Don't let your driver station get you down

It’s sad, but true, that each year robots don’t participate in matches because of easily remedied driver station issues.

Here’s my list of tips and tricks to ensure that the driver station isn’t a stopper for your team at the field. Building a new driver station laptop is an easy project for the time between stop build and your competition.

Consider dedicating a laptop to use as a driver station. Many teams do.

Use a business-class laptop as your driver station, as they are much more durable than the $300 Black Friday special at Best Buy. They’re much more resistant to being dropped, and the ports are designed for repeated use. The driver station software uses very little resources, so you don’t need to buy a new laptop – instead, buy a cheap 4-5 year old used one. You might even get one donated by a used computer store in your area. Lenovo Thinkpad T series and Dell Latitude are two business-class brands you’ll commonly see.

Use Windows 10 if possible, otherwise Windows 7. These are the two most commonly used Windows versions for driver stations, which means you’re less likely to run into bugs related to OS variation.

Install all Windows updates. You should be able to go into the Update settings page and see that you’re up-to-date. It’s a gamble to show up at the field with an OS update pending.

Install the required Driver Station update.

Remove any 3rd party antivirus or antimalware software. Use Defender (win10) or Security Essentials (win7).

Turn off the wifi adapter when you’re at the competition, either using the dedicated hardware wifi switch or by disabling it in the Adapter Settings control panel.

Don’t install any other software on the driver station laptop other than what’s needed for driving. Remove any crapware that came with the machine. Don’t use the driver station laptop as your Steam machine for gaming back at the hotel the night before the event.

Ensure that you have a fully charged battery. Put the laptop on the charger after each match. If your laptop battery is suspect, buy a new one. If you can’t buy a new one, be sure to bring the power adapter to the field.

You’d be surprised at how often drivers arrive at the field without knowing the password for the laptop.

The account you log in to drive must be in the Administrator group on the laptop.

Ensure that the driver station is fastened with velcro to the shelf.

If your driver station laptop has a rotating disk, replace it with a SSD.

If you have programming tools (Eclipse/LabVIEW) on the driver station laptop, close them prior to the match.

If the Ethernet port on your laptop is dodgy, either replace the laptop (recommended) or buy a USB Ethernet dongle.

Each time you connect to the field, check to make sure that the joysticks/controllers are assigned to the correct ports. The USB tab in the driver station software is the place to do this.

Don’t plan on having internet access at the event. There won’t be any in the venue, and hotel wifi varies widely in quality.

1 Like

Good tips.

There is no reason to connect driver station laptop to internet at competitions or hotels. Make sure you all the updates done at workshop or school. Also disable windows auto update feature (couple of years back one of the laptop started searching for updates while robot was on field, match was delayed for few minutes). Do not have development environment on the laptop (especially if you are using LabView).

At the events, plug in the laptop and keep it fully charged, as much as you can.

All very good advice. I’d also recommend making sure you bring a trusted USB and ethernet cable along with spares to the event. Not only is there not internet access at ,most venues, you are not supposed to be using wireless between laptop and robot unless the officials allow and support it.

As for the dev tools not he driver station, I haven’t seen issues with this provided the laptop has reasonable disk and memory resources. I don’t know that I’d leave them running while driving the match, but I haven’t seen that many issues with it. In fact, I’ve seem a number of teams often run vision straight from the dev environment rather than building an EXE.

Greg McKaskle

Thank you MrRobo. I am going to print this out for the team assigned to the drivers station and laptop. Very helpful. Thank you

Disable USB Selective Suspend

Thanks for the reminder on that, Joe.

Specific instructions for Windows 10:

  1. Right click on the battery/charging icon in the tray, and select Power Options.

  2. Edit the plan settings of your power plan.

  3. Click the Change advanced power settings link.

  4. Scroll down in the advanced settings and disable the USB selective suspend setting for both battery and plugged in:

usb selective suspend.JPG

usb selective suspend.JPG

usb selective suspend.JPG

Make sure your driver station laptop actually HAS an Ethernet port, or that you have a USB to Ethernet adapter.

There were SEVERAL teams at the Kettering week 0.5 event that did not realize they had a laptop with no Ethernet port until they went to plug their driver stations into the field.

I must echo this.

I’d say you should keep the programming and driver station laptops separate just so you can work on code during a match.

(being a bit hypocritical here, our driver station computer is also our programming computer since it has a better processor :ahh: )

These are all excellent tips.

Update the laptop before the competition. Windows will not force a reboot for an update unless one has been pending for several days.

Also, with Pro or higher versions, the Group Policy Editor gives you full control over updates, including a setting for “notify before downloading and notify before installing”.

This is a great idea.

I would still recommend turning it off even if you update right before because you don’t even want to be getting notifications that an update will take place in x number of days (or any notifications, actually) during the event.

Except you can’t turn them off on Windows 10, can you? At least on the non pro versions.

Windows 10 will also try to download updates from other PCs on the local network, possibly including the FMS. To stop this, look in settings>update and security>advanced options>choose how updates are delivered.

MOST of the settings can be turned off easily. It’s pretty convoluted but you can turn off all automatic updates (click for instructions).

I’m a Windows Beta Tester and lots of us complained about it - they claim it’s security - but who knows.

Literally the only thing they need to do is get rid of forced reboots. I could suffer through the rest of it, but forced reboots are pointless and frustrating.

What laptops does everybody use? I cannot recommend the Lenovo Thinkpad X Series highly enough (especially the 2*0 series, currently on the 270); the 225 workshop is outfitted with almost ten of them, and we’ve used them for the driver station and pit computer since 2014. They’re very sturdy and resilient, the nub mouses are great for programming, and they’re even powerful enough that we do CAD on them.

Do you all really not program with the driver station? I can’t imagine code changes happening during a match :eek: Then again, 225’s driver has also been 225’s lead programmer since 2011 (purely coincidence).

This is kind of risky; do the last updates at least a week in advance of the competition, as once I had the driver station force update the night before a competition and mess up the Java install.

Even if you primarily write code on another laptop, your driver station should have your IDE installed, it should have GitHub in order to get the latest code, and it should be able to deploy code to the robot. There are too many last-second changes you may need to do in order to justify limiting yourself like this.

Buy a computer with built in Ethernet. You can upgrade RAM to 8GB and you can replace hard drives with SSDs, but you can’t add a built in Ethernet port. You can survive with USB-to-Ethernet but it is a lot less reliable and should not be used. Basically any computer with 8GB of RAM (or 4, really) and an SSD is more than good enough.

ALWAYS BRING THE CHARGER TO THE FIELD, no matter how full the battery is. You should NEVER be running off the battery in a real match. There’s absolutely no reason to do that. Keep the laptop plugged in when you’re in the pits, so that any time you may need battery power you’re totally ready.

Check the controllers EVERY MATCH. Check the auton selection EVERY MATCH. Each match costs your team a few hundred dollars to play. Would you click a few buttons for $100 or more? Of course you would. Do it.

I always forget about the metered connection workaround. It’s an easy thing to forget if you ever need to connect to wifi at an event (though you shouldn’t, if you have a dedicated DS laptop).

After a stressful 5 minute reboot right before a match last year, I’m trying to convince my team to use my personal laptop (which has an SSD) for the DS (and so they have a second laptop at the event, which is always a plus). It’s an HP G5 250, which while a bit overkill for the driver station, was pretty nice for sub $500. For a team-owned driver station laptop, I’d probably get something with a smaller drive and less ram.

Do you all really not program with the driver station? I can’t imagine code changes happening during a match :eek: Then again, 225’s driver has also been 225’s lead programmer since 2011 (purely coincidence).

Heh, as a driver and one of two programmers for my first three years, this threw me a bit too. Then I remembered one competition in 2014 where our other programmer headed into the cafeteria for a few hours where he started and finished a two-ball auto. And it worked. Good times.

EDIT: Everything Chris said above me is definitely true, and I can speak from experience to every point he made (except built in ethernet, but that’s just because we never had a laptop without one anyway). Although, interestingly, our built-in ethernet port mysteriously failed at an event last year, and we rushed out to by a usb ethernet dongle that we used for the remainder of the event.

I really strongly disagree with this. There should be one and only one source of code (and therefore any coding changes) at a competition and that is the programming laptop. *[Note that GitHub cannot get code from the internet at a competition… no internet access.] * You should never be trying to make coding changes anywhere that would not allow you to be using that programming laptop, eg. in queue. All changes deployed must be tested to verify operation before being sent out to the field or you risk creating more of a problem than the coding change was intended to fix.

I agree with this - I meant “primarily on another laptop” as in within the context of the whole season, not within the timeline of an event. Only one laptop at a competition should make code changes, absolutely, and all changes should be tested.

But, I’ve been burned before by that primary laptop not making it to an event (either it was someone’s personal laptop, or it just was forgotten). This happens more often than forgetting the driver station, which is usually easier to remember. And it’s not fun at all to install Eclipse at an event with no internet. :frowning: If the other laptop is forgotten, you at least have a computer that is able to deploy code. And if it has Github on it and is synced at home before you leave for the event, it has a recent version of the robot code on it for any tweaks done in the pits or whatever.

Get ethernet port savers. Don’t cycle the one connected to your laptop. They are inexpensive, robust, and have saved us a lot of headaches.