[FTC]: Team Unlimited's Visit at FIRST HQ

Not so long ago, Team Unlimited was given an opportunity to meet with some senior members of the FTC leadership. We got to talk with them for a few hours about the program, kits, etc. Below are our notes in Q&A form.

Q: How many controllers can be operated on the new system?

A: Two controllers can be used to operate the NXT for the new FTC challenge. The system is laptop based and transmits controller data to the NXT through a blue tooth dongle. In competition there will be a central computer being operated to control all the rounds. Each NXT has a unique address that allows Bluetooth signals to be sent to it in order to perform functions during operator mode.

Q: What does the controller connect to in order to operate properly in operator mode? Are there any limits on the amount of robots that can be run at any given time?

A: As stated above, a central competition computer will run the rounds. Switching out of autonomous mode will be determined by this computer also. The Bluetooth dongle on this computer will communicate to NXTs on the field. There is no theoretical limit for this system, but a practical limit must be introduced or else a lag occurs in the system with too many signals being received and transmitted.

Q: How are the drive motors controlled? (e.g. H-bridge, speed controller, etc.)

A: There will be multiple “black boxes” mounted on the robot to control the motors, daisy chained to a single NXT sensor port. There are 2 of the DC controllers units (each DC controls two motors) and 1 of the servo control units (driving up to 6 servo motors). LEGO NXT motors are controlled directly though the NXT controller.

Q: Who are the new sponsors for next years providing the metal, sensors, programming, etc.?

A: HiTechnic, National Instruments, and Pitsco (LEGO Education). Pitsco is proving a large portion of the metals for the new kit, custom made.

Q: Are the parts in this kit commercially available?

A: Yes, the providers of the parts realize that the parts will be under stresses from usual competition strains. Seeing this, new parts will be available in the form of kits, such as a metals kit that includes a selection of metals in one kit. (NOTE: This is similar to the Aluminum kit that Vex provides that has many metals in one kit, no idea on prices yet)

Q: For next season, will teams be able to buy more of these metals, sensors, etc.? Will there be kit restrictions?

A: Teams will be able to purchase new parts for the kits, for spares, additions, etc. Dealing with kit restrictions, the teams will have their electronics limited, including motors and sensors.

Q: What is the average range for the controller in operator mode?

A: The range for this system is about 30-50 ft, more than needed to run on the competition field. One can see a substantially larger distance depending on the particular dongle and area where the robot is being driven. (e.g. a large open room without obstructions will get a much larger range than a cluttered room full of boxes).

Q: How many types of wheels will be available in the kit?

A: There are two sizes available in the kit as of right now. In the demo, most of the teams used the larger wheel to get more speed from their robot, but there were two wheel sizes included in the kit.

Q: How many control channels are available?

A: There are two joysticks, an eight way d-pad, and eight buttons. (NOTE: The controller we used was similar to the Logitech PS2)

Q: What vex components in addition to the metal can be used next season? (e.g. wheels, gears, chain, etc.)

A: For the time being only the Vex metal will be allowed to be used in the competition for next year.

Q: Will we able to modify the Lego and metal components?

A: You will be able to modify the metal components as you have been allowed to for FTC competition for the 2007-2008 season. The Lego components will not be allowed to be modified at the current time for competition.

Q: Will there be a rotation sensor provided in the kit?

A: Yes, there will be a rotation sensor in the new kit. The one that was installed on the demo robot (they were US Digital rotation sensors) may not be the final sensor included in the when it is released.

Q: How open is the kit? Can we use components not provided in this kit? (e.g. other metals, other sensors, etc.)

A: The kit will be relatively closed, there will be the ability to buy new metal for the kit. There is the possibility of other materials being added to the kit to allow teams to fabricate parts for their own use.

Q: Will there be continuous rotation servos that can be purchased for the kit?

A: There will be 170º / 180º servos. No regular servos can be used besides the NXT Lego motors provided with the kit. The 170º / 180º servos will not be allowed to be modified to become continuous rotation servos. The servos in the kit were HiTec 475 servos.

Q: Will there be more sensor connections available? (e.g. connection extenders)

A: There will be one daisy chained box for four touch sensors. There is the possibility for other connection extenders being provided at a later date for other sensors besides the touch sensors.

Q: Has the strength of the connection between the metal and Lego components been improved? Several teams expressed concern about this after collisions that caused the Lego components to fall off.

A: These connection points have not been altered since the demo exhibition. (NOTE: On the robot we were shown, the connections did not seem to been weak at all).

Q: For the Bluetooth dongle, are there any recommendations? Are there any dongles that are best?

A: The DLink DBT120 is recommended. In the kit there is a dongle provided. Bluetooth dongles that don’t require the installation of additional drivers over the Microsoft drivers are best as they cause fewer problems for the users. Loading a driver might add complications cause problems for the robot. (NOTE: They said Toshiba chipset dongles seemed to cause problems in testing, might want to avoid these).

Q: Are there any problems with the Bluetooth system currently?

A: There seems to not be any problems once the link is established. The only major problem occurs if the user unplugs the dongle during an active connection to the NXT. To fix this remove the batteries from the NXT, reset, and reconnect the controller.

Q: Are there any there any changes to the competition format for next year?

A: Nothing too major will change; they would like to see the use of more sensors by teams in the competition.

Q: Are there any major kit changes that will occur from between now and when the kit is released?

A: The optical shaft encoders that are on this robot might not be the final encoders at the time of the kits release. Also the DC & Servo motor control units will have a redesign for esthetics, not for function.

Q: Is there a limitation for the number of “channels” for the new Bluetooth communication system?

A: No, but there is a problem when too many signals are in the same area. There might be a tether, like for Vex, in the pits to cut down the chatter in the network.

Q: How much of a kit was used to make the demo robot here?

A: The robot shown here is about 2/3 of the kit planned to be provided.

Q: What is the material on the bottom of this robot, and will we able to use this in competition?

A: This is a sheet of polycarbonate. We are hoping to provide some material like this to the teams so that they can use it for shielding, decoration, etc. in the competition.

I hope you all like this!

~Patrick Pilvines, Head Engineer Team Unlimited, FTC #1

I will provide a link to our site ((http://eaglevex.syraweb.org)) to the offical page, when we get all the photos processed.

Sweet thanks for the info GDO and team unlimited :smiley:

Great! Thanks for info.

Very awesome information. Thanks:)

If anyone has specific question, you can MSN, AIM, or PM me. I’m almost always on :p.

And glad that you all found this interesting.

The interface between the aluminum and the LEGO parts uses screws - It ain’t going to slip apart.

HOWEVER, designers will have to remember that the interfaces between LEGO parts and other LEGO parts are frequently held together by nothing more than a little friction. For that reason the LEGO appendages tended to fall off of those LEGO parts that were screwed into the aluminum framing.


With that statement from FIRST, the mechanical “flexibility” of the new FTC kits just went down the toilet.

One one hand you have a kit that only contains ten aluminum spur gears and a few LEGO gears.

And on the other you have a kit which 95% of FTC teams already own which has spur gears, bevel gears, rack and pinion gears, worm gears, differential gears, roller chain and sprockets, tank treads, and a variety of regular and omni wheels.

I was holding out hope that all mechanical parts of the Vex kits would be legal in the new FTC game. (Actually, that would have been the only reason for me to give any measure of support to the new FTC kits.) As of now, it appears that is not very likely.

And, quite possibly just as, if not more so, important is that the majority of the thousands of dollars of investments by each of the few hundred FTC teams are now worthless for continuing in FTC. A $1500 investment in Vex over two or three seasons may seem trivial to some, but when some of these teams run on an annual budget of less than $1000/year it IS a big deal. So much for the “affordable” robotics competition.

People used to complain about the lack of diversity in the Vex FVC/FTC competition robots. Now just imagine what it will be like when nearly all of the fun and interesting mechanical stuff in the kits is gone. :-/

I agree, I think a lot of teams were waiting to see if FIRST would allow vex gears but now I see many teams switching over to the VEX competitions instead of FTC.

I’m not sure why FIRST has turned into Anti-IFI , it seems very unprofessional.

Just to make this clear, nothing had been decided on that offically, we did voice our opinion on that while we were there. Things might change because we knew how much people wanted to still be able to use the Vex gears. I didn’t want to lose the parts that we had waited for years to get, only to go back to the first kit, basic gears, metal, and parts. We will see where this goes, at game release we will find out what has changed from now.

The question will be, will the parts rules be announced before or after registration deadlines?

I think we’ll know the rules when the kits are shipped.

GDO - it sounds like you were saying/recommending the right things.

Other folks - Communicate with the FTC honcho at FIRST HQ and with your APs - Give them your suggestions. Posting suggestions in a CD forum is interesting but it is not the same thing as directly communicating with the people who want to hear (directly) from you.

About reusing the Vex Gears. I agree that their current diversity is a good thing. However, off the top of my head, I’m not visualizing any simple way to connect them to the shafts and other mounting points of the new FTC kits.

Absent posessing a magical interface adapter; now that the drop-Vex die has been cast, I’m thinking that FTC would be better off just designing and creating a similarly diverse set of parts from scratch (no matter how much money teams have put into buying the Vex gears). An adapter is likely to be very dissatisfying.

So, I don’t recommend betting on being able to integrate Vex gears or many other Vex parts into the new FTC kits.

PS: On the surface, spec’ing and producing crown/bevel gears, worm gears/wheels, etc. sounds pretty darn easy. By now, doesn’t the world have a few centuries of experience at doing that??? As a naive customer I’m a little perplexed by the time it took IFI/Vex to offer them, and by FIRST not even announcing plans to supply them at some specific future date. Maybe someone can fill us in on what would stand in the way, other than business red tape and one-time start-up delays.

I hope so, b/c apparently we’re buying (what my mentor told me today) 13 new kits for the FTC competition. But what do we do with the 16+ VEX kits we’ve accumulated over the years?:confused:

EDIT: We fund and mentor all teams in district and many in the county. And we run a full robotics curriculum in the classes (That’s the reason for so many).

I’m no longer involved in FTC directly and haven’t been for a year but it seems as if all FIRST has accomplished is a MASSIVE step backwards in terms of robot construction. There also seems to be a a step forward in computation in control but to me it can’t justify the lack of mechanical parts. I know that when my team did FTC (it was FVC then) we didn’t have much of a need for very complex programming as much as we had a need for complex mechanisms.

I think the best part about VEX that this system is lacking is the fact that it wasn’t made for a robotics competition. It was made to be an educational tool so it was subject to competitors which gave IFI the drive and necessity to constantly improve the kit. With this new kit it’s going to be a hodgepodge of commercially available (Sensors and NXT controller/legos) and one off components like gears and metal so some products may be improved over time but then others may not.


Scrounge up a few extra dollars and spend a little time to put together some quick and dirty (low-cost and low pressure = focus on the fun) robots for the VRC. Heck, maybe even hold a just-for-fun local tournament at the home of whomever has the biggest basement or garage.

Seriously, formal VRC is pretty inexpensive and local Vex tournaments can dirt cheap; plus you have the parts you need. Complement your formal plans to compete in FTC with a more relaxed side activity of quickly building some squarebots on steroids with a simple appendage or two, and just have a good time on a couple of low-pressure weekends.

I’ll bet you a very nice dinner that if you step away from FTC (or VRC) to do a weekend of VRC (or FTC), that when you turn your focus back onto your FTC (or VRC) challenges you will have a fresh outlook and will have 2 or 3 new ideas pop into your head(s).

In much the same way that diversity is good in ecologies, it is good for sharpening problem-solving skills too.