Inspired by other topics, both recent and older, I’m curious as to see how much exposure to rulebooks and enforcement methods from other robotics (and engineering) competitions posters on Chief Delphi have. How do these other rules compare to those in FRC and FIRST in general? What are the higher level stylistic or philosophical differences to writing/enforcing the rulebooks? What best practices would you like to see implemented? What worst practices would you like to see avoided? How has competing in other events changed your perception of FIRST’s rules and enforcement?
To start, the most obvious parallel to FIRST & FRC is the VEX Robotics Competition. VRC is, in a way, a spiritual descendant of FRC given that its founders were FRC veterans and designed a competition structure that mirrored much of FRC (new game challenges each year, multiple team alliances, random qualification matches followed by an elimination bracket, games loosely modeled after the sports structure, etc). The most obvious key difference is the closed ecosystem of parts in VRC, which obviously eliminates a great deal of the necessity of “The Robot” section of the FRC manual in comparison. The 2019-20 VRC manual is 40 pages long and can be found here.
A couple particularly interesting rules from the VRC manual:
G3 Use common sense.When reading and applying the various rules in this document, please remember that common sense always applies in the VEX Robotics Competition.
As well as G12 (I’m too lazy to format that long rule for CD), which includes messages regarding the intent for the game to be played offensively (scoring points rather than stopping the other alliance from scoring), and a red box (equivalent of a blue box) that certain designs are legal but to be attmpted at the teams’ own risk. Additionally, G13 spells out that the scoring robot gets the benefit of the doubt.
There’s also the R1 rules regarding “one robot per team” which may come into play in the post-bag era of FRC.
Finally, there’s this red box underneath T4 (robots at the field should be ready to play), which spells out some of the powers and enforcement mechanisms for competition organizers.
The exact definition of the term “promptly” is at the discretion of the Head Referee and the Event Partner who will consider event schedule, previous warnings or delays, etc.
Once you get past FRC & VRC, you start to see wildly different formats for competition rules and enforcement. In my personal experience, I competed with my university’s ASME chapter in an ASME student design competition back in 2008 to design an autonomous window washing device. While I can no longer find the rulebook online, suffice to say the rules weren’t particularly clear and the enforcement of them was left up purely to the judges at the event (who were invitees to the ASME conferences each competition was held at, which was also their first exposure to the rules). The end result was the vast majority of the competitors not actually being allowed to compete. If I remember correctly, 11 schools registered, 8 actually showed up, only three passed the “inspection” equivalent, and two of those three were later disqualified after competing (this included our entry, which had the highest score). The result was the winner was the single of the eleven registered teams that was ruled at having a legal design at that event (and the definitions of legality varied significantly between events).
An immediate “worst practice” that jumps to mind for me from my experience in that competition is the disqualification of teams after they compete, rather than before. I think FRC’s inspection process generally does a good job of preventing this issue (although there have been a couple notorious exceptions over the years). Another area that FIRST does well is having referee and inspector training. While there are definitely volunteers who are greener around the ears, FIRST at least tries to get qualification for its “key volunteers.” This process certainly has taken its lumps and has a fair bit of criticism, but its better than what ASME provided at this particular student design competition.
Looking further into competitive robotics, its hard to ignore combat robotics. Both large and small scale.
Looking at the Battlebots rulebook, one of the things I notice (besides the wildly different safety standards and the largely open ecosystem of parts) is how much trust and faith they place in the judgement of teams and competition officials. There’s a lot of subjectivity. The battlebots rulebook is only 8 pages long, and contains several references like these ones.
Section 6. Construction Materials
Basically, we do not want to have to clean up a big (or toxic) mess after a match.
a. Prohibited materials
This is not a comprehensive list. Be sensible. Check with BattleBots if you are unsure whether or not materials used on your robot may be prohibited.
Every bot (or at least one bot that is part of a MultiBot) must have a real weapon (or multiple weapons). If the weapon does not look like it can damage or incapacitate another bot, your bot will not be accepted.
Pressures above the stated limits may be approved if you can convince us that you have necessary knowledge and experience to safely engineer such a system.
There’s a lot that left to the judgement of the producers/organizers of the competition.
Even on smaller scales (both physically and organizationally), other combat robot organizations have similar-ish rulesets. For instance, NERC (Northeast Robotics Club) has these statements for the 30lb Sportsman Class
The rules listed below are not exhaustively written to account for every possible circumstance. We will do our best to explain our intent, and it will be your job to remain within that intent. If we feel that a design or feature is exploiting the intent of the rules or the spirit of the class, we will disqualify it without hesitation. Certain requirements or limitations are intentionally vague. You should not design your bot to push the limits of the rules. But rather, you should intentionally build with the following simple guidelines in mind:
Do not attempt to skirt the spirit of the class or your bot will be disqualified.
They also list examples of past robots throughout the rules. They also have additional rules for events at specific venues (such as limitations on LiPO batteries at Franklin Institute).
What experiences do others have with the rules and enforcement of them in other robotics and engineering competitions? How do they stack up against FIRST and FRC?