Something I’ve noticed more and more frequently these days has been bugging me more and more.
Seems like everybody who’s faced with a real-world problem reaches for the good ol’ FRC tools: CIM, 775Pro, Versa, AndyMark, you name it. And I’m guilty of that, too, on occasion.
But what if…
–The FRC tools aren’t available?
–There’s a cost constraint that is too tight to allow for your favorite FRC piece of equipment?
–You can’t use the 1/2HP motor because it’s just plain too big and bulky–even though you actually need the power?
–Everybody else is familiar with other things?
What then? Do you 1) panic call everybody just to find that '07 KOP gearbox? Or do you 2) redesign as necessary to get a replacement? Or do you 3) plan for multiple solutions? (Or do you realize quickly that you can’t use FRC stuff and focus on what you CAN use?)
What I’m seeing a lot of is “I really need XYQ component, it’s out of stock, does anybody have one I can obtain legally?” What I would really prefer to be seeing is a lot of “I designed for ABZ component, but it doesn’t fit parameter SLK. Does anybody have any suggestions?” What I’d really, really like to see is “I want to use component D, but I can see these problems cropping up. How do I plan for quickly changing to another component as late as possible?”
Yes, I know. The familiar is really tempting. But here’s the thing: When challenged to come up with a solution under $1K to a problem, I used FRC parts to find one, and could not quite fit under that budget. And I wasn’t sure the CIMs planned for would hold up… On another project (at a different place) I’d love to be able to use a CIM-type motor. But on that one, while I’m sure a CIM-type motor would hold up, I’m pretty sure that other constraints would cause a pretty big problem–if I used an FRC CIM-type motor (or even if I used a CIM motor that wasn’t FRC-legal).
In the bigger picture, I’m getting kind of worried. So much of FRC is COTS these days that I’m worried that the kids are getting “We can just bolt this together, from these sources, and we’re fine” rather than how to select the proper solution from a wide array of sources, and properly integrate that with what they’re working on. If they aren’t getting that experience, how can we expect them to go to college, graduate, go into the workforce, and suddenly deal with the fact that, let’s face it, various requirements will work against using FRC parts? Or familiar parts in general?
And the solution is NOT to eliminate COTS parts from FRC. Far from it. In my opinion, the proper solution is to have students explain how and why they’re choosing to use what they’re choosing to use. As a second option for teams that can do this, build an offseason robot using non-FRC-legal components (conspicuously and permanently marked as non-FRC-legal, please–your friendly inspectors) to see how things open up (or not).
Just some (semi-coherent) thoughts to spark discussion, and remind people that the world is bigger than just our experiences.