The first days of March loom ahead, and with that comes the beginning of a new season of FRC events. FIRST Power Up is set to see play for the first time in official competition this weekend, with twenty-two events poised to host over one-thousand teams this weekend. That frenetic pace of competition increases even further in weeks two and three, with fifty-seven more events concluding by March 18th. The magnitude of the FRC competition season is expanding each and every year, meaning there’s plenty of action across the US (and in parts of the rest of the globe) for FRC enthusiasts to enjoy each and every weekend. Unfortunately, the ballooning scale of the competition season means that it has become exponentially more difficult to monitor, analyze, and forecast across the entirety of the FRC landscape. Each of the past couple seasons has been incredibly taxing to create the Looking Forward content that you know and enjoy. For comparison, when the Looking Forward account first came into existence in 2008, there were only forty-two regional events, with no individual weekend containing more than eleven. In 2018, The Blue Alliance now counts 180 official events (counting divisions separately) for the Power Up season, with as many as thirty events on a single weekend. Because of this epic increase in scale, Looking Forward is once again changing the format and type of content provided. Rather than leave all of you LF fans high and dry until Championship season (as was done in 2010 and 2011), there will be periodic posts over the course of the competition season. However, periodic doesn’t mean weekly, nor is there any guarantee of coverage of each-and-every event. The focus will be on the state of the sport as a whole, and what trends to watch emerge. With the widespread growth of FRC-media outside of LF (including numerous region-specific prediction accounts), the hope is that there will still be plenty of content to keep FRC die-hards engaged even without event-specific LF posts.
As with any FRC challenge, the early weeks of Power Up will be about teams, well, powering up their robots for the first time. Being prepared and fully tested is the biggest advantage any team can have in weeks one or two. A fully functional robot and tested autonomous is often all it takes to earn yourself a relatively early selection in the draft and trip past the quarter-finals. Combining the typical pre-season struggles with the typical rookie struggles makes well prepared rookies like **7211 **and **7048 **even more impressive. Just glancing at the Red River Rage’s machine, you’d never guess them to be rookies. These first year competitors will be looking to make a splash a first year event, the Great Northern Regional in North Dakota. Standing in their path will be FRC heavyweights **1986 **and **5172 **and numerous other competitive teams, such as **525, 876, 2883, 3277**, and Red River Rage’s mentors **4818**. Watch to see who’s heading into the event ready to compete, and who’s using it as a tune-up opportunity to get the kinks worked out of their robots as they prepare for even larger end goals.
Another brand new event this year, the Central New York regional, may give us a glimpse into how the game will develop as the season progresses. 90% of teams travelling to Utica, NY this weekend have made the playoff rounds before, and a majority of those teams have experience playing late into the final day. Double and triple lifts will be in high demand as teams look for an edge in playoffs (climbs are worth 30 points, remember?). This should make teams like **340 **and **2791 **very attractive selections on Sunday. With veteran teams like 319, 5030, 191, and **2016 **bringing scale-focused robots, consistent switch and exchange robots will likely prove to be invaluable to allow other teams to put their full attention on possessing the scale. Expect the levitate power up to be used nearly every match as teams work the kinks out of their climbing systems.
As mentioned, autonomous modes will be a particularly easy differentiating factor early on. While high performing teams almost always have an edge over their opponents in autonomous, the autonomous gap this year should be widely apparent in the early weeks of competition. The field randomization is a novel wrinkle that teams have not faced before, with the closest prior analogs being the hot goals in 2014 or the rack rotations in 2007. Yet neither of those presented the wide range of permutations and positioning challenges that this game will pose to alliances as they negotiate starting positions in the queue line. While the later weeks should be able to showcase some spectacular feats of coordination (especially in the playoffs, where alliances can pre-coordinate), set your sights a little lower for weeks 1 and 2. The most in-demand starting position will likely be mid-field, in an attempt to guarantee switch points. Many scale autonomous routines will be dependent on getting lucky in plate randomization. While eventual [autonomous award](https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/blog/2018-autonomous-award-ford) contenders like **1678 **in Utah, **4613 **in Australia, and **987 **in Arizona North should have their multi-cube routines ready to provide some early season fireworks, they will be the exception to the rule at this point. While we should expect to see significant improvements in autonomous compared to week 0, the pre-season events indicate not to set your expectations too high for average levels of autonomous performance. Tele-operated play will bring its own set of challenges. While roller claws seems a near-universally adopted design for acquiring cubes, there’s still plenty of design space and esoteric adjustments that teams can play with in order to have the best results. This is especially true when it comes to having a solid grasp on cubes. Plenty of teams will have issues with improperly aligned or secured cubes, which may end up with either dropped cubes or strategic decisions to run those to the vault. Even some noteworthy powerhouses have (or had until recently) intakes designed for one particular cube orientation. It will be interesting to see if some slightly less conventional designs, such as **1360**’s corner cube grabber, lend themselves to a more secure grasp of the powercubes. Additionally, as in the early weeks of many games gone by, accruing penalties will be a major factor. As most drivers (and refs) will still be getting used to the new rules and robots, robot designs that require less skill to drive without falling over or receiving penalties will have the advantage. This will be an area that well-practiced and well-designed teams can attempt to distinguish themselves. While shorter robots, like **610, 4481**, or **4613**, will entirely sidestep the issues of interaction with scale plates, avoiding getting clotheslined or penalized on the scale will be an issue for a great many of the elevator-based designs. All of this begs the question, how will the plethora of tall elevators compare to some of the more compact, purpose-built switch and vault specialists? While being short certainly doesn’t mean you cannot score in the scale (see the aforementioned Rembrandts and Redbacks, as well as CIS), reducing your design scope and optimizing your design characteristics around specific goals has frequently proven to be an effective strategy in FRC. While most scale scoring mechanisms should be able to handle scoring in the switch as well, some may struggle with the geometry to avoid “launching” penalties (although Team Update 13 alleviates this somewhat) or have to tread carefully to avoiding dropping cubes or tipping over. Despite some early starts from teams like **2609 **at Durham College, Week 2 may actually provide indication of the viability of switch and vault specialists, with several notables unveiling their robot, including **1902 **in Orlando, **3284 **in St. Louis, **4607 **at Lake Superior, and **1011 **and **1836 **at the Arizona North Regional. Seeing if CRUSH or the Milken Knights can hang in with the star studded roster (**254, 987, 2122, 3309**) in Flagstaff could be an early barometer of the potential utility of robots dedicated to emptying the nearside power cube pyramid. While going blow-for-blow with the Cheesy Poofs and High Rollers is a tall task for any team, there’s a chance they could vault over some of the other likely playoff teams such as** 842, 2073, 2403, 2486, 2637, 3250**, and **4183**. Power Up has also carried forward the trend of the past couple year in FRC challenges of awarding ranking points beyond simple wins and losses. While there will likely be some hiccups over the early weeks, eventually the autonomous quest should become routine. Defeating the boss by getting all three alliance members credited with climbs, however, will be a dynamic challenge all year long. Many top tier FRC competitors will be attempting to leave nothing to chance, and worked actively to develop mechanisms allowing them to get at least two robots airborne consistently. Both **118 **and **148 **will attempt to use their lifts to rank ahead of a competitive field in Dallas including **1296, 1477, 2848**, the VRC-inspired **4192**, and the rising stars **5431 **(who has reached the eliminations at Championship in three of their four previous seasons). In the PNW it might not become clear if the multi lift is difference maker for top contenders until week two, as week one’s Clackamas Academy district event will see Washington power houses **2046 **and **5803 **will make their competition debut without any apparent ability to get more than one robot off the ground. By contrast, week two’s Wilsonville event will see **1425 **and **2471 **trying to lift their rank with their alliance partners. We’ll see how teams **95, 125**, and **2590 **adapt their lift designs and strategies between their outings in week one and their second trips to the Arcade in week three. Of course there exist other methods of securing multiple climbs, such as the artificial extensions to the hanging bar by Israeli veterans **2630 **and **1574**. Compare their success to that of fellow Israeli powerhouse **3339**, with their deployable ramps over the course of the district season. Unfortunately all three teams won’t be under the same roof at the same time until DCMP, but you can see MisCar and the Thunderbolts together during week 1. It’s not just powerhouse teams that are fielding ramps, either. Will dual ramps help relatively unknown **3863 **become a more consistent threat to reach and advance in the Los Angeles regional playoffs? Can the ability to lift multiple robots turn regional contender **5663 **into a household name outside of Australia? Speaking of Australia, FIRSTers from all around the globe will have plenty of action in the first few weeks of the season. The first three weeks of the season will feature two regional events in Australia, two regional events in China, one regional event in Mexico, one regional event in Turkey, and all four Israel district qualifier events. Given that most of those teams will have to ship their robot across an ocean to reach the Houston championship, the front-loaded international schedule makes sense. The diversity of team origins within these events varies widely between them. Shanghai and Istanbul are hosting 100% domestic teams, while Shenzhen and the Australian events will see teams from the UK, Poland, Turkey, Vietnam, India, the United States, and Taiwan cross borders to attend. With **3132 **now in the Hall of Fame, perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock that FRC is showing signs of rapid growth outside of North America. Yet if this expansion continues, there will have to be change ahead in the future of FIRST. The early weeks of Power Up should be hectic and exciting at times, albeit filled with some blooper reel material at others. Tipped robots, botched climbs, appendages stuck on the scale, dropped cubes, and penalty flags will not be uncommon sights. But teams will learn and adapt quickly, and the playoff matches should hopefully result in some intense action around the scale and for cubes in the platform zones. Power-up usage and cube economies will be far from optimized, but there will be lessons and examples to help guide the later weeks of competition. Definitely expect the levitation button to be the most frequently pressed. . While some teams will play two or even three times (**708**) in weeks 1-3, most won’t be hitting the Arcade again until later in the season. LF will check in again between weeks 3 and 4.