engineer bots

prenote: I’ll make cliffs later if enough ppl want them.

This was team 1549’s rookie year and though we had some FIRST vets (one was on his 5’th year. he is a college student now) most of us, including myself, were rookies to FIRST. Anyways, moving on…

A little about our team: there is a charter high school at Washtenaw community college that i am in and that is the home of team 1549. Our team consists of high school and college students. The college students are mostly majoring in industrial robotics, fluid power and machining. Most of them are not engineers.

The point?
At GLR this year we saw teams who’s bots were obviously totally designed by the engineers. While this is legal i do not think it is with the spirit of FIRST. There were 4 builders (including myself) and 1 programmer who did 70% of the work on team 1549’s robot. A few more guys jumped in in the last 2 weeks. Except for our passive gripper and the winch drum everything was designed, made and put together by high school and college students.

Our bot, while very good (when the drive program isn’t screwed up and I’m not getting ramming penalties), cant measure up to these superbots.

There is nothing that can really be done so i guess i am just ranting for my own sanity. I just wanted to point out the unfair advantage that many teams have.

Also, i cannot conclude a post about building the bot without thanking the mentors, particularly Kieth and Gary. Without your guidance, passing on the wisdom of past experience and teaching the team how to be a team we could never have gotten this done. Thanks guys!

This subject has been debated over and over for years. Please search out some of the posts regarding this.

Summary in my words and my opinions:
There are many types of FIRST teams with their own unique way of organization, building, engineering, fund-raising and yes participation levels of students and engineers.

The true focus must remain the I in FIRST - Inspiration. How a team desires to inspire can run the full range from 100% student designed robots to the robots that have significant professional engineering. In both cases the Inspiration can be either weak or strong. It is how the team leadership decides to make their team run.

Dean has said many times that Engineers and Teachers Inspiring youth to get involved in careers involving Science Engineering and math is the real mission. How it is done is up to the team. There are no magic formulas for we are all from different schools, different socio economic situations and have different levels of engineering/corp support.

Is this unfair - YES. Would it not be great if we were all from wealthy communities and had corporate partners that could support teams without budget restrictions and all had students that were all college bound with scores of 35 on the ACT. And all students getting a free ride to a college of their choice.

That (above) is not true and yet can be unfair.

Is it unfair for a student not to know where their next meal is coming from - YES
Is it unfair for a student to have a terminal illness - YES
Is it unfair for a team to make their robot from used metal - YES
Is it unfair for a team not to have an engineer on their team - YES

Look, life is not fair. FIRST competitions are not fair. This is life. We make the best path we can and do everything possible to stay on it.

Instead of focusing on what other teams have look at the INSPIRATION. Were you inspired by the experience. If so, FIRST has accomplished its mission as well as your team mentor. If you are NOT inspired take a close look at why. Please do not use the lack of resources as the excuse…I am sure there are others.

Sorry for the long answer but I hold the INSPIRATION in FIRST as the most important mission. As a team leader if I do not INSPIRE I have failed, and I do not like to fail.

Mike Martus Team #47
I have been with FIRST for 10 years and see the inspiration.

I am 100% with Mike on this one.

Every team and every situation is different, and they can change from year to year. The true measure of a successful team is the Inspiration part -
and that can come in a lot of different ways. Each team and each team member has an opinion about what is best.

i agree with both opinions in this discussion

we are a rookie team and had minimal help as well as funding
we worked so hard to get our robot going and then to see it work was awesome

but then to get to the regional and see another rookie team with a machined robot that looked to be built by others

i mean we did good but we were unable to get to nationals and a team that couldn’t even control their robot could

thats just where everything in my opinion comes into question :confused:

some people would point fingers at team 1549 and say “what? you let college students help build your bot? we only let HS students build ours”

every team has their own approach - some teams take a few years to find their balance.

but in the end, its all good.

Please, everyone, before you post in this thread, read what you’re about to say. Heck, even have someone else read it.

This is one of those sensitive topics where people have a knee jerk reaction and immediately post their thoughts. This is also one of those topics that we’ve never been able to have an intelligent, mature discussion on. It quickly degenerates into name calling, and finger pointing.

Also, unless you have some insight into the day to day runnings of another team, please do not insinuate that the students on such teams do not do any of the work. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but fact of the matter is, you really don’t know.

As a warning, please keep discussion civil and on topic, or this thread will have to be closed.

Personally, I really don’t care if there is a team whose robot was built by the engineers. What I get out of FIRST is the satisfaction of working with the team. I love my team, I like it how all the personal problems go away when all of us come together to make this possible and show what SigmaC@T can do. Mentors are always there to help us. If they weren’t there to help us, FIRST wouldn’t be where it is now. The engineers never give up even after taking times off from work, getting yelled at by their wife, even putting themselves into jeopardy.

… I can also understand the problem with a team (with a student built robot) saying its not fair for another team to have a robot which is engineer built. But think positive. Put your mind together and take on the challenge.

Welcome to the real world.

You are right, inspiration is king. I also know that there would not have been the inspiration if i would not have been a serious part in building the robot. I learned about all sorts of stuff, i learned about materials, hot to lathe, mill and even how to weld. I was also very saddened and disappointed when we got our tail tanned by a few teams who’s high school members never even touched the bot in the pits. the veteran insert big 3 sponsor here engineers did all the stuff.

It isn’t about money, we had a huge machine shop at our disposal (community college has a machining program) complete with good CNCs and everything. we even had a high schooler who was in the CNC programming associates degree. We also had money, the college said they would pay for everything. What we didn’t have was lots of engineers who have what only time can give… experience.

I am glad we didn’t, i am very proud of our bot. I wish that every FIRST team could feel such pride in THEIR work.

No, I’m not going to resort to name calling like some of these threads do. I am not angry, i just feel cheated. I also feel for other high schoolers who may have been cheated. EDITED OUT for lack of clarity In many ways FIRST is becoming commercialized. but sponsors are a necessary evil.

It is reasons like that that i am against having a big 3 company sponsor us.

The point?
At GLR this year we saw teams who’s bots were obviously totally designed by the engineers. While this is legal i do not think it is with the spirit of FIRST. There were 4 builders (including myself) and 1 programmer who did 70% of the work on team 1549’s robot. A few more guys jumped in in the last 2 weeks. Except for our passive gripper and the winch drum everything was designed, made and put together by high school and college students.

Our bot, while very good (when the drive program isn’t screwed up and I’m not getting ramming penalties), cant measure up to these superbots.

There is nothing that can really be done so i guess i am just ranting for my own sanity. I just wanted to point out the unfair advantage that many teams have.

Also, i cannot conclude a post about building the bot without thanking the mentors, particularly Kieth and Gary. Without your guidance, passing on the wisdom of past experience and teaching the team how to be a team we could never have gotten this done. Thanks guys!

Hi Validius!

I can sincerely understand your frustration. The only thing that I can suggest is that you change your perspective just a little. It sounds like you had a good experience with your team and mentors this year and I’m sure learned a lot and hopefully developed some new relationships. You should be rightfully proud of your accomplishments and of the product you and your team produced. That is what FIRST is really about. You certainly sound “inspired” and that is the most important aspect of FIRST (IMO). Focus on your teams accomplishments. Every team is different. Just try to make yours the most excellent it can be and I assure you that your experience with FIRST will be of great value and satisfaction to you.

I can understand how easy it is for it to seem like people are “cheating” when it looks as though professional engineers built the robot with little participation from students. When this does happen, the people who are shortchanged the most are the students who didn’t have the opportunity to participate in building the robot.

I am an engineer so I know how hard it is to not jump in and “build” the robot by insisting on what I think is best. I also know that we end up with a better robot because I don’t! Seriously! You don’t have to be an engineer to have great ideas. I see my role as trying to help the students implement THEIR ideas. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Finding solutions is what engineering is about. I also know that the best way to learn is by trying and, sometimes failing. I remember and learned a whole lot more from the mistakes I made as a young engineer than the things that worked out right out of the box. You know what? I still make mistakes (though I like to think not as many) and I still learn from them.

Don’t let your frustration impact your “sanity”. Be the very best you can be and inspire your team to seek the same goal. Make the maximum use of whatever resources you have at your disposal. There will always be teams with more and teams with less. Try to focus on getting the maximum amount out of all the resources you and your team have. If you do that, you can be very proud of your accomplishments, no matter what another team does or does not do.

Best of luck to you! (sorry for the long winded reply!)

This year we had no (literally no) engineering help, we were competitive and won a judges award for this. There were 9 students and 2 teachers who worked on this bot. These mentors hardly ever touched the bot not only because they didnt want to but because students didnt want them to. Many people commented on the fact that when ever they were walking by our pit there were students programming, repairing and inspecting. We didnt even have a mentor who knew how to program in C. When Mentors did help out they didnt do it them selves they taught us how. I loved This year, The bot was designed by students built by students an operated by students.

However Next year we will have engineering help because that is the ideal of FIRST. When we were in our Chairmans interview they said to think about that for next year. What I want next year is engieers teaching the students so at the end of the build season there are a bunch of experts (high school students) who can fix anything on the bot.

Team 195 is the best example I have ever seen. When we were in the practice area at UTC there were multiple teams with adults working on the bot. However The Cyber nights at 20 or so students working on their bot and 5 mentors (or atleast adults) with their feet up sitting at the top of the stairs. Their complex gripper and What appeared to be a shift on the fly transmission obviosly had atleast some engineering influence. However Tom and the rest of the guys from 195 did all or atleast the majority of the work I saw done on the Robot.

Just as a side note before I start, I know a lot of machines do look like they were engineer built, but a lot of them were just built by fantastic students. I know 67 was that way when I was on it and people often confused it for being engineer built.

Onto what I really wanted to say. I have actually just recently had this conversation with a fellow mentor. While I believe (personally) that students should be the ones building their machines and doing everything, he pointed out that the initial purpose of this competition was not a science fair, it was for students to be inspired to be engineers, to place engineers on a sort of pedestal and make students want to do it themselves. Whether this objective is accomplished by the engineers building the robot or the students was not the point, so long as the students were inspired.

Personally, I feel that the best way to inspire students is to allow them to experience the entire process first hand. I also realize, however, that there are a lot of people unable to take that risk. Small machine shops can’t take the liability risks of a child being injured. Can you imagine the lawsuit if a student got injured and sued a small machine shop? Not only would they go out of business with bad publicity, but they would be bankrupt from the suit. That’s not a risk that many small businesses are willing to take. These days, people are just looking to make it rich on lawsuits and courts are more than willing to help them out it seems. While I’d rather things were different, they aren’t and I understand why some teams are forced to have engineer built robots.

Moderators, feel free to delete this post if you feel that it’s not appropriate, but I said what I feel needed to be said in the best way I could think of to say it. Thanks!

Our team has a few engineers to help out, some equipment, and a small amount of money. We use parts that are used. Our drills have 1 speed. And the students do the work. It’s the way we decided to run as a team. We could change it, but we don’t want to.
And now for the good part…

One of the new students was scouting during GLR, and was watching some of the “well engineered” machines. She vented some frustration about them. I explained that it didn’t matter - it was the inspiration part that matter, not the score at the end of the day…

But then she said she wasn’t upset about the fancy robots… she felt sorry for the students who, she assumed, didn’t get to work on the robots. So we had to have to whole “different ways to inspire” talk that y’all are doing right now. I was just happy as a mentor to have a student who PREFERRED to be on a team like ours, and DIDN’T want to be on a “super team”. It felt good. Don’t get that allot.

I can certainly understand your frustration but would hope that you would keep a positive attitude. We were also one of those new small teams once with no money and only two mentors. It was tough competing with the “big” teams, but starting off is always tough.

As far as who should be building the robot, I frequently use the analogy of teaching someone to cook.

  1. If the students were told to sit outside the kitchen and just watch the cook, the end product would be great to eat, but most students wouldn’t learn much.
  2. If the students were sent to the kitchen to experiment freely with no direction, they might have fun for a bit, but the results would not be very good to eat.
  3. If the students were right there side by side with the cook in the kitchen learning step by step and getting their hands dirty, the product would be pretty good and the students would have learned how to cook.

Taking this analogy further: Some people learn to cook from their mothers or grandmothers in small kitchens with old equipment. Some learn “on the job” at restaurants, and some study at large institutions. All can be very effective.

So, what does all this mean? Every team’s situation is different and we all need to do the best we can with what we have to work with. Some of the most impressive students I have had the pleasure of meeting through FIRST have been from very small and very frugal teams. These students had been inspired and were inspiring to me.

On our robot I have the students do as much as they personally can and teach them to do more. For some, this means cutting, filing, drilling, and assembling. Others have learned how to use a lathe and milling machine. The same is true for the programming.

On a practical note, if you need help, please ask. Most teams would love to help out in any way they can, during the design/build period or at a competition.


I understand how you feel. It’s not much fun when you realize that everything you worked so hard for lies in the shadow of these “superbots”. The game is always much easier for Veteran teams; they know how to “play the game”. They spend each year coming up with some new, better method of doing something (transmissions, cleaner wiring, more advanced programming, different drive mechanisms), and are able to create a new robot each year with a little of each of these great things.

I, personally, am against a robot being designed and built with minimal student assistance. I have seen it too much, and grew to dislike it. For me, it is and should remain a “high school robotics competition”. This is the exact reason that i created my team this year. I wanted to show that a successful team can be made without the assistance of professional engineers. No teachers, no engineers, no corporate sponsor demanding a victory in exchange for it’s sponsorship. For the record, we have done just fine.

However, these “superbots” do (as has been stated above) serve a very good purpose. We look up to and admire these teams. The best example i can think of comes from one of my own students. We, as a rookie (and a team whose robot was built exclusively by high school students) obviously did not have one of these “superbots”. We server our purpose, and we able to be competitive, but we stood in the shadow of these giants.

One of my students who designed our arm mechanism was utterly dumbfounded by the presence of these other teams. He has no previous exposure to FIRST, and was basically lost for words at seeing these amazing robots. And you know what? I could see the excitement in his eyes. I could tell by the way he looked at how they had “done it” that the wheels in his head were turning. He was flooded with ideas (which he shared with me) about how we could improve our tactics for next year. He’s hooked, and his enthusiasm inspires me to keep at it. As we all know, this competition is about inspiring high school students. Consider him inspired.

I love this organization. I love seeing my students lives changing. I love seeing how the veterans improve each year. It is truly inspiring.

Hear Hear

By far the best way to inspire the students in FIRST is for them to be working side by side with mentors.

There is another aspect to this question that many people who are new to FIRST don’t understand. I will try to explain in the best way that I can.

I genuinely care for the students on my teams. I want to see them as successful as possible. But if I limit the inspiration that I have given to just the students on my teams I would have affected about 20 students per year for 7 years. I am not satisfied with having that level of influence. By contributing to the excellence of the FIRST robotics competition we have the ability to inspire 10s of thousands and soon 100s of thousands of students.

How many students from other teams have been inspired over the years by the amazing creations of teams like 33, 45, 47, 67, 71, and so many others? I can only be one more voice insisting that these teams are doing the right thing by their students as well as all of the students in FIRST. As a mentor, these teams are my inspiration.

Matt B.

(ps I apologize to all the great teams I didn’t add to the above list)

I 100% agree with Jay, back in 1999 and 2000 we showed up definitely outgunned for the competition but we did our best with what we had and each year tried to do better. Now after being part of the team for 6 years I have seen many a student come and go and you have to work your team based on the level of talent, pride, and skills of the people on the team. Some years we have had students that either wanted to machine or already knew how to and they did their thing, other years none of them showed interest in the build phase but they wanted to assemble it and maintain it at the competition. Each team is different and actually each year is different. Heck this year neither the engineers nor the students made a bunch of the plates for the robot, they were laser cut by our sponsor. Keep in mind that 99.9% of the mentors and engineers don’t build robots for a living or anything even close to robots, except for those guys on 217 and 469 :p. Our whole team is electrical engineers that are learning as much about gearboxes and mechanisms as the students.
Don’t get down, use your drive that got you this far to propel your team to the next level. I have to believe that any of the rookie teams that go out and come up with a super duper mechanism that toasts a many year veteran team get some sort of extra satisfaction.

My only word of caution, don’t go to the extreme of not looking for any help from mentors just to say you did it yourself, IMHO you WILL be missing one of the biggest parts of FIRST and that is to be working with people out there in the real world. It starts the ball rolling from a networking perspective when you are in college looking for a job or just being more comfortable in an interview after college. It may even tell you that engineering or science is the right path for you or even which discipline. This kind of experience is very valuable for most students and they wouldn’t have this kind of access without FIRST.

The level of competition has certainly advanced this year. This is the first year where I can say I didn’t see any robots at the regionals that went out 5’ and fell apart. Nearly every year in the past you could write off 20% of the teams as being totally non-functional, NO-LONGER.

Congratulations FIRST and all of the students, mentors, and teachers that make it all happen

I’m sure she’s not the only one that would rather do all the work and fail, than do no work and win. It’s a great feeling knowing a month ago you were banging your head on a table because you couldn’t pickup a vision tetra, but now your robot that you programmed is the 2nd robot to cap a vision tetra in autonomous. I couldn’t get that kind of feeling if I knew that a mentor programmed it.

EDIT: I’m not meaning to say that I didn’t need a mentor, the programming/electrical mentor was always there for me, but instead of doing the work for me he was acting as a safety net. If I fall into trouble with the code, he would bail me out, tell me what I did wrong, how to fix it, and send me on my way. That’s what a true mentor should do.

What I think?

I agree on both parts. I mean INSPIRATION means different for everyone and their team. Is it okay for someone else building their team robot, NO. Is it fair to the other teams to compete in competitions with no engineers and limited budget and go against teams with super bots. NO. But its OK. Like a previous poster above said “Welcome to the real world” This is true, in life its not fair. I mean our robot is made totally by my team, just regular students, NO OUTSIDE HELP. Our school board and local sponsors are our only means of funding. But again, its OK. Yeah, I wish that our robot got some help from engineers and we had more money. But we have the greatest of times and when our robot hits the field, it realllys shows. I am proud of “Sweet FEEET” and my team.

Don’t be discourage and just have fun.

wow this thread is holding together surprizingly well.

Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a day
but set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life (sorry, couldnt resist :^)

Some things to think about. Ive been an electrical engineer for 21 years now. Ive designed many digital systems, and I have never had to

  1. layout a printed circuit board
  2. fabricate (etch) a circuit board
  3. assemble a circuit board (solder the parts on)
  4. assemble a prototype
  5. build a test fixture

I should point out, I have worked for several different corporations in my career.

Generally speaking, engineers dont build or fabricate anything. We design things. We get the fun part, coming up with new stuff, detailing how it works, creating the drawings and schematics, then we hand those off to people who specialize in the fabrication, assembly, building… and they give the prototypes to us for testing

If you have a small team and you build a fairly simple robot, and fabricate and assemble the parts yourself, thats awesome

and if you have access to a state of the art automated machine shop, and you create drawings and put a block of aluminum in a CNC machine, and finished parts are in your ‘in basket’ the next morning, that is awesome too.

FIRST is not intended to be a crash course in engineering. Its intended to be a peek at the light that beams from the end of the tunnel.

In the end engineering is what happens between your ears, not what you build with your hands, not what a machine spits out.

Somebody has to put the robot together, and you learn alot about physics and mechanics and electronics by doing that, but dont confuse that with engineering. In the real world very few engineers spend any significant time on a lathe, drill press, welder, grinder, PCB pick and place machine, CNC machine, soldering…

in fact, if I spent a lot of time on the factory floor, soldering or machining parts, my manager would be upset “thats not what we pay engineers to do” - hand that off to a machinist or assembly person, and get back to design and development.

something else, it takes 4 or 5 years of college to become an entry level engineer. We cannot teach HS students to be engineers in 6 weeks, even if we do have pre-kickoff meetings. There are so many things that students would never be able to do, if we had to teach them first and then let them do it on their own.

Engineers have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. If your sponsor is a major engineering house, it would be a crime if they were not allowed to work their magic for your team, and let you see some of the high end stuff that is possible.

Engineers are a great resource but I don’t think they should be the ones ‘on the front lines’ building the robot. Sure they can help and offer their expertise, but they shouldn’t be the ones making the final decisions. On our team, yah, we have engineers that help and offer their advice, but students make the final decisions.

The ultimate “test” is to watch at a competition. Go into the pits or watch when a robot breaks down and see who immediately works on it. We have seen some teams with adults working on it and fixing it and students sitting back doing nothing and I don’t think that teams should operate like that. Our team is one of the FEW that doesn’t have an adult as a coach. I think because students are making the final decisions, they don’t want to be ‘bossed around’ by an adult. They would rather listen to a student their own age. I am wondering how everyone else feels about the adults as coaches situation?