FRC Robots Aren't Real Robots?

I searched CD for a thread with a similar topic and could not find one, so here we go. I was on YouTube viewing the Sronghold reveal once again so I could gauge field element scale and decided to browse through the comments this time. This isn’t the first time I’ve started a thread with a possibly controversial topic with regard to YouTube comments, so please don’t reply with something along the lines of “they’re YouTube comments, what do you expect?” as this does nothing to contribute to the discussion. My post in 2013 titled “UNgracious UNprofessionalism” is the thread that I am talking about, and it turned into quite a heated discussion.

So here is the comment that I saw:

Here we go again… sigh Those are not robots. Those are telebots. A robot is a machine that can carry out a sequence of actions automatically. These are r/c cars.
I really wish people wouldn’t misuse the word “robot” like this.

This is not the first time I’ve seen or heard someone refer to FRC robots as simply r/c cars. I don’t wish to detail the short lived and sassy conversation between OP and another fellow FIRSTer about how OP was not impressed at how the robots had only a 15 second autonomous period, but this is what I had to reply:

Sigh…I really wish you wouldn’t misuse your assumptions like this. These machines that students build are not merely “r/c cars” as your benign ignorance of the program leads you to believe. However, I can understand this misguided assumption. Most people don’t get the chance to really look at the guts of these robots (and yes, these are undoubtedly robots). Take any high performing robot in a competition, and you’ll find plenty of automation integrated into most if not all subsystems. Many teams use gyros, potentiometers, encoders, infrared sensors, cameras, and a whole host of other automation solutions. This automation is used in BOTH autonomous and teleoprated period. If a team were to give their drivers a switch or button for every little movement or decision the robot does on its own throughout the match, you’d have drivers that would go insane after just a few minutes of driver practice. Your strictness of the definition of “robot” tells me that you are interested in robotics in some way, and I encourage you to attend the nearest FIRST Robotics Competition to you. Please talk to the students and mentors who make these robots. If you seek out the best performing robots at a competition and go to their pit and have a conversation with these young bright minds, I’m sure the automation that goes into their robot will convince you that they are not merely “r/c cars.” I guess I’ll have to end this by saying, SEE YOU AT THE COMPETITION!

My main reason for starting this thread is to ask this:

Do you, members of CD and the FIRST community, think that FRC Robots fit the definition of “robot” or are they just expensive, glorified, industrial r/c cars? I personally believe that these are robots of course!

What is your opinion, and what are the reasons for why FRC robots are indeed robots, or why they can be regarded as more r/c cars than robots?

I’ve made my case in my quoted comment, so what’s yours?

They are “Human Dream and Inspiration Enablement Devices” but since that takes too long to say and explain I use the word “robot”.

Much as wires, nuts, bolts, switches, relays, batteries and light bulbs launched me into a life of computers and electronic engineering; I’m taking these “robots” and helping launch kids today into the future. Was what I built then a “computer”? No, not by today’s standard. But I helped build today’s standard.

The roboteers I work with are going to build tomorrows standard. So if you are unhappy with us using the word “robot”(*) wait a few years to see what our inspired roboteers come up with. It’s pre-future time, be part of it!

(*) And if you are unhappy about me using “robot”, let me break your heart over what we’ve done to the word “cheesecake”.

Look, I’m a robotics engineer who works for robotics companies. If you get more than one robotics professional in a room, they’ll all disagree on the definition of robot. The CEO of iRobot thinks a vending machine is a robot. I disagree. Drones are remote controlled, AUVs aren’t, both are generally considered robots. FIRST robots definitely meet many commonly agreed upon definitions of robots. Some will disagree. Good for them. In my opinion, it’s not worth arguing over.

That’s one way to put it. For those in FIRST, we tend to say “it’s not all about the robot” because we know that the machines we build are mainly the catalyst for “Dream and Inspiration Enablement.”

I argue that we do indeed use robots in our competition, but to spend too much time debating on whether or not these machines are robots is missing the point. I expect someone who is unaware of FIRST’s model for inspiration to have more of a focus on the machines vs what they do for the students.

Even if FIRST was just an r/c car competition, you’d still be getting just the same out of the program. I too sometimes wonder about easier ways for someone outside FIRST to understand the “not all about robots” concept.

I don’t think it’s worth arguing over and taking too much time with someone who disagrees either, but it’s more of the tone of those that I’ve seen or heard that mention the “r/c car” idea that can bug me a bit. It’s used in a way that devalues FRC and takes credit away from the hard work of the students. It’s less of “those machines are mainly remote driven” and more of “because these machines are remotely driven, this competition is of less value to me as a viewer.”

Those who think this are likely in a very small minority though, but for the sake of curiosity, I’m still interested in how others would react to or have reacted to those who don’t see the automation side of the teleoperated period.

Ask the police or bomb squads that use “robots” in their line of work. Many of our creations are more sophisticated than what they use. May not be as robust but more advanced technologically. Just sayin

Autonomous says that is not correct.
Also teach pendants on industrial robots.
Look up the movie Metropolis and the word robot’s etemology.

Yup, the root for “robot” is the Czech word “robota” meaning “forced labor”

So the question becomes. Who’s really the robot? The students or the creation. :smiley:

This is what we call snobbery, we are all guilty of some form of it. Never look outward for validation, you will be disappointed. Ignore the haters and build some robots.

Is the “da vinci surgery” a robot? The biggest similarity between RC, First and it is that they are controlled by humans.

Others have said it above - there is no one agreement here. To add my two cents, as my work/career has evolved from teacher/FRC mentor toward “STEM/robotics education professional” (whatever the heck that may mean ;)), I’ve become increasingly more interested in defining these types of terms, especially for/within the confines of the K-12 robotics education market.

The “Standards-Based Robotics Competition Curriculum Development Framework” defines a robot as, “An electro-mechanical device that can perform tasks. A robot may act under the direct control of a human and/or autonomously under the control of a programmed computer.”

The framework is a product of an NSF funded project (Abstract here: that I was a part of and it was first published in 2006-07. The document is now used as a reference document for robotics education in many places, including here:

Over the years since the Framework was established, my work has included a need to refine this definition so it’s a little more easily understood, and the most recent iteration is a part of the VEX IQ Curriculum which defines a robot as “any man-made machine that can perform work or other actions normally performed by humans.” The IQ Curriculum then goes on to break down three categories of robots: “teleoperated”, “autonomous”, and “hybrid”.
pertinent information found here:

Like others have said here, there are many folks who will disagree, define, and redefine based on their expertise, interest, and perspective. This is also an evolving field that is certain to keep undergoing change. However, from a K-12 education standpoint (and perhaps beyond), this is the best definition/explanation I can offer today :).

This etymology discussion belongs in the Chit-Chat forum and hopefully someone will reassign it.

:deadhorse: :deadhorse:

Arguing etymology with the internet is pretty pointless. I get that you’re trying to “make it loud”, but I suggest you put your effort somewhere where it is more likely to have a positive outcome.

:deadhorse: :deadhorse:

I agree with the posts above saying that with no agreed-upon definition of “robot,” this discussion is pointless. One thing I would add is that even within FRC, there’s a wide range of technical complexities. At the lower end, FRC robots really are just advanced RC cars: open-loop control, no autonomous functioning. At the high end, FRC robots have industry-quality control schemes, are tracking targets and scoring in them. Some definitions of robot could split FRC into multiple categories.

Seems like the comment is arguing semantics, much like the IACNAP campaign or It’s-Cement-Not-Concrete guys.

If we abstract the comment a bit, it’s like the person is saying “nothing is a robot until everything is a robot”. There’s always a human in the loop with robots, even the DARPA Grand Challenge bots. The GC bots simply had the human intervention at programming time versus realtime.

From a human capital perspective, teleop versus autonomous doesn’t matter. For teleop, we spend the time controlling the robot. For autonomous, we spend the time wondering why the robot didn’t do what we wanted it to do. In the end it’s about the same. (edit - same time. The autonomous requires a different skill set altogether)

Where does the idea come from that something has to be 100% autonomous to be considered a robot? Nobody is backing up that argument with really anything other than “because I said so”.

I’m having trouble finding the thread, but there’s a few from roughly 10 years ago with the same debate, where people concluded that nothing about being a robot prohibits a human from operating the machine at some point or another.

Finally, FIRST robots do indeed have autonomous operation in many ways. Not just the autonomous mode, but in the control loops and state machines that automate the shooters, elevators, and arms of the best robots in the community.

Haven’t we seen a few FRC robots that don’t even have wheels? :slight_smile:

Original discussion here. And Pinecone, it was only 6 years ago :slight_smile:

Great question! For a number of years, I led the Engineering Team of the Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Ground Vehicle Subsidiary (Remotec). Our “Robots” have been used by military and first responder bomb squads. These are teleoperated vehicles and save lives every day they are in use. They are called bomb squad robots. Autonomy is one facet of a robot’s capability. " Self drive cars" are “cars” first. So I would take issue with anyone who claims that FRC Robots do not qualify as Robots. The autonomous period of a match demonstrates they are capable of achieving this goal also.

  1. Autonomous mode, is most certainly “robotic”.

  2. An activity based on an entire match of autonomous mode without the hands-on excitement and interpersonal communication of tele-op would attract - just guessing here - 3% of the kids currently involved in FIRST?

  3. "“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” - Mark Twain

:wink: Just for fun …

To keep any future debate lively, ask the debaters to find me an “autonomous” machine that isn’t operated by something that is alive (biological wetware). I’ll be surprised if they are successful. (1)

Someone usually operates (turns on and/or configures) “autonomous” machines.

Once an autonomous machine is configured and activated, in a very real sense it is equivalent to a rock I drop from my hand. (2)


Note 1: I’m setting aside debating whether any biological wetware machines spontaneously/randomly evolved out of previously inanimate matter.

Note 2: Typical autonomous machines certainly aren’t like rocks in every way, there are plenty of differences; but in a philosophical debate …