I love the COTS revolution. It has done an excellent job of raising the level of accessibility to this program and provides professionally engineered parts that teams can integrate to their robot. I came from a team that extensively used COTS parts and even on the team that I’m on now I actively advocate using COTS solutions in order to achieve a more competitive, more inspiring robot.
But something about this product release rubs me the wrong way. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the designers that have created this product and I don’t doubt that this product was released to raise the competitive floor and to benefit the FRC community as a whole. But what makes this product release different from other COTS items on the market? Obviously I’m not the only one that’s uneasy about it, considering some of the previous posts on this thread, and I think it’s important for CD to really recognize and understand why people have mixed feelings about this.
For me, I’m uneasy because this is a product designed specifically to address a “high level” challenge from the game, released in the middle of build season. Every FRC game has “advanced/high level” challenges and “simple/low level” challenges. The scale from this year would be “high level”, as well as the high goal boiler from last year, the high goal from Stronghold, the highest scoring goal from 2012 and 2013 (well, ignoring the one on the pyramid). Now imagine, if for each of these respective tasks, a COTS supplier with Einstein-class engineers decides to sell a well thought out mechanism for it, in the middle of build season, sometimes even resulting in teams dropping their own designed solutions for the sake of the “better” kit (as I’ve heard some people mention here in this very thread). Imagine what 2015 would look like if there were Einstein-level can grabbers released for sale in the middle of the season. This doesn’t just apply to low-level teams, but to any caliber of team out there. I have friends on well-established and relatively competitive teams that have expressed interest in purchasing this product rather than going forward with the solution that they’ve been working on. Personally, I think we’re starting to set foot in a direction that worries me.
Of course, a team that decides to purchase these products will probably not become instantly successful, because there’s still integrating it properly, wiring it properly, coding it properly, and making the proper customizations to fit each team’s individual preferences. In fact, if this product was released before the season based upon the information FIRST gives suppliers, similar to the Rhino tread, then maybe I’d be relatively fine with it (although Rhino tread was designed for a “simple/low level” challenge). There’s a level of customization built into these products that I suppose will allow teams to “make it their own”, as well. But there’s a better way to introduce a solution for a “high level/advanced” challenge than turning it into a product and selling it.
For example, use the same concept of Ri3D and MCC, and release it as a design for teams to consider (Greyt Designs, or something like that). Whether its by CAD, by a video, by a whitepaper, or a guide on how to make it, any of those options would probably be more well received rather than a product for sale. In fact, I noticed that both the elevator and the intake utilize already existent COTS products. Couldn’t the design team have made a guide, like “here’s how to make a competitive cascade elevator in FRC” (I know that 973ramp does have a video on elevators), or “here’s an efficient intake geometry that we’ve found for this year’s game piece”. Even without CAD files, it would benefit teams much better than with a product.
I’m sure myself and others all have different ideas of what is “inspiring” in FRC and where the “line” lies in terms of COTS products, and I don’t want to shun or criticize those that choose to use products like this for their team. A lot of people that I look up to and respect in FRC community are supporting this product, and I’m interested in hearing more about the why.