FIRST and Vendors: Something has to change

There has been a recent uptick in interest in the FIRST Tech Challenge from the community due to recent circumstances, most notably from FRC teams turning their attention to FTC after the recent IFI controversy. There have been many posts on the problems of FTC, from the program feeling like a JV feeder to it being the forgotten child of FIRST’s programs. I wanted to take time during this to draw the community’s attention to a problem that I think goes overlooked but has very consequential impacts on the program and its future.

I want to talk about vendors in the FIRST Tech Challenge and how FIRST HQ treats companies attempting to enter this market. More broadly, I want to shed light on what I believe is behavior that should change in order to better the program. The current way that FIRST treats vendors in FTC needs to be improved.

I am writing this chiefly as an alumni of the program, secondly as a mentor of the program, and third as a vendor in the program. I recognize that my perspective and experiences have been biased by my own financial interests in this program, but this writing is far more than my own voice. This is something I would have made regardless of if I was a vendor or just an alumni, although I would not have had as much first person experience to put in this document.

The problem

The conditions in FTC are ripe for vendors to enter the market. However, what there aren’t the right conditions for, is innovation, growth, and development. New products are developed and released all the time by the major non-FIRST partnered vendors, but they are pretty exclusively either different versions of older parts or extremely safe mechanical parts that are analogs of other, older parts. It’s understandable why this happens, the entirety of product R&D is dependent on the whims of a GDC that seems to change its mind from month to month. The constant guillotine of the Q&A hangs over the head of anybody daring to actually put time and money into R&D. They don’t answer hypotheticals, nor is a ruling on a hypothetical definitive.

The combination of the Q&A opening so late into the season (effectively a month after kickoff), the game manuals being written in an extremely vague way, rules being made up on the Q&A (universal joints being legal despite clearly having multiple degrees of freedom, as well as products being banned for rules not present anywhere), randomly banning parts, including mid-season (1 degree of freedom lead screws and 1 degree of freedom claws being banned for having “2 degrees of freedom”), and all the other barriers in place, create an environment nearly perfectly designed to prevent thinking out of the box. (There are more examples in the document linked at the end, there is too much to talk about in this short CD post).

What should be changed

Perhaps this was the intent, after all I get the feeling COTS rules are designed with non-FTC specific vendors in mind. Maybe the possibility of a company deciding to plant itself into the program and wanting to interact with FTC in a major way never occurred to them. However, it makes figuring out what the GDC actually intends incredibly difficult and dangerous. For example, while the concept of game challenges is mentioned in the Game Manual, it is not defined there nor in previous Q&A answers, and, to my knowledge, autonomous localization being a game challenge is not mentioned anywhere nor would this be expected given the Intel T265 (a camera promising all in one complete localization) is legal. This did not stop the GDC from ruling it as such on the Q&A, banning a mechanical part that aims to accomplish a subset of what a camera sets out to, while, on the same year’s Q&A, declaring the camera legal.

So what do I want to see changed? I think the surface level change that will probably have the biggest impact is a rule similar to I101, MAJOR MECHANISMS in FRC. Spell out that you want MAJOR MECHANISMS banned with a list of exceptions, and stick to it. This is certainly the option most likely to happen, but I don’t think it addresses or solves the fundamental issue here.

I think communication needs to be massively improved between vendors and FIRST. Not necessarily emails, I understand the challenges there. However, at the very least, there should be a Q&A open before the season starts, when Game Manual part 1 releases, to ask about product legality questions. This is still very late in the product development cycle but at the very least allows some flexibility and breathing room, as opposed to when legality is decided at earliest a month after kickoff. (Sales data indicates that there is a massive spike in orders right after kickoff, which starts leveling off almost exactly when the Q&A starts answering questions).

And when I say open before, I don’t mean a week before kickoff. I mean when Game Manual part 1 releases. And let vendors have Q&A accounts so we can actually ask questions rather than hoping teams ask them and not mess them up (the exact wording of questions has led to very different answers in the past).

The absolute best scenario would be for FIRST to allow vendors to email them and work privately to explain the intentions behind rules. This will absolutely never happen, but would be above and beyond for figuring out where you can concentrate R&D efforts. It can also open dialogues with vendors which I think would be useful for FIRST.

If this feels like a summary, that is because it is one. There is so much I want to discuss here, so many pieces of history and evidence and context I want to say, but this post is already insanely long as it is. I have a pretty substantial breakdown of the history of FTC, Vendors, COTS, and “How we got here” as well as many more modern examples of the GDC’s opinions. It is quite long, but it is there if you want to read more.

As an alumni of this program, a mentor of this program, and a vendor of this program, I am asking FIRST to recognize that its current course of action with vendors has issues. The current state of the program is bright, it’s promising, but it can be better. There are changes that can be made to introduce more vendors to the program, who are able to bring costs down and increase accessibility for everyone.

I recognize that my perception may be biased, being a vendor with a financial stake in the program, but this is an opinion that is held by many members of the program, many alumni who have left, and many mentors continuing. This is a viewpoint that has been talked about behind closed doors outside of public view for years. I want to bring it forward for more to see and discuss, in the hopes that change is made.

Eeshwar Krishnan

Alumni of FTC 7244 OUT of the BOX Robotics

Axon Robotics R&D


It appears your issues are with FIRST itself, not venders. You’d be surprised how little power the venders have in these situations.

FTC needs to be fixed.


Why do you believe this doesn’t happen? Every ounce of evidence seems to indicate that HQ has regular discussions with certain vendors and even has preferences for working with some over others.

What will more back channel and hidden discussions actually solve here?

I’m very much not in favor of this kind of secrecy and think we need to move much more of this discourse out into the open and need to make sure all parties are informed and not just the current crop of those conscripts in the FIRST information war.

HQ has serious issues with communication when it comes to these subjects and no management consulting firm even comes close to understanding the questions to ask to solve them.


I don’t want more back channel discussions, I want more (and possible) open discussions.

Its not just us, other vendors have tried emailing and contacting HQ in different ways to little and no response. I’m sure there are vendors in communication (definitely those manufacturing critical parts like the control system) but outside of two very connected vendors, nobody is able to get anything out of them.

In addition, we don’t have a method of conversation. Vendors can’t make Q&A accounts or post, so the only available option would be for a back channel communication. At the very least, they should have the option for some public discussion or question asking channel. I even suggest that the Q&A (which is completely public) should be opened earlier to help accomplish this.


That’s awesome. It’s not what you wrote. I responded to you saying “the absolute best scenario” you describe is one where vendors and FIRST have secret discussions to sort out rules… why shouldn’t mentors, students, and teams also be involved?

The best scenario, to me, is that FIRST realizes their own contributions to the communication gaps and begins to engage proactively to bridge them.


I said best case scenario because I don’t think a lot of vendors would be happy having to flesh out potential R&D prospects in a completely open channel. I do want to make it clear that secret rules should end, but if the discussion that leads to new rules is done behind the scenes I don’t think that ends up a detriment to anyone personally so long as the rules are made clear post discussion. Either way, something needs to change.


This we definitely agree on.

I wish I had answers. It takes patience, lobbying, identifying the key decision makers, and then even more of the patience and lobbying.

I guess it’s working as intended? HQ is aware… even if they aren’t actively discussing it with any of us.


Relatedly, the GDC makes a lot of rules on robot parts but inspection consistency is lacking sometimes. As an example I remember in Relic Recovery that sand paper was ruled illegal if it could come in contact with the Glyphs (foam block game pieces from that year). However there was at least one very successful team I saw that had sand paper grippers holding glyphs.

Now this is one case where I think the GDC made the smart call to avoid field damage, but if this rule isn’t always enforced what about any of the others described by OP?

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This may be a naïve question, but do FTC Q&A ruling produce a correlated rule update in the actual manual?

Second question is… why does the FTC Q&A rule on specific products? That seems like a fairly large stressor that FRC has (largely) steered clear of with the common (if sometimes frustrating) “It will be up to the LRI at your event”, or more informally as a “LRI-a-roo”.


No. In fact, I’ve seen people print out the Q&A for events.

Who knows? It seems that the GDC really does not like vendors the way FRC tolerates them. Its frankly antagonistic stance towards them is both delusional to a reality that has existed since at least 2014 and is actively harmful to the program’s development

No, and its gotten to the point where every year there are specific questions asked to establish legality from precedent from the previous year, since major rulings still are rarely put into the game manual

Technical answer: because its always been like this, with things considered on a case by case basis.

Speculative answer: Because internally the rules aren’t as fleshed out and things are probably ruled more on a “does this fit our vision of what we want FTC to look like” moreso then “does this violate a rule in the game manual” for borderline parts.


Is there absolute discontinuity between the people and guiding documents of FRC and FTC?

Rules Q&A come up sometimes in FRC about legality of parts and the answer is nearly always “we won’t comment on specific mechanisms, here is a generality”. If I understand correctly this time it was “specifically no, this assembly is illegal, and we will pursue all iterations of it”?


I have created an anonymous account to post this as these opinions are my own and do not reflect the point of view of any other organization, team or supplier.

FTC is deeply broken and it is not the suppliers that broke it.

The first major issue is how advancement works, or rather how it does not. Only 160 teams were permitted at Worlds of a total of over 7500 FTC teams (~2% of teams) when you compare that to FRC ~450 teams of ~4000 are invited to Worlds (~%11). If FTC advancement was equitable to that of FRC, there would need to be 825 FTC teams at Worlds.

This broken advancement system also prioritizes award winners over robot performance. I don’t have the numbers ready to hand but many events only have extremely limited advancement slots (read: one slot), thus the slots end up going to award winners instead of competitive robots. This results in less competitive play at the higher levels of the competition than you would see if they were more evenly weighted. Seeing great play and clever design helps all teams improve year over year, as the great designs of the past are referenced by new robot designs.

Having more competitive teams at events also has a self-reinforcing effect of letting students and mentors connect, become friends, and exchange ideas.

The second issue is game design, and tied in with it an overreliance on penalties. From a basic game design point of view, needing to have a penalty to make the game fair or balanced is a failure of game design. Players should want to play the game as intended because that is the easiest and most fruitful way to play the game. However this ties into FTC’s aversion to full contact and directly adversarial play, an aversion I fundamentally do not understand. Most of the FTC games in recent memory could be played with only one robot on the field with little to no difference in how the match dynamics play out.

Another major issue is the online community or lack thereof. Discord and chat systems as a repository of knowledge are garbage. GM0 is a great project that has done a lot to help onboard teams but centrally organized repositories of knowledge are by definition slower to react and inherently biased. It is hard to underestimate the value of Chiefdelphi, this is a persistent, asynchronous and searchable repo of FRC knowledge and does wonders for accelerating the rate of learning for the community.

Last but not least is the “only one degree of freedom” rule FTC has. That is not the real rule, the real rule is “don’t make a hard thing easy” at least that is the way the rule is enforced by FIRST. This is the rule @Eeshwar product broke, your product made odometry easy. Enforcing the rule this way actively hurts less competitive teams and cripples COTS suppliers from doing what they do best, making hard stuff easy. However, as the broken advancement system proves, FIRST doesn’t actually care about robot performance in FTC.

I don’t want to be overly negative as FTC does some things better than FRC. The high value FTC places on the autonomous period is great. I also love how friendly, fun and low stress the events themselves are compared to FRC.

-Just some human who has done robots far too long.


Based on the GoBilda battery question that took only 90 minutes for the FTC GDC to answer, that looks to be what they do.

Partly unrelated, but its interesting to see how little error checking goes into the FTC side of things as any FTC team you click on their QA swaps from being an FTC team to a FRC team on the profile page.


So I will defend the FTC GDC here a bit because this is the one thing I don’t see an issue with. I feel like this is is like bringing up a random 775 clone to the FRC Q&A and asking that it be made legal because it’s similar to the other legal 775 motors. I would understand if the FTC battery rules were looser and they excluded this battery in particular or if GoBilda made that battery with the expectation that it would be made legal and it wasn’t, but I can’t really see this as a huge problem in this case.

Sometimes the GDC will issue rules like this, but a lot of rulings are simply “This product is not legal COTS”, or “This product is not legal” with little explanation.

Just two examples off the top of my head, there are probably more but the Q&A search doesn’t work amazingly making them hard to recall quickly

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I understand the GDC’s point with this and I agree with you, but at the same time their responses to the questions have been… not the greatest in my opinion. The given logic of “the battery isn’t on the approved list because its not on the approved list” was a little ridiculous, and I’m not quite sure why there is no way for an external vendor to get a battery approved. I can understand them saying “external vendor/batteries are not going to be approved at this time”, but the “the battery is illegal because its illegal” gets old very fast, especially when every other vendor is out of stock.


One might ask, “Does this really affect the average team? Are there really tangible impacts?”

Yes. In fact, it directly threatens the growth and sustainability of FTC. It hurts new teams, it hurts old teams, it doesn’t just hurt boutique vendors by alumni but also established players who benefit from, yknow, having teams to sell to.

In the past, there was a battery shortage in FTC. goBilda made a battery for the FTC market, but the GDC pretty much refused to make it legal and ghosted goBilda…while basically nobody could buy batteries. (Also read that Reddit thread and how it also discusses FIRST turning down a goBilda pit.)

Currently, there is a widespread Control Hub and Expansion Hub shortage. No team can get them anywhere. Rookie teams next season will not be able to get hubs either, which essentially means it will be very difficult to start an FTC team next season as there will be no available control systems. The reason for this is because these hubs at their core use a Texas Instruments microprocessor that currently has lead times of about 96 weeks, or about 2 years.

For reference, 2 years is about the median lifespan of an FTC team.

The GDC and FIRST thus far has been quite resistant to solutions to these issues. Now, you might say, that’s an outside part, of course it’s not allowed.

Now if REV’s posts have been an indication they are likely working on swapping out the chip, but frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if the GDC has frustrated their efforts.


In the past, when given a somewhat ambiguous question about a type of mechanism, they have went so far as to explicitly ask for a specific model: Commercial Off the Shelf Components - Answer Thread - FTC Forum.


I have a response to the main topic of this thread that I was working on, but I felt the need to jump in here quickly to fix some incorrect statements.

  1. Rookie teams have been able to get Control hubs this year. Expansion hubs have been out for everyone, but if you are a rookie you got your Control hub

  2. Where did we ever say that team won’t be able to get hubs next year either? Our expectation as stated on our website is that

We anticipate that Control Hubs will be available for purchase on during the summer of 2023. It is possible that Control Hubs may be available earlier through the FTC Storefront, so we encourage teams to place their orders through the FTC Storefront if possible. "

  1. We have numerous things in the works related to getting control systems back on track. The link you posted was in regards to not-over simplifying the process of changing the main chip out of the hub. I don’t want to do something fast that ends up not being tested enough and other issues come up during the season. FTC is well aware of and in support of the work we are doing to ensure that components are available for the 2023/24 FTC season.