Delete the CAW (CAW Reform Discussion)

It’s going to be no end of hysterical to me that after all my comments, pestering, begging, pleading, dictionary jokes and shenanigans with our CAW, that it ends up being idiotic trade policy that forces HQ to address the CAW. Not that I expect anyone to admit to it. You can just send me a winky face.

I broke this off from the Tariff thread as this is more about the faults of the current CAW and the opinions Marshall and many others including myself have about the CAW.

Note that Marshall did not name this thread, I named the thread.

Our robot had a ~$2000 discrepancy between its COST and it’s CAWST this past year. The CAWST came out to be around $3000.

Anyone know if Enron is looking for accounting interns?

What if we got rid of the whole “KOP prices don’t count” baloney and simply called it a Bill of Material, with labor excluded? Then increase the allowed cost of a robot to a more reasonable amount?

I mean, we wouldn’t be allowed to talk about it in airports and all, but I don’t see that as a really important factor here.

Every company I have ever worked with or for calls it a BOM.


We effectively did a BOM our first few years because we exempted nothing and were right at the $4,000 mark when I did this in 2017. After researching and spending hours finding exemptions, those of us who worked on the CAW last year were able to report about 1.6k instead of the 3.5k BOM amount. I think FIRST should just use a BOM and raise the max to about 6 or 7k, whatever they find keeps the true costs similar to previous years, which would impose effectively the same money limits but would benefit smaller and newer teams who could be spending more time testing and improving instead of figuring out how to make a CAW.

The way I see it, the argument against the CAW is that it does a terrible job of limiting expenditure because there’s so many things excluded, many loopholes, and it’s an honor system anyway. This is ostensibly the point of the CAW, but I’ve also seen arguments that it has a second purpose which is just to enforce a little bit of accountability and make sure the team is cognizant of cost.

I think before any changes should be made, whoever is in charge of deciding these things (which is almost certainly not Marshall) needs to decide an identity for the CAW. What is its purpose? Is it to limit expenditure, to even the playing field in a way? Or is it just a token piece of documentation “you need to do it in the real world, and we want you to make sure you’re following the bare minimum of bureaucracy?”

In my opinion, the former is a fruitless pursuit. Even if you can reasonably limit the price of the robot to under $5000 or some other magic figure, teams with large budgets can do so much more anyway (practice fields, more events, second and third robots, etc) that the sticker price of the robot is an entire nonissue. Not to mention the philosophical arguments about leveling the playing field in general.

The latter is a better idea in my opinion, but the CAW needs some reforms to make this better. Put everything on there (within reason, $5 minimum is still good), and remove the total price limit.

I am not too familiar with the background and the evolution of the CAW over the years. It was clearly established to have a relatively even playing-field in terms of robot cost, but when were KOP and FIRST Choice items excluded, and why?

This seems like the most reasonable avenue. Besides being larger, it would even be easier for inspectors to keep up with because everything they see on the robot should be somewhere in the BOM.

Just to add noise into the discussion…

80% of inspectors, at least, are not qualified to match items on a CAW/BOM to the robot and other than them scanning for the few things they recognize OR checking for items above the price limit, it’s not useful to them as part of the inspection process.

I really wish the CAW was a proper BOM. It’s honestly easier to do, and would be more helpful to both the team and the inspector. I would keep the minor materials rule, though as counting bolts and zip-ties is quite tedious, if maximally realistic to actual engineering practice.

I think it might also work to just reinforce the maximum COTS item cost limit and remove the CAW total altogether. I think the bigger problem is if a team decides to mount a FANUC arm to their robot than if a team uses too many hollow rectangles of sheet metal.

Making it a true BOM and not having KOP, etc. exemptions and allowing the total cost to be higher is not something I ever expect FIRST to do.

Having it at $4000 sounds much more appealing to potential new teams then the true cost of an FRC robot (not to mention 2 or 3 robots, thanks bag rule).

Having the CAW the way it is is done for one of the same reasons the bag rule is in place, telling a potential new team that they have to work hard on a robot for 12-16 weeks is a much harder sell than 6 weeks, just like telling a potential team that their robot will cost $8000 (and let’s be honest the true cost of competing every year as far as robot costs is much higher) is a much harder sell than $4000.

Quoted for truth. A significant portion of the inspectors are volunteers with no previous FIRST experience. Those with FIRST experience are unlikely to know everything necessary to thoroughly inspect teams. This is why the, “We passed inspection at 2 different events before this and haven’t changed anything. Why did we fail?” happens regularly.

That seems like quite a stretch of the truth! I’m sick of wasting money on a practice robot, but we still don’t spend anywhere close to that amount. I’d love to see the budget breakdown from a team that does.

I’m a fan of removing the CAW entirely. Maybe keep the rule about the max cost of a single component, since it will be fairly obvious if it’s exceeded.

It depends on what you consider “robot costs”.

If we consider practice field components, two or three robots, prototyping expenses, investments that don’t pan out (ex. we bought a camera api 2.0 android phone before the 2018 season … then the limelight came out).

I could easily see costs of above 8k.

While I do not claim to be in charge of the rules… I like to think that my points have gotten through to the right people and things have changed… and that my sarcasm and witty comments have helped others in seeing the light on some of these subjects… or at least coming up with their own surreal solutions for them, even if some of those solutions require me to wear cranial protection.

Uh, 11x Talon SRX’s alone cost $990. Sure not every team uses all Talons for every motor controller on the robot, and sure you get some for free, but if you actually add up everything that a high competitive team spends money on, I’d be surprised if most of those teams aren’t hitting at least $8000.

I guess in my original post I meant to say “cost of competing at a high level”. Not every (read: most) team builds a practice robot, maxes out the PD board, etc. etc.etc.

My overall point was that FIRST presents competing in FRC as something that costs $4000 or less in robot costs, when we all know this simply isn’t true; just like how they advertise that teams build the robot they compete with in 6 weeks.

Agreed. I like the idea of the CAW and a cost limit, but think both need work. When I’ve inspected, it was nice to check that a team with weird parts had done some homework to check their legality. If they were close to the cost limit, I could also check their honesty and walk through mechanisms. For an inexperienced team without one, their robots were usually simple enough that making a CAW took 10 minutes and was a solid exercise to name and identify all the robot parts with their students.

There are a few main loopholes that I don’t really like, the Kit of Parts exemption, and the labor exemption.

I think you solved the Kit of Parts one- just increase the robot cost and report everything. Where this rule annoys me now is FIRST Choice. For example, you can hide some costs by marking Talon SRXs as KOP. But not Victor SPXs? Well, maybe, depending on when and where you bought them? Or you can just mark a couple hundred dollars worth of electronics as KOP even if they aren’t, and no one can quickly check.

I’m not sure how I feel about exempting machining time. If you call a machinist a mentor, their labor is free. For teams without that access, there are cool COTS solutions, but you’re paying for labor. So if you can afford awesome in-house equipment, or find yourself a sick sponsor to wire edm your 3d printed titanium spacers, you just saved a ton of money over someone buying one off the shelf. But I guess that comes down to team fundraising/prioritization/sponsor outreach. And being honest about who is actually a mentor.

On our team, the individuals who contribute their time and talents in this way are simply considered members of the team.

I’m aware of how expensive a lot of components are, that’s one of the reasons I hate building a practice robot. Talons are the biggest budget eater for us. Fortunately we can use them the next year.

We’ve also burned a lot of money on parts we haven’t used, we do it every year. Some years are worse than others.

I’m not saying that it’s not expensive, just that the figure of $8k is absurd! But somebody show me otherwise, I’d be interested to see how that budget was used. Easier challenge: show me a rule compliant CAW from the past 3 years that was over $3k.

Here’s a similar thread from last year.

I’m also going to cross-post my entry into that thread, since my opinion hasn’t changed.