FIRST and Vendors: Something has to change

This is a byproduct of FIRST’s refusal to provide each program with its own worlds/finale experience. Worlds in its current structure just cannot support many more teams, especially with how many people FRC teams have. The local infrastructure is already stretched thin.

FIRST’s efforts to cross-promote/hype the various programs at Worlds has generally fallen flat IMO. I don’t see that dynamic improving.

-Mike

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It’s good to hear that there’s confidence for immediate parts availability, and I applaud REV’s efforts to keep the program going. While running Control Hub + Spark Minis is far from ideal (having been involved with a team that ran that exact config for a season), sometimes, it’s the best we can manage, and I can only imagine sorting things out has taken an enormous amount of effort on REV’s part. I look forward to seeing what REV has planned for the next few years.

There is some hope — this year, they announced that there would be 4 divisions at champs (a long overdue change, one likely limited by volunteer availability). They also did announce that there would be a few dozen more teams at champs this year. These are pretty good markers for expansion, as the two division setup was getting very overcrowded.

That said, in the championships I have been to, there simply isn’t much time to visit the FRC side or I’d imagine vice versa. I’ve always thought it would be better to have separate events but I don’t know how realistic that is.

Additionally, I’ve always held that Issues with advancement and awards are mostly exacerbated by poor slot availability, and even the district points system won’t save you if there’s 3 advancement slots. (There’s also an equitability axis to awards advancement. Poor school teams don’t win 2nd or 3rd Inspire/Impact/whatever. They do sometimes get winning 2nd picked though.)

I think a Discourse for FTC is an interesting concept but it would take significant money and effort to run, maintain, and get people to use especially as FIRST has shied away from acknowledging unofficial forums exist – combined with the comparatively small retaining alumni base it may prove difficult to kickstart.

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This might often be true from the FRC perspective, but most FLL students I know who have attended the Championship have been very excited to be in the same place as “big” robots. I can’t speak for FTC. When I was a high school freshman and my FRC team attended Champs, as an FLL aum, it was really cool and exciting to see everything in one place. Now, as an alum of both FLL/FRC and a volunteer for all three programs, it’s a really exciting site to see, for me at least.

I don’t know that this benefit is worth the cost of having such a small representation of FTC and FLL teams at the event, but I don’t think the cross-platform effort can be fully dismissed.

There are a lot of possible solutions to the team imbalance, but they all have tradeoffs.

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Something that I suspect FIRST (and FTC leadership) doesn’t quite understand is that for many, Championships really isn’t about the competition. To many, it’s more of a interest convention, like Comic-Con or PAX or something — a place where people of shared interest can gather and meet. As advancement has tightened it’s become a popular trend among FTC students to piggyback onto other Champs-going teams when their own teams’ seasons are over, just to see everyone else.

And I think this convention element is really important — more important than any sort of theoretical program cross-pollination that may or may not happen. As a student in FTC, super-regionals were some of my favorite events just because of that convention element — meeting people with similar interests in the flesh, and I’d imagine for many FRC students they feel similarly about DCMP or Champs.

These sorts of events are what help create and keep a sense of “FTC community” alive. These days, it’s pretty much limited to maybe the one state/regional championship and the miniscule chance at Championships or MTI.

Without supers, with a single championship, and with inter-region competition being at an all-time low, the program feels very isolated compared to the more interconnected FTC I competed in. It’s really a shame that current and future students won’t experience what I did to the same extent. The vast, vast majority of students will only see FTC as it pertains within their region, and the privilege of seeing any sort of beyond is increasingly inaccessible for more and more teams.

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I think most at HQ know this very well. I’d imagine that FTC leadership wants more teams at the Championship. I highly doubt the FTC team is entering meetings saying “yeah, we really should keep the percentage of teams attending the event low.” I suspect more strongly that there is established precedent for a rough fixed number of teams, the cost of allowing more FTC teams to attend is reducing the number of FRC teams, and FTC has lost the fight – for now.

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I think the difference here is the age difference and lack of overlap between the FRC and FLL programs makes it exciting for elementary school students to see what the high school students are doing and vice-versa. The problem with FTC is that it has age overlap and competition style overlap with FRC, and it’s very clear that FRC is the big show, so the impression is that FTC is the “JV” program and FRC is the “varsity” program. This results in things being expressed by students and mentors from the FRC side–instead of “it’s really cool/impressive what these little kids are doing with Lego robots in FLL” you get “oh those FTC robots are just toys, not nearly as impressive as what we do in FRC”–and that understandably results in ill feelings the other direction as well.

FIRST isn’t helping matters here. It clearly priorities FRC over FTC from everything from resources to number of teams at champs to game design quality. My guess is this is in part due to them seeing FTC as a threat to FRC (even if that’s not actually being said)–if a school has a choice of doing FTC or FRC and both are equally interesting, they may well choose FTC due to lower costs… of course the flaw in this is that the school might not have the resources to do FRC, so it may be they do nothing (or do VRC, see next paragraph) rather than do FRC.

Despite the clear problems at the VEX company, VRC clearly shows that there’s plenty of demand for a lower cost but “first class” middle/high school robotics competition… while the first VRC champs was a pretty small and somewhat chaotic event (held at CSUN), VRC champs in recent years is a very impressive event, and shows what might be possible for FTC if it had its own independent champs. The problem for FIRST is it may simply not have the resources to put on a dedicated championship for FTC, and since VRC is now well established it will likely be more challenging to grow the program.

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There is this really bad self sustaining cycle of

  • HQ prioritizes FRC over FTC
  • FTC ends up with less resources/less importance/less volunteers/general chaos as a result
  • FTC isn’t as “flashy” because of said issues
  • Because FTC is less flashy, HQ prioritizes FRC over FTC
  • Rinse and repeat for 10+ years

I think it needs to be broken out of, and part of that is turning attention to and slowly “fixing” the cracks and issues that have been pointed out for years to make small improvements to the program. FTC can’t be fixed overnight, but it can be fixed, but so long as it doesn’t appear flashy it won’t get attention leading to it just degrading more.

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From reading this thread, I wonder how the landscape of FTC advancement would look right now if, in 2022, instead of outright canceling Detroit champs, they kept the reservations for FTC and expanded that champs to be FTC-only with say, 600-700 teams and expanded Houston (hopefully some other location in the future) to have more FRC teams.

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As someone who does both FRC and FTC, the one thing that I don’t see discussed is the total cost to produce a robot. I think the GDC is under tremendous pressure to keep the cost differential between the FRC and FTC down. FTC and FRC can use a lot of the same sensors, servos and parts, and our robot costs for the FTC are steadily creeping up. If they ever allowed co-processors (silent plea for yes please), they would approach similarity except for the higher cost of metal and wheels for the larger scale.

FTC absolutely needs more clarity on part legality. I was very disappointed and rather confused by the ruling that @Eeshwar Axon odometer units violated the rules. It would have helped us bring an advanced concept to our kids and give them a choice to use it or not.

That said, I really wish FIRST would celebrate and promote FTC with equal vigor as FRC. FRC is awesome, but its footprint in fees, square footage, and mentor technical knowledge is huge. I’d rather see space constrained or budget constrained schools produce awesome FTC robots and expose kids to the concepts than try and fail to sustain a FRC team.

Radical thought - Bring back super regionals and call it good. Most school sports only go up to a State Championship. I know a few elite teams will be upset not to have “World Championship” bragging rights - but that would give a wider number of FTC teams more opportunity to have an “advancement experience” and network in an event that celebrates them and doesn’t treat it like a side show.

Anyway, I don’t see FRC and FTC as competing programs - if there is data to this effect, FIRST hasn’t shared it.

I feel like this part of the conversation is a key to understanding all of this. I’m not sure what the key unlocks but I think the broader idea of the Talented Tenth is something that plays into all of these STEM programs - we need to understand what demographics they are serving and which ones we want them to serve and then right-size them. It’s a wonderful thought that they can serve everyone equally but in practice, that’s not happening and it needs to be discussed more. We’re a microcosm of society - not the betterment of it…

LOL… Even if they knew how to measure that effectively, they’ll never share that data. They suffer from the same stressors that are on most non-profits when it comes to admitting problems and having the resources to identify them properly in the first place - and they have the added benefit of a bunch of smarty pants engineer types picking it all apart as volunteers. It’s mostly about perception and selling a message.

Look no further than the “strategic planning survey” (Here: FIRST Strategic Planning Survey) that they partnered with Mumford Hart & Ashley to create for what the future has in store for us:

It’s very clear they see their core problem as a money/resources problem with 5 or 6 out of the 10 possible options presented related to money - Professor Teeth sums it up nicely. It’s also a problem they think they can solve with… more money.

I don’t put much faith in these surveys… the responses will be all over the place and they’ll be safely annotated and regurgitated back to HQ and their Board through whatever lens makes sense. The bag day survey comes to mind…

It will probably sound something like “FIRST has a great brand that everyone in the programs love but you need to make the programs more affordable and here’s some ways to do that that don’t involve you taking on more risk or managing more things” - Sorry, I’m cynical about this to whoever is reading but it’s a song and dance routine.

There is some other fun stuff in that survey about competitor STEM competitions. I’ll give them a hint though - we haven’t hit peak STEM competition yet and there has been A LOT of funding put into tech recently and we’re going to be seeing more in the next decade. It’s not the ones in the list you need to worry about - though I think HQ is aware and is seeking a slice of that money pie too.

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I’m assuming FTC teams would then be expected to fork over the 5k+ for champs? Do FTC teams have that kind of money (genuinely asking, no clue)?

By extension, does FTC as a program generate enough money or attract sponsors to warrant a seperate or larger champs?

I’m unsure - didn’t think about that, really. Was just a thought.

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Given the higher team density, lower resource requirements, etc I wonder if it would truely be $5k. Probably would be lower by a fair amount.

From a quick google search, this website sites a $350 cost for Championship registration.

Edit: Disregard that I made a oopsie

Pretty sure that is only for Chesapeake championship, not FIRST championship.

I think the rest of the FTC program should do what Michigan does. Segregate FTC to middle school and FRC to high school. The bot and game designs work well for those respective audiences.

I’m a mentor in Michigan and we’ve been able to move in the direction of making a program curriculum from FLL >> FTC >> FRC and make it work.

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This is a nonstarter for the entire non-Michigan program. This is not an opinion, but rather you’d basically dissolve FTC outside Michigan. The program outside FiM is majority HS or HS with some MS students.

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I am also in Michigan and while I love the Michigan progression, we have both a significant government (Department of Ed) support and the density to support FTC as a middle school program.

However, I really a need for a FTC high school program and needs to be a choice.

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The cost discussion IMO makes a very good case for a large FTC-only championship. You can pack far more teams inside a space, and FTC teams have generally lower travel requirements and can fit in smaller spaces. There are very large and very rich regions in this program that advance a very small number amount of teams to champs, and they would be willing to pay thousands of dollars in registration fees to go to a large Championship. I don’t have actual numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a 600-700 team event would even be profitable.

There are big limiters to this such as “space” and “getting enough volunteers” but I’ve had discussions about hypothetical large offseason events that play on the sheer density you can get with FTC teams.

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It was recommended awhile ago for a two tier FTC progression. Middle school FTC and High School FTC.

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