Eliminating "Start Build Day"

Yes, I know “Start Build Day” is actually called Kickoff.

This is an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a while. I had intended to create a post during the “Eliminate Stop Build Day” discussions that had occurred recently, but never got around to making a post that said what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it. Inspired in part by this thread, I invite a full blown discussion of when the new game should be revealed and what teams should be allowed to do prior to the game reveal.

Much of the discussion revolving around the elimination of stop build day revolves around giving teams more access to their machines. Why is stop build day the only artificial date being examined? There’s also an artificial start date. Should teams be allowed to use components they fabricated or designed prior to kickoff? Should the game be revealed earlier in the school year?

One of the parallels often drawn in other discussions were to the lack of Stop Build Day in FTC and VRC. However, these programs also have differing views of Kickoff (both from FRC and one another). Both programs have more than six weeks between game reveal and the initial qualifying events (and for some teams, massively more than that). Both programs have a much much larger window between game reveal and the conclusion of the competition season (in the case of VRC, the next game is revealed during the Championship event, meaning there’s an active game 365 days of the year). Perhaps someone with a better nuts and bolts knowledge of these programs can offer perspectives on their rules allowing reuse of parts or designs.

So, is January the ideal time for kickoff? Can team experiences and/or performance be improved by adjusting the kickoff date? By relaxing the kickoff requirements?

Solely looking into the time period in which Kickoff is, no, January is not an ideal time for Start Build Day. However, eliminating start build day wouldn’t be beneficial in my eyes, rather moving it later into the year (maybe March or April time period).

By January, many high school students are just getting back from Winter break and are just getting back into the flow of school. Because of this, the work load seems much greater than any other time throughout the year. This is because students got a taste of a break from school, meaning they need to get “re-calibrated” (I know, bad term for it) for school in general.

Having kickoff this same time, with the added stress of getting back into the flow of school, is kind of a detriment in my eyes.

Moving it to later in the year, I think students would be more into the flow of things and would enjoy it better rather than thinking of it as un-needed extra work.

Personally, I hate the fact that start build date is in January. Because of this, my team typically miss around a full week of build season due to snow and School cancellations. I really would like the idea of moving stop build day to December and having started earlier, probably in early October. This would make it easier for teams to have a robot built and bagged before break and then start competitions In either late January or early February.

Just an idea I had

It is an interesting idea Sean. I actually thought about it while involved in several of the long “eliminate stop build day” discussions. I have a couple of thoughts. My first is that in my experience January is actually generally a good time for the build season to start, as least if you are going to have any kind of limited time frame. I think that you would make a lot of parents really unhappy if build season were extended over the break. Not to mention the spouses and other family members of a lot of mentors. That would probably not be a consideration if there were something more like year round building.

I also think that January tends to be one of the lowest stress times of the year. Admittedly for some schools exams happen in the first or second week of January, so for them the stress level is high then drops way down. We used to be like this, and it usually was the case that the first week of build was exam week. But as soon as building really ramped up we were starting a new term and work loads were lower.

I think my first reaction is pretty much the same as my reaction to getting rid of stop build day. Our team would adapt and continue to compete. We would lose a lot of team members, and have a much smaller team, and not have as many mentors. We have lots of kids who run cross country, are in the band, run track, play lacrosse, do the spring musical, etc… Those kids give up their lives to robotics in the winter, but a lot of them would not give up everything else in order to just do robotics. We would lose some mentors (probably me included) to the increased time commitment. We actually do things pretty much year round, like most teams. But if we were building the competition robot year round it would mean a different kind of commitment. There would no doubt be some kids who would willingly do robotics practice every day. They would probably produce some really cool devices and robots. But this would be more/better stuff produced by fewer people. And frankly a lot of them the ones who least need the inspiration in order to pursue STEM careers.

I can also see some real positives for some teams. If you have a small team at a big school, you are more likely to have kids who are not as involved in other stuff. You can probably be a lot more relaxed about building the robot. Although I think that over time a “keeping up with the Joneses” effect would push teams into ever more work. Even so you would give teams some incentive to really push the envelope because the consequences of failure are much less harsh when you have more time to bounce back.

As with the discussion on getting rid of Stop Build Day, I still kind of think that most of the positives can be achieved by practice and aren’t necessarily lost because you keep the limited season.

At this point, I feel like FRC has settled into its current time frame. Any earlier and you run into winter break. Any later and you risk making venue scheduling even worse, as well as encroaching upon pre-existing offseason events, AP tests, etc.

I can’t really say kickoff is “artificial” in the way Stop Build might be for some teams, especially since the rule right now is you can’t use anything made/developed before kickoff unless it is publicly available. Mess with that rule too much, and I fear we will get the same complaints as we do with Stop Build, that high resource teams will be getting that much more time than other teams.

Additionally, one could argue that the reason FTC and VRC have such significantly longer seasons is because they are meant to be less intense than FRC. Part of the appeal of a “six week build”, even considering the time available after Stop Build, is the idea of having such a limited amount of time for the challenges FRC offers.

As far as Kickoff goes, I don’t see altering that as necessary. I feel like the culture of publicizing pre-kickoff resources, and how that can be expanded, would be much more useful to look at.

I think that it would be really difficult to secure competition venues in January or February. Most of these competitions take place in college or high school basketball venues. That are almost never going to unused for long enough to host FRC events.

I think kickoff is at a good time - I don’t want it prior to the end of year holidays - that period is a guaranteed 1-2 weeks off school for students, and the week or two prior to that everyone is checked out (based on my experience growing up). And going before December… We’re working with some big, dangerous tools building these robots, and it takes some time to get the rookies comfortable using them safely.

As for allowing materials constructed before build… I am seriously conflicted with that. On the one hand, many teams don’t really meet before build, so they would gain nothing - and these are likely some of the teams that need the most help. The high resource teams could save some money doing this, but I don’t think it would really change what they could field. Where this would have the biggest impact is the mid-tier teams- those that meet in the fall and/or summer, can build reasonably complex mechanisms, but don’t have the organization to get something CAD’d and reproduced quickly during the season.

Personally, I would rather focus on changes that could raise the floor, rather than those that (i think) would raise the middle and leave the floor even worse off.

I’m pretty convinced you’re trolling with this and I say that because you ask the following questions which are obviously slanted in one direction:

Why is stop build day the only artificial date being examined?

It’s hardly the only date that’s been talked about. Just the one that’s mostly talked about on CD. I know I’ve had some conversations about start build day with people from FIRST (specifically one of the game designers) as well as with other mentors in the community, particularly those who mentor FLL and FTC teams internationally. The conclusion has always been it’s harder to move the start time because of the number of levers and knobs that need to be adjusted to make it happen. Stop build on the other hand… that’s not all that hard to get rid of… just remove the bags and ties.

Should teams be allowed to use components they fabricated or designed prior to kickoff?

Teams can already use components designed prior to kickoff and many of them do, not to mention code re-use. You know this… I know you know this, I’ve seen you comment in design threads.

Now, that being said, I’m totally down with ditching start build day or moving it earlier in the preceding year or moving the entire FRC season to be better suited to more schools, particularly European schools. There is a reason we don’t see a lot of Euro FRC teams and it has to do with scheduling from the handful (admittedly a small number) of folks I’ve talked to about it.

I think this fits with the FRC goals of expanding access to more teams and all that jazz.

The one caveat is that the game needs to be “fully baked” before being released… or at least as fully baked as they are currently. FRC HQ would need to re-vamp their schedule to make that happen and that is no small feat. Yet again pointing to removing stop build day as the more easily removed artificial barrier.

For sake of argument, let’s assume the game is announced on the first Saturday after Labor Day, and competitions occurred the same weeks they currently do. In 2017, this would add 17 weeks to the current 6-1/2 (stop build) to 16 week (St. Louis CMP) schedule. At first blush, this nearly quadruples the time for low resource (but non-rookie) teams which really do stop on stop build day, and only doubles the time for the powerhouse teams. However, as the calendar bottleneck is relaxed, the limitations of dollars and build hours become more important. There are doubtless a few mid-high teams with plenty of mentors and dollars that would make great hay on this, but most low to mid resource teams would likely have enough difficulty with mentors or dollars or both, that it would be a very limited set of teams which could do much better than double their effort at fielding a competitive robot, and a significant number which could not increase that much.

Making essentially the whole scholastic year build+competition season would also make it much more difficult for teams to do as much community service/outreach and recruiting.

Edit: reading things posted since I started, let me say that yes, we have a number of robotics members who play fall sports who would no longer be able to be “full” members of the team. I should also note here that while I am usually not the only mentor at most of our events during the summer and early fall, I am the only one who is at most of our events during this period; many of our mentors disappear, and most greatly reduce their time involvement for six to eight or even nine months.

Bottom line: While I am uncertain as to whether getting rid of bag day will equalize things or increase disparity, I am rather inclined to believe that moving the start of season forward will **increase **the overall disparity between low and high resource teams.

i think we should eliminate build season b/c its not about the robot just my opinion tho no flaming please be gp

Yeah, if we didn’t have robots then we could concentrate on all that outreach stuff! Payne4Pres!

As a Michigan mentor of FTC and FRC, this would be very rough. It is nice that up through FTC States (Super Regionals is a different matter), FTC and FRC do not overlap in Michigan, letting me separate the two build+competition seasons. If they overlapped, I probably couldn’t do both.

Now one thing that strikes me about “things built before kickoff”, is 3D printed parts. Many of them are small utility items where it seems a little silly to have to make new each year (unless there is a loophole in the rules I’ve neglected). Because they are a product that is as close to just a simple manifestation of a (for sake of argument) publicly available CAD file, should that count?

Let’s look at this from an “overall” perspective. I’m going to assume that there are exactly three options for Kickoff (earlier, later, and status quo), and exactly two for Stop Build (6 weeks, or none AKA final event). I’m also going to make some assumptions about what the events do, because that’s a piece of the puzzle. Minimum available build time is assumed at 6 weeks–no less.

Kickoff later. All right, regardless of what Stop Build does, the events have to shift for this one. You get maybe one week before that shift happens, and one week does roughly nothing. If events shift, CMP hits AP testing. Well… Ouch. If we shift further, the events hit AP testing, which may be easier to work around (or not!), but CMP starts hitting the end of some school years. This would be great (you don’t have to take off school to compete at CMP) except that a number of students won’t be able to participate due to school requirements (varies by school, but there are schools with that sort of policy). Best bet: really nasty hurdles any way you look at it, so probably not going to happen.

Status quo… well, aren’t we talking about changing that? I think we all know what happens here.

Kickoff earlier. This gets really interesting depending on the Stop Build policy and when the events schedule.

Option 1: Kickoff at CMP/early summer. This option, on a 6-week schedule, is ludicrous–unless you start having events in the fall. Gotta do a much later stop build, if at all. And then you get the “what about the offseasons” question, and the whole summer break… At the same time, I think I could see this one being plausible, if the events were moved up about 3 weeks. (To be noted: this option will give teams an incentive to stay together all year. Teams that do that tend to do pretty well compared to the “6-week” teams.)*

Option 2: Kickoff at the beginning of the school year/late summer. Plausible–but bear in mind that some teams are barely starting to re-gather. If a 6-week schedule is run, it’ll basically be the returning vets doing everything and spring will become training time prior to the events. Most plausible scenario would be an October Kickoff for a 6-week; naturally if stop build was eliminated there’d be some fudge factor. Again, events would probably need some fudge factor but that can be dealt with.

Option 3: Kickoff in November/December. All I’ll say on this one is that many teams will be shut down for weeks (under threat of permanent shutdown by parental protest to school administration), so 6-week schedule is toast. 8-10 weeks if there is a limit. Otherwise, much the same as before. I could see this one working out IFF the stop build went out by about 3 weeks (length of build), with no events until March, or there wasn’t a stop-build.

Overall… given the scheduling issues for a later Kickoff, Kickoff would have to be earlier, which opens a pretty good can o’ worms, either in storing the robots for long time periods or in allowing work over a major school break. Moving events earlier as well could help, but would cut down on the number of offseason events (cheaper than official, and great for training). I’d have to say that for now, keeping the status quo is actually the best option, pending further research and discussion.

*Option 1 actually lends itself to an alternative scenario, which could work with smaller robots but not at this scale: 3 competitions/year. New game announced at each Championship, or one random “old game”, limited build, shorter competition season. At the FRC scale, that ain’t happenin’.

Eric - I had thought about moving kickoff all the way up to Champs… But I don’t like it for four reasons.

First, you have that impulse for graduating seniors to start the robot and then go to college and not see the project through all the way. I don’t know about the rest of you, but having one of the people that knows whats going on disappear like that mid-project can be devastating, on both sides!

Second, you have the incoming rookies that have no time to get trained - which means their rookie year they get to basically watch a robot get built, then trained in during whatever gaps they can to be able to build the following year. Sure, you might say “well, they still get 3 years of building!”… but I know schools that run 10-12 already, where no one is on the team for more than 3 years, and schools that run a JV program using FTC or another program, again limiting how long people are on the FRC team.

Third, while teams do go year-round, the lower intensity of the summer/fall allows students to pursue other interests. As much as we all love FRC, it really is important to be a well-rounded individual and the off-season gives kids that opportunity. I can’t even begin to count the number of students my team would lose if they had to pick between the team and soccer, softball, volleyball, cross country, swimming… even as it is, we lose some very promising students to winter sports (we had one freshman try the team out in the fall but ultimately not join due to conflicts with competitive skiing… and she already had a patent for a device she designed to help with arthritis, and that device was going through clinical trials, too!).

Fourth, it’s not all about the robot. Many teams just don’t have the numbers to be able to pursue outreach while building a robot - it’s one or the other. The off-season provides a time for so much outreach to happen, I would hate to give that up.

Personally, I would rather push competition back to after AP tests than move kickoff forward. That gives you more time with the robot, and with a lot of competitions happening after school lets out you take kids out of class less. There is the problem with some schools limiting graduating senior involvement that would have to be addressed though… Is anyone on here at a school like that? I’d love to see us bring that to a school administration as a hypothetical to see how we could work around it best.

I think you have a lot of good points here, and I’m generally a fan of the January to May competition model we’ve been doing. But I think implicit in these points in particular is the assumption that an FRC build season spread out over a year would remain as busy, intense, and generally the same as one condensed into six weeks, and that just can’t be true.

With incoming rookies, they actually do get time to get trained with a dramatically longer build season. Untrained rookies are pushed to the side during the real build season because of the pressures of the time crunch and the need to get it right the first time. Neither of these persist with a 9 month build season. It’s okay to let rookies build something very slowly or to let rookies make mistakes, especially in the first several months of build. It would actually be much easier to incorporate training for many teams that don’t do anything in the pre-season.

With regards to “can only do outreach or the robot, not both”, I think that too is a function of the intensity and focus required by the six week build period. Teams put their outreach on hold because of the limited time and energy they have. All of their spare effort needs to go to getting the robot done and perfect. The removal of this time crunch would not prevent these teams from doing outreach and more slowly working on the robot at the same time. The same is true for the “frc kids have lives and want to do other stuff” argument - if kids are only available sometimes during those 9 months, they can still contribute when they can and back off when they have other stuff to do. The continuous commitment isn’t as required and you don’t have to shut out everyone involved in winter sports.

I’m not sold on the year round model like Vex does, for many reasons, but I see some of the benefits and how a lot of the drain and pressure of the FRC season is completely artificial.

This is 100% not “trolling.” While this thread was obviously meant as a parallel to Stop Build Day discussions, it is meant to be legitimately discussed. That’s not to say I 100% support removing Kickoff, but I think discussing it is at least as worthwhile as discussions focused on removed Stop Build Day. More to the point, I hope that discussions regarding this topic can end up highlighting someone of the implicit assumptions being made in all of these discussions.

As for design re-use, it’s allowed only for designs that have been released publically. Same as with robot code. Qualifying what counts as a design and the enforcement of using previous designs is entirely unenforceable. Highlighting that issue was partially aimed at showing that kickoff is already a bit of a soft start date, similar (but not to the same extent) to bag day being a soft stop.

However, there is currently a hard and fast rule regarding fabrication and construction prior to kickoff. In some cases, to the point of lunacy. If you follow the rules to the letter, you’re not allowed to use a COTS component that you’ve previously assembled. You’re technically not allowed to re-use the Talon SRs that you crimped connectors onto the year prior or a wheel you already riveted a tread to. Rules like that can cause budget teams to have to spend additional money on and devote resources to items like gearboxes, speed controllers, camera gimbles, wheels, etc.

How many high end teams do you see using a drivebase design that’s not optimized to the game? I think it’s obvious there’s a contingent of teams that use kit drivetrains with little (or no) adjustments for the current challenge, and that many of those teams could benefit from having more time to build and test their chassis, drivetrain, and electronics without taking time away from their manipulator efforts.

This is one of the cruxes of the debate. Is the “high intensity” an integral portion of the FRC experience? Could removing the “high intensity” build allow for better integration of FRC into students and mentors lives? Could FRC be integrated right into school curriculum if it wasn’t a 6-13 week sprint? Would removing the “high intensity” decrease the value to participants? How much more time has to be added to the build season to make it lower intensity? Is adjusting stop build day enough? Would it have to be a year round activity?


And with that, I’m out of this thread. I still think you’re trolling with this. If you had wanted a reasoned discussion then why not frame it as “Is the FRC calendar optimized for FIRST’s stated goals?” instead of “let’s eliminate start build day”.

A number of questions have been raised in my mind by the different perspectives shared in the thread.

I think that advancing Kick Off to mid or late September would better address the issues (at least as I inferred them from the survey) than would eliminating Stop Build Day.

While I am “retired” as a mentor, I can state that I would have embraced the change.

I agree that it would facilitate training and inspiration. I don’t think that it would necessarily inhibit outreach. I don’t think that it would raise the ceiling very much. I do think that it could raise the floor and be a positive impact on “mid-tier” teams.

I think that it would enable participation (and therefore, inspiration) of a broader base of students, assuming teams were willing to deal with variable participation rates due to other activities and interests.

It would be a very different model.


Would anyone disagree with the broad statement that a dramatically longer build season is likely to increase FRC teams’ appetite for cash (to use experimenting with and/or improving the robot(s) they build)?

I understand that rush-shipping costs might generally drop (so long as good ideas are scarce near the end of the new build period). However, I suspect that in a dramatically longer build season, that reduction would be more than offset by the extra parts an evolving robot would consume.

For that reason, I think a dramatically earlier start date would put cash-poor teams at a greater disadvantage than the current season does.

I am assuming that human nature will result in most teams using a dramatically longer build season to put more labor-hours and more design iterations into their robot.

If I’m right, the increased hunger for cash would be one “Con” to remember.


I think the biggest thing we can do is better claify rule R13

**R13 **Physical ROBOT elements created before Kickoff are not permitted. Exceptions are:
B. BUMPERS (a protective assembly designed to attach to the exterior of the ROBOT and
constructed as specified in Section 4.7 BUMPER Rules),
C. battery assemblies per R5,
D. FABRICATED ITEMS consisting of one COTS electrical device (e.g. a motor or motor
controller), connectors, and any materials used to secure and insulate those connectors

Many people have missed the addition of D. which allows you to reuse all COTS electrical devices where you just modified the wires for use on the robot by adding connectors.

Also the interpretation of that rule varies from team to team. I have met several teams that think if you buy a 4’x8’ sheet of Lexan during the 2015 season and cut a section out for use that year then you can not use any part of that sheet in 2016. This is an extreme strict constructionist view of that rule that I don’t agree with but because of the limited explanation in the rules several teams view it that way.

Similarly if you are a strict constructionist on what it means to modify a COTS parts, things like adding lubricant to a gear or a small amount of normal wear would be considered modified and that part would be unable to be used on any future robot.

A FABRCATED ITEM is any COMPONENT or MECHANISM that has been altered, built, cast, constructed,
concocted, created, cut, heat treated, machined, manufactured, modified, painted, produced, surface
coated, or conjured partially or completely into the final form in which it will be used on the ROBOT.

Note that it is possible for an item (typically raw materials) to be
neither COTS nor a FABRICATED ITEM. For example, a 20 ft. length
of aluminum which has been cut into 5ft. pieces for transport is
neither COTS (it’s not in the state received from the VENDOR), nor
a FABRICATED ITEM (the cuts were not made to advance the part
towards it’s final form on the ROBOT).

The above portion of the manual is very important and often overlooked by some teams. We have to be able to judge weather or not the modification to a COTS parts were made to “advance the part towards it’s final form on the robot.”

Clearing up these portions of the manual will help several teams who have been spending more money then they need to ensure they have pristine new parts and stock to use for each season.

More specifically to this subject, I think it could be useful to allow some previously constructed components to go on to future robots. However what we don’t want to see is a team just reenter the same robot year after year and just change out a few mechanisms.