FIRST Volunteer Position Suggesion: MSA (Mechanical Systems Advisor)

I propose that FIRST should create a new volunteer role. This can usually be filled by one of the more experienced Inspectors that has hands on FIRST experience. This will reduce the number of inspectors but will take some workload off of all of them which I think will be a net draw.

They would be very similar to the current CSA (controls systems advisor) role. The goal would be to advise teams on acute mechanical problems they encounter at competition.

The problem is that many (especially under resourced) teams do not have this mentor and there isn’t currently any direct support. They can sometimes ask an inspector, but it is not one of their responsibilities and can sometimes get help from other teams, but there is no dedicated resource when all of that breaks down.

This also helps solve the problem with inspectors offering teams advice not relating to passing inspection. Since this volunteer isn’t a part of the inspection process nothing they say could be misinterpreted as a requirement for passing inspection.

As a CSA too often when helping teams we get the controls working but they are still kept from accomplishing their goals because of mechanical issues. Sometimes I can give the advice they need but many times it is more complex. It needs someone skilled in creating solutions that are: easy to implement, strong enough to meet the desired goals, and can be done with an often limited set of parts / tools.


I always thought Either the FTA or the Inspectors always helped with mechanical issues.


I like it. This person could control access to the spare parts case (there’s really no need for a full time attendant) and the robot first aid station. Obviously their work would be very challenging.


The FTA already has TONS on their plate and usually serves more of the controls side (CSAs often work with them and FTAAs). Inspectors can help with this and some already do but it isn’t part of their job description and some don’t have the required specific FIRST knowledge or skillset to do this.

This makes their role clearly defined as this and gives teams a clear person to talk to for this kind of help.


I usually rely on experienced inspectors who i know are mentors for this at my events. It is genuinely not my area and I will try to get teams the help they need when I don’t know it well enough.

Inspectors are specifically told not to help teams build their robots however and that their job is to inspect it however they can offer advice and students from their team to help if possible.

EDIT: I was misinformed from a inspector I know.

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Inspectors definitely do help with this at many of the events I attend, but i never thought it was in their job description. More so just the volunteers that were knowledgeable being helpful when called upon.

And i certainly wouldnt think this role falls under the umbrella of FTA. They’ve got an absolute ton on their plate as it is, I couldn’t imagine them also trying to juggle helping repair or diagnose machanical issues in the pits.

Personally I love the idea, and would love to see implemented!


Big thing missing from the OP - what hat color???

(I think this is a good idea - a lot like inspecting, I bet there are teams that have spare mentors that could help out with this on “practice day” when I assume the load would be highest)


Lime green? Fits with the other obnoxiously visible colors


We’ve done this at offseasons. The volunteers are usually bored most of the event with not many teams taking them up on offers for help. Not saying it’s a bad idea, but it may be underutilized.

Also @Pauline_Tasci was assigned this role at a regional once. As I recall, it didn’t go well with very unclear rules about what the volunteer was/was not allowed/supposed to do.

Take your pick



My vote would be for neon blue. Neon yellow and green are too similar to differentiate easily when not standing directly next to each other.


Between RIs, the machine shop, and spare parts, (and helpful teams) these responsibilities are mostly covered at an event. But you make a good point about inspectors potentially creating a conflict of interest. That makes a big difference!

But, to be devil’s advocate, I wonder if technical volunteers are intentionally not given responsibilities where they might influence the competition beyond getting robots on the field, meeting the minimum requirements for field communication and robot design legality, and mechanical systems might get into the grey area too often?


I am confused by “what he was not allowed”? There shouldn’t be any restrictions on what they do as long as they are helping teams. I think they should prioritize helping as many teams as much as possible just like CSAs do. Sometimes that means just giving advice on where to look and what to try then on to the next fire. Other less busy times you can stay with the team and help them code every line and make sure they stay on track and avoid pitfalls.

This needs to be a proactive person that is looking for places to help. As the resource becomes known they will start getting requests for help.

At both of the events I CSA’d at this year I could guarantee them full time employment and no boredrom at least to the same level of CSAs where it maybe become less during eliminations until it is desperately needed.

Coming from both the events I just volunteered for I would say very confidently that this was not handled. It may look like it is “handled” because nobody is complaining but that is because they don’t know who to talk to. There are teams silently struggling to make changes that would have their entire event experience changed by a few helpful words and guidance from the right person.


I agree with your sentiments. The person supervising these volunteers was pretty adamant that MSAs shouldn’t have their hands in the robot. It’s pretty hard to do that job with that constraint, though. It’s like telling a CSA they can’t look at code or logs and need to troubleshoot the control systems. Dumb? Yes. Something that needs to be cleared up if this role is expanded? Apparently.


That sounds like a really poor outlook on mentoring and advice. This needs to be just like mentoring a team. They shouldn’t just be inserting themselves and handling everything the team needs they should be teaching, explaining, and guiding the team to success.

The only unknown right now for me is supporting the role. Currently Kevin (FIRST employee) supports CSA’s and makes sure they have help on any questions they can’t answer. I don’t know who or how that would be handled for the MSAs. Currently CSAs have a slack where many other CSAs also give advice to those at an event. I think this would be a working solution even if there isn’t a person from headquarters that has the bandwidth to directly oversee this.


Agree with this, and want to clarify for those who don’t see the whole context and only the part you quoted, that it is NOT my opinion. I was describing the opinion of someone else, as is clear in my post.


There is the issue of teams that don’t need/want feedback getting their time taken up with it.

Both for Mechanical and Control System (unsolicited specifically) advice, it may be more useful to have someone tag along with the technical judges, and just provide a few written bullet points for teams on potential areas of improvement. That way, teams have the options of crumpling the paper up and throwing it away, reading and applying the feedback at their own pace, following up with the advisor to get more feedback.

Can’t wait for the MSAbuilt threads.

Seems like a great idea to me, maybe should be tested more this offseason.


I don’t think “MSA-built” robots should be a concern any more than “CSA-programmed” robots are in the current system.


Maybe I am biased but usually teams are pretty clear about when they don’t need help. That is the nice thing about being an advisor is they often just say we got this and you can move on.

This is more a problem when you have “power” over them they find it a harder to say no. I think having either of these people along with the judges would also be a mistake because then teams would also be uncomfortable saying no with the worry of coming off “ungrateful” to the judges.

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