot. I’m going to have to work hard to find something wrong with it.” (even when being said with a smile) can have the exact opposite of a light hearted ice breaker or joke as intended by the RI and put the team on edge making them feel they are being overly scrutinized because they put extra effort into “making a beautiful robot”. In other words, due to the stressful situational circumstances, individuals may not get a joke or sarcasm. “Jokes” by inspectors like the “foot on the scale” may also come across as bullying to some and should be avoided. Please continue to endeavor to keep inspections fun and interactive, be light hearted when possible to put the teams at ease, but serious when necessary to convey robot rules issues, and always be cognizant of what’s appropriate and not and when.

  12. Some teams feel RIs make too liberal use of the general “robot safety rule” (R203) to “outlaw” things unilaterally that the RI “doesn’t like” or is “worried about” under the general guise of “I don’t feel it’s safe” with no real qualified analysis or specific safety specifications to back up their feeling. At a minimum this leads to frustration on the team’s part who are already in a stressful situation. Unfortunately, it has also led to numerous RI demanded lengthy modifications to robots that unnecessarily wasted team’s time and resources. In any situation where a “general robot safety issue” is being questioned by the RI, the LRI must be consulted in any determinations that aren’t clearly spelled out in the rules (R203). R203 is NOT to be used as a catch all rule to deem illegal anything the RI “just doesn’t like” or “just feel comfortable with”. If the LRI and RI both are uncomfortable with the safety aspect of a robot under R203 then bring in others including the US Safety advisors and Al and I.

  13. Some teams have had ongoing issues with RIs being too “nitpicky” on minor/inconsequential issues that are sometimes not even in violation of any published robot rules. Specific examples given in the thread are things like the shade of red on wiring or how secure is secure for some amount of Velcro holding a small electrical component. Again, RIs need to only “inspect” for the robot rules, not issues they perceive as potential problems.

  14. Some teams are unaware that they can, and are encouraged to, directly ask the LRI for a second opinion, especially if they are directed to do something they feel is not against any published rule and certainly if the RIs direction was something that was going to take any significant time to accomplish.

  15. Teams are unaware that they can ask for another RI if the one assigned to their team isn’t working out for whatever reason (difference of opinion on an robot rule issue, taking too long for the inspection because the RI is offering unwelcomed and unsolicited advice, or whatever).

  16. If teams are aware of their right to bring issues to the attention of the LRI (or any other KV, VC, RD, FTA, Head Ref., etc.) teams are often hesitant to do so for fear of reprisal and negative repercussions due to the authority the RI/LRI has over issuing them their sticker. Under NO circumstances is this acceptable or should teams feel this way.

  17. LRIs should be informed by the RIs (or directly by teams themselves if necessary) of all issues that are going to cause considerable effort, time, and resources for the team to complete (i.e rewiring the whole robot, etc.) and the LRI should double check the necessity of those robot changes by the team before the team commences on those actions. We have all realized too late that some team thought they were told to do something or worse they actually were told to do something that took a lot of time and effort and it turned out to be a miscommunication or completely unnecessary because an RI misinterpreted a robot rule.

  18. Some teams, especially rookie or less experienced teams (remember this has nothing to do with team number), may not fully understand the inspection process. They may not understand that the inspection process isn’t an “all or nothing, one shot deal”. Please remind all teams that partial inspections are welcome and encouraged. We want to see teams as early as possible to catch issues as soon as possible so they can maximize their time to correct any issues found. Teams have a right to play in their scheduled practice matches without having a completed inspection (no sticker) as long as they are “safe” (which includes reasonably legal bumpers). Please make sure teams are aware of this (they simply may not know it) and encourage the teams to let their RI know if they need to pause their inspection for a while (go to a practice match or whatever they need to do). Under no circumstances should an RI make a team feel pressured continue with their inspection process at the expense of making their scheduled practice match (as long as the robot is reasonably safe).

  19. Not all RIs come to an event with RI experience. Everyone has to start somewhere and everyone should understand this. Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic I expect we may be seeing a lot of new faces volunteering this year. However, some teams are not keen on being the “guinea pig” team to train rookie RIs. Some teams are eager to be the first to be inspected and make it a point of pride. Some teams intentionally hold off on coming to the inspection station because they fear the first teams to be inspected will become the training robots for the new rookie RIs at that event. Teams may feel they are being unfairly scrutinized by being used as a training tool and that their inspection will take 2 to 3 times longer than it should while the veteran RI trains the rookie RI. Please be extra cognizant of these issues and make sure to ask teams if they would mind if their robot was used to train a rookie RI and be mindful that that “training inspection” shouldn’t unfairly penalize that team in scrutiny or inspection time. Whether the team accepts or declines the request there should be no bias (favoritism or repercussion) shown towards that team.

  20. Again, PLEASE don’t hesitate to reach out to Al and/or I if you need any assistance or advice. We are here to support you and your RIs. We want to know about any negative experiences teams have during inspections. Please follow up with your teams post-inspection and take the opportunity to not only remind them that any changes they make need to be respected but to also solicit feedback from the teams on how their inspection process went and how their RI interaction was.

It has been a couple years now since many of us have been to a real live in person event. So many teams have struggled mightily over the last couple of years just to survive this pandemic. Many, many teams will effectively be rookies this year despite their non-rookie team numbers. Many teams may not have a single student that has ever been through a single inspection before. Those “LRI rookie pit chats” are going to have to be expanded beyond just the rookie team numbers. LRIs, make use of the driver’s meeting to convey messages to all teams at once. Let’s use this opportunity to make improvements to the “Inspection Culture” discussed in that Chief Delphi tread so all students have a positive inspection experience moving forward. This is our opportunity to “change the culture”. I have the utmost confidence in the entire inspection team. This competition season is going to be different for sure as we navigate the challenges of competing in person during the COVID pandemic. Let’s all endeavor to make every inspection for every team a positive experience that they will remember in these trying times for all.


Chuck Dickerson
FRC Chief Robot Inspector


My favorite part of this is probably the “30-minute rule.” That’s the genre of guidance that I think should be communicated to teams and volunteers across all aspects of the competition.

The rule recognizes the flexibility that must exist within certain aspects of the event, while also laying out a clear, quantifiable guide for what is typical. These rules often exist among some or all volunteers across events, but are often unwritten and largely uncommunicated.

Great work in communicating this. Would love to see an even broader communications to teams for this, and a broad effort from chief volunteers across the board to do the same.



Thank you for posting this on CD for everyone to see. It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air with the transparency, and sets the stage to hopefully improve volunteer/team relations.


Chuck, you and Al made my whole week. Thank you for helping everyone feel heard and being open and transparent about your improvements.


Thanks so much for getting out this thoughtful guidance and reminders so quickly. It is all spot on in my opinion.


Serious question are their RI’s not LRI’s using R203 on borderline cases? I’m a fairly new inspector and the way I had it explained to me was that the job was to sort the clearly legal, and clearly illegal and to give the borderline cases to the LRI’s. Maybe that model is more viable in a district with smaller events, and generally smaller crew and obvious what is borderline will change with new games, and more experience but it seems logical enough from this guy who has been on both sides of inspections experience


You were trained correctly. The RIs job is exactly that, to sort out the 99% clearly legal and illegal issues and bring in the LRI for consultation on the 1% “borderline calls” including R203 “safety” calls not expressly listed. It does not matter the size of the event, district model or traditional regional model. All inspections should be handled the same. Thank you for volunteering and continue exactly this way. It sounds like you are doing exactly what I would like and helping the LRI sort out the bulk of the inspections so your LRI can focus their attention on the small fraction of things that warrant it.

The issue some teams have noted is that not all RIs are acting consistently as you are. In some cases, some RIs fail to bring the LRI in on those “borderline calls”, usually citing R203, and make unilateral decisions on their own and that has led to very negative inspection experiences in some cases by some teams. This is exactly what I am trying to improve upon with this open consistent messaging and dialog.

Again, thank you for volunteering your time as an RI. If you have any inspection questions please bring them to the attention of your LRI and if need be bring Al and I in as needed.


This. So much this. More of this. A lot more of it.


This is a great post Chuck, thank you for making it public and transparent!

I want to reiterate this, both from a once-rookie RI and a team mentor perspective.

As a mentor, we all have new students join our teams each year. Perhaps all to often they think (until quickly corrected) that this is like BattleBots - because this is all they know of robotics. We bring them in, show them what Gracious Professionalism is, what we do and why we do it. We show them we are there to build each other up, not tear each other down. With experience they grow, learn, and help the newer team members that follow behind them.

Events simply don’t work without volunteers. It literally takes a small army each year to run the ~180 events across FRC. Some of those new RI volunteers will be new to the program, and the LRIs and veteran RIs will take them under their wings and show them, to borrow a phrase, this is the way. Rookie RIs will make some mistakes, just as first-year students on a team will make mistakes. It’s not out of malice, it’s out of inexperience.

Having a little bit of patience, and some GP, can make the difference in the experience you give both your team members, and new volunteers. This is how we build back our program, re-engage returning volunteers, and invite and excite new ones.


Thank you very much, Chuck!


Chuck, Al, this is a big step forward.

I’ve personally never had an inspection that I’d classify as negative or that has overshadowed my positive experiences, but these are still some awesome points and clarifications going forward.

Thanks for your effort and for caring about the teams.


I feel heard. Thank you Chuck. The humility and desire for real understanding you’ve exhibited in this and the other thread is truly inspiring.


This list definitely makes me reflect upon inspections that I’ve done over the past 6 years… mostly it makes me feel good about decisions I’ve made, but it also definitely helps me to refocus to provide teams with the best inspection experience possible when I inspect again. I’m sure the same will be true for most LRI’s/RI’s that read this.

Thanks so much for hearing the community and posting this publicly for maximum transparency!


Probably doesn’t need to be said, but thanks to the LRIs and RIs who volunteer their time so the events can run! Please don’t take relatively minor frustration with the process as diminishing our gratitude for what you do!


Thanks, Chuck. You and Al have always modeled the right way to inspect robots at events. The example you’ve set here on CD and the clear guidance given at the top of this thread will make all of us better in our volunteer roles.


Thank you so much for the prompt response I was reading the last two threads and was both seeing the serious concern about what was happening, and wondering if what we where doing was an isolated bubble or if those issues where the outlier. I’m very glad to see the latter is accurate, the reason why i was wondering is that it’s easy for people who are in a district especially a small district like I am to not have much visibility into how things work elsewhere.


Although this is focused on LRIs, RIs, and the inspection process, I think a similar mentality can be carried to every other volunteer role at events. The inspections I remember most vividly from my time as a student are unfortunately 2 separate inspections which left a sour taste in my mouth but I also had amazing experiences with helpful LRIs, RIs and Al himself. As a “field side” volunteer I will forever be both thankful for and inspired by robot inspectors, and the work they do. This message from Chuck not only restores any faith I lost in the inspection process but also helps me reflect on how I can be the best volunteer possible.

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I totally agree with the sentiment expressed by JR0405. I think this also extends to those of us who are team mentors. Any of us can potentially get caught up in the moment and forget why we are there (or at least why we should be). It is easy to get overly protective of your team and their design and not realize when you are being given good advice. There have been times when I have personally disagreed with the RI but still understood their rational for a call they made - that’s just part of life.

As I stated in the other thread - we tend to remember the negative experiences like being told to re-do bumpers after it was suspected that our pool noodles were “under the size specification” or an almost two hour inspection that ended up finding nothing wrong. The vast majority of our team’s experiences over 13 years have been positive and I have thoughts of possibly joining the ranks of RI’s at some point when I decide to step back from mentoring. Hope I can live up to my own expectations.

Chuck and Al you definitely have my respect for what you do.


First, thank you Chuck. That original thread has become quite the novel, and it’s clear that you’ve been reading it diligently and thoughtfully. I think the 20 points are excellent takeaways and I appreciate you sharing them with the LRIs.

One quick note though:

This seems a little backwards, no? If this content is more important than the regularly scheduled content, maybe it ought to be given some air time?


There will certainly be ongoing discussions during LRI training as needed to discuss the messaging I sent last night and shared here. This is one of those context issues that didn’t exactly come across here outside of the context I posted to the LRIs. Rest assured as much training time will be devoted to this discussion as needed to adequately cover the issue, however, I would hope that my comments were self explanatory and clear enough that further extended conversations with the LRI group wouldn’t be needed.