Hasn’t 1718 used plenty of VEX products in the past? Better stop before your sponsors don’t like it. We get that you are super opposed to this and hope FIRST brings a rule out prohibiting this in the future but why do you care so deeply as to eliminating them? If your team isn’t going to use them then it won’t be a problem. I could even see it working to your benefit when you are aligned with teams that now have a great solution to playing a very effective role in the game.
To the purchasing code, I hope that happens. Far too many teams lack access to mentors to teach programming. Kids can have robots that do more now because of code resources available? Sounds great!
I sit here and read through a large portion of these comments and I just question why anyone is upset that team XXXX can now do more than drive and push cubes. I don’t care how they get to that point. They were able to build it, program it, and compete with it at hopefully a higher level. If you aren’t on board with ALL teams having the opportunity to thrive then Im not sure whats going on.
My perfect example:
Team A is an older team with established mentor base, a large sponsor base, and access to water-jet and a plethora of machining capabilities. They are able to design their own elevator, gripper, and custom drive for the season.
Team B is a second year rookie. They want to elevate their play from their previous season but have only bought a band saw and drill press since last year. They acquired a few more sponsors and are able to buy a little bit more than the previous year. The kids have a few dads helping out that are handy but by no means engineers. By having access to the Greyt Elevator and Claw, they are able to spend a little bit more time prototyping, writing code, and drive practice.
So now Team B spends the first two weeks of build season designing an elevator and claw out of parts they have available. It takes some extra effort to get there, but they have a working design all cadded out and they’ve started prototyping it, when suddenly the Greyt products are revealed. The team realizes that purchasing the Greyt kit gives them access to some gussets and sliders that are better than what they worked hard to build the past two weeks, and the Greyt claw is better designed and more configurable than the claw they designed. They reluctantly throw away two weeks of student work and instead purchase the Greyt items and drop those into their CAD assembly where the other two assemblies were.
Team C is a low resource team without any extra money who generally attends a single regional every year. They would love to purchase and learn from an off-the-shelf solution like the Greyt Elevator and Claw, but they can’t afford the price tag and/or the solution is out of stock by the time they decide to purchase it.
My posts in this thread have been largely negative toward the Greyt systems, but my initial gut reaction was a positive one. It was the more I thought about the specifics of the product and the release timing, and the more I talked with my fellow mentors and students about the products that I began to really dislike what they’re doing to low/mid-resource teams.
If team B is better by replacing these things and makes the choice as a team then aren’t they making themselves better?
To the point of team C, they seem extremely low on resources. They probably start the season knowing their constraints and aren’t even focused on an elevator. They want to get their kit bot driving. Maybe meet 1-2 times a week after school for a few hours with a teacher. They were never going to build an elevator, intake, and drive in the build season anyways.
I struggle with this every year. Heck I struggled with it back in 2001 when our team was next to a robot made out of 80-20 extruded channel. When I graduated and then came back to mentor a local team six years ago I was shocked at the number of COTS solutions available. I thought about it for awhile and decided that it made sense; frames were difficult and it raised the floor to the point where anyone can make a rolling chassis in a day. Now with this elevator and manipulator solution it seems to have been taken to a new extreme.
Ultimately this looks like a commercialized version of a bunch of mentors designing the robot for the student. I would argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as some teams simply lack the fundamental experience required to execute a high quality robot design. And as much as FIRST would like to say otherwise the bottom line is that this program is about robots. It’s about receiving a challenge and putting together a robot that solves that challenge. In the end I’m comfortable with students finding solutions in any form.
FIRST is not fair. Some teams are barely holding on and lack basic facilities, others are annual powerhouses with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their capabilities. Some teams can spend twenty hours a week working on their robots, others get snowed out. I think that the option for solutions like this is fine, and that if a team chooses to either purchase it or use it as inspiration for their own design then that’s perfectly okay.
I think an ideal solution is one where strategy and skill become more important than design. In that sense this year’s competition looks to be really encouraging.
Strongly disagree. And strategy is my role on an FRC team.
It felt bad going into the semis at Midwest last year and knowing we were going to lose to 1986. You have to keep your team’s hopes up, but barring a catastrophic failure on their part (which I would never hope for) they were our wall that year.
We had designed our own shooter, and we made a few shots over the course of the competition, but not as many as they made in auto in our last match. However, the students who worked on that shooter and indexing system had an incredible learning experience over the course of the season, going from concept to mechanical design, and improving it on the fly when they decided it wasn’t what they wanted it to be.
Were we less competitive because we made this complex system over 3.5 months? Oh, absolutely. Would we have been more competitive, and maybe win, had we been able to buy an indexer and shooter like 1986’s, and spend more time optimizing our gear play? Duh. We were only able to load gears from the human player. Tack on a COTS floor gear pickup? Our ceiling gets even higher, and maybe we get a trip to St. Louis. We definitely would have qualified at CIR, where we lost both SF matches 249-250.
Would that have been the best way for the students on my team to learn and grow as engineers over the course of the season? In my opinion, no. I value the months of trial and error and retrial, learning from each failure, over beating a world class team like 1986 or 2481.
Of course, I recognize that other people may benefit more from seeing a well-executed design close up, and having that option is fantastic if they can really learn and grow from it. But as a prideful competitor that’s not the way I would choose to win, and if I was 1986 that’s not the way I would want to lose.
Put another way: I studied for my AP Calc test by reading the book, doing practice problems, and yes, studying example answers. All written by people with years more experience than me. But when I took the test, I didn’t have those resources. I used the concepts from the book and applied them myself, and got my 5. If someone next to me had gotten a 5 too, but had a textbook? Not sure how much they REALLY learned, or how much that 5 is REALLY worth. For both of us.
Again though, that’s just my opinion. I don’t expect this to become widespread in my area, so I won’t spend much more time thinking about it unless we lose to it. I look forward to seeing what everyone comes out with in 4 weeks.
I disagree with your ideal solution. They have competitions like this in sailing called one design. Every sailboat is required to be as identical as possible to try to take any design out of the equation. At that point, first might as well mandate we all use the same robot. This competition is very much about design and I believe it should stay that way.
And this is very much the crux of the issue: what type of robotics competition should FRC be? In the early days it was an “Apollo 13” style competition; you get a bunch of random parts and you have to build something from that. Over the years, the rules have been opened up and teams have been allowed to use far more than what comes in the their KoP. As the rules of have relaxed, so has the marketplace. We’ve seen the development of COTS parts and slowly we’ve seen COTS mechanisms show up. It’s still crazy to me to think there’s a multi-million dollar economy for parts designed solely for the FIRST Robotics Competition. This is completely unique to within the world of High School engineering challenges. But its existence makes sense as it exists to fill a void in the marketplace. Each year more and more rookie teams are started with the expectation that they don’t need mentors or access to a machine shop. They’re told about how teams build robots in simple classrooms just working a few nights a week. So it’s natural that these teams want and expect simple COTS solutions. I can’t count the number of teams who used to call IFI Canada when I was working there asking to buy complete mechanisms. We’d send them links to examples and tutorials and even sketch out designs over the phone, but they what they were asking for was a complete solution. So it makes total sense to me that WCP would try and serve these customers.
Now whether any of this is good for FRC is a much deeper question. There are many people (mainly outside the program) who think that FRC isn’t a true engineering challenge because too many things are handed to teams. Things that many teams love and appreciate about FRC are derided by outsiders, such as WPILIB, COTS gearboxes, design collaborations between teams, and of course mentors designing/working on robots. Lots of people within the program have varying degrees of support for many of these items. And all of that is fine. It would be ridiculous to expect everything to have the exact same opinions on everything in the program. But we’re quickly approaching a point where these different philosophies are diverging to a point where they can’t connect. I definitely sympathize for those teams who want to design their own mechanisms but are afraid that they won’t be able to compete against teams who buy pre-fabricated solutions. They think they’re faced with a decision: stick to their philosophy of what’s best for their student’s educational/inspirational experience and fair poorly at competition, or purchase and do well. (I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but my opinion really doesn’t matter) At the same time I’m excited for teams who may field their most competitive robots ever because they now have access to solutions they only could have conceived in the past but not executed.
So what should FIRST do? It’s important to remember that these types of mechanisms were not allowed in the past. Here’s an excerpt from the 2012 manual.
We can parse through the wording to find loopholes, but the intent was pretty clear. Full mechanisms to perform game specific tasks that are COTS are outside the intent of the rule. But this was removed from the manual. Why? I have no idea. But a three paragraph rule doesn’t disappear by accident.
So again, what should FIRST do? I honestly don’t know how I feel on this issue, but I think it’s time for a line to be drawn in the sand. Somewhere. Anywhere. If they want to say anything COTS goes, then let teams know before the season so they can make decisions on how this impacts their program. If they want to restrict certain types of COTS mechanisms, let teams know before the season so they can adjust to these new restrictions. In general I think teams would be happy just to know what the intent is and what the expectations are. Over the past few years I think FIRST has done a great job of being open with the community and explaining the intent behind their rules and decisions. I don’t envy the challenge they have of trying to craft a program that caters to a diverse set of over 3500 teams located all over the globe. There’s no way they can please everyone, however as the almost entirely reasonable discussion in this thread shows, this is an issue where people have a lot of mixed feelings, and I think people will generally just be happy to have a defined direction.
TL;DR: I have no idea if COTS mechanisms are good thing for FIRST. I get why some teams love them and why some teams hate them. I totally get why WCP is marketing them and am excited to see teams use them, but do feel bad for the teams who feel like they’re being hurt by them. I hope FIRST tells us what they think and writes future rules accordingly.
TL;DR: Just a bunch of random thoughts about a complex issue.
I don’t actively participate in FIRST anymore, but it was such an important part of my life I still come by CD occasionally to check how everything’s going. I read all of this thread with extreme fascination. This is a really interesting moment for FRC and I’m glad this thread has been so civil with people sharing their thoughts so openly. This is a really special community.
On the subject of engineering knowledge and the program
I should lay out my bias first. I spent 4 years as a complete FRC junkie and didn’t become an engineer. I became (or at least am in the process of becoming) a neuroscientist. While miscellaneous engineering knowledge from FRC has certainly come in handy, I think the real value of the program is in the intangibles of leadership experience, celebrating learning and by providing a real team experience for people who aren’t “cool” enough for sports. This cannot be understated. It is a home for nerds in schools who otherwise wouldn’t have a real place to call home. It celebrates (and makes cool!) a lifelong culture of learning, engineering and science, good sportsmanship, gracious professionalism, cooperation and so many other good things. It encourages kids to take up careers that will be beneficial for the world.
I have often said myself and read on this forum “It’s not about the robot.” When I say that, I mean to evoke the idea that FIRST is about a lot more than the robot, it is about developing all the other amazing intangibles I listed above. After being away for a few years, I think the statement “It’s not about the robot” should be amended to “It’s not about the robot winning.” FRC is about the robot. But the robot itself doesn’t matter. The robot lets you experience all these other things.
What about the robot does that? To me, it was the experience of being completely immersed in the process of designing, prototyping, fabricating assembling, troubleshooting and iterating the product we put on the field. It was the tough choices and late nights that made it all so meaningful.
Most of that time was spent on designing and troubleshooting mechanisms. I think it would be straight robbery to have that time stolen away with a pre-made, perfect mechanism. For that reason, I strongly feel like FIRST should re institute the pre-2013 rules disallowing pre-made mechanisms.
This is not because I think FRC should be a more accurate engineering simulator. In my opinion, engineering knowledge should be a side effect of the program, not a goal. But passion for this knowledge and the creation of a real team environment are best served by keeping the design process in the hands of the team.
Sidebar: @karthik, I think the 2013 manual was one of the ones FIRST was trying to ‘streamline’ and there’s a strong possibility that the rule was cut for word saving purposes because no one was violating it and it seemed unnecessary, not for any particular reason.
Thank you for this post that tries to get to the crux of the issue here.
I must admit before starting that I have not read all of the posts in the thread. (I am a painfully slow reader.) So if my ideas are a repeat, I apologize.
From what I have read of this thread, it appears that there are four primary questions that are being raised with concern to this topic at hand. I will address each of them with my personal opinion and reasoning below.
1. Is there a line that FRC suppliers should not cross?
This question, was IMO answered by Karthic’s post above, and the answer is no. We can’t expect the suppliers to decide for themselves what the rules regarding this are. That is FIRST’s job.
2. Should there be a line?
This question is asking if FRC specific suppliers should ultimately be allowed to offer and sell whatever teams are willing buy or not. The answer to this question mostly boils down to the related question that Karthic mentioned in the post above: “what type of robotics competition should FRC be?”
However, I think that some light can be shed by looking at the far extreme case for the future of FRC if FIRST officially encourages and supports this kind of mechanism development from the suppliers.
Suppliers throw their best and brightest engineers at designing a solution to the game challenge as soon as the details are learned. (which could be before build season starts) Teams can buy mechanism kits that are fully fleshed out and complete all aspects of the game to a high level. The mechanism kits are sold separately, but are designed to be integrated together, to form a full robot. Software and assembly instructions are available online, and if you buy all of the mechanisms for the robot, you get the wiring harness for free. Team’s can buy the AndyMark bot, choose the VEXpro bot, make a frankenbot, or design and build a custom solution.
There are a lot of benefits to this potential future. A lot more teams field a successful robot, and a lot less matches are painful to watch. But there are a lot of disadvantages too. Most teams in the mid resource range buy or piece together a mostly COTS robot, and perform mostly in the middle of the pack; some of the higher resourced teams make a custom robot, with wildly varying success compared to the field; and some of the lowest resourced teams can’t afford to buy a robot, and generally do poorly because of it. All teams can choose to build there own bot, but typically this choice is made at the sacrifice of on field performance. Because of all this, a lot less teams design their own robot, and IMO, a lot less students are inspired. After all it would start to look more like a competition between suppliers* than a competition between teams of students and mentors.
So to me, the answer to this question is yes, FIRST should impose some sort of limit to how much of the design challenge can be addressed by the suppliers.
3. Where should the line be?
Obviously the answer to this question depends heavily on the answer to the previous question. This question is hard because it needs to the simple to understand, reasonable to enforce, and reach an optimization of inspiration of the teams. I think that that a good happy place to draw the line is where the suppliers can try to solve all of the general problems involved in building any FRC class robot, but teams should be responsible for coming up with solutions that address the specific engineering challenges to that year’s game. That way suppliers can continue to make FRC more accessible without discouraging design work in the teams. Going to competition will mean seeing a lot of working robots with all different solutions to the game challenge. I think this is a place where it’s relatively easy for FIRST to draw the line. It would involve a rule similar to past ones in which assemblies that are design around the game challenge are prohibited, or if the want to be more absolute, they could disallow all COTS components that were released after kickoff.
4. Did WCP cross the line by offering these assemblies?
No, I don’t think they crossed the line, because no line currently exists. See my answer to the first question. I even look forward to seeing how this season plays out with these parts available, mostly out of curiosity. However, I hope that FIRST does not allow these kinds of mechanisms to be used in future seasons.
TLDR: FIRST should do something to prevent suppliers from offering polished solutions to the entire game challenge. They should do this by disallowing the use of game specific COTS assemblies in the rules. But WCP is in the clear as far as I’m concerned, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out.
*Don’t get me wrong, a competition between suppliers would be awesome and inspirational, but not to the same extent that FRC is today.
Bryce, great post. I don’t think the ‘dystopic’ future you imagine is so far away under the current rules. I’d give it 3 years max. I do disagree with you one one point: I don’t think a competition between suppliers would be awesome or inspirational.
Someone had a great solution earlier in the thread. I’m too lazy to look up the post, but it went something like this:
Any COTS item released before Kickoff is fair game. Any COTS item released after Kickoff is not. (Also applies to team CAD and code–if it’s public before Kickoff, it’s legal to use, otherwise not.)
Under that rule (if it were applied to 2018, which it won’t be), both items would be illegal regardless of utility/stuff already being on the market. But…
What happens in 2019?
I can think of ways to use the Claw in 2015, 2016, possibly 2017, Adam says 2011, which adds 2007, and definitely 2018. All of those (except possibly 2018) will require modification of the Claw, trust me. And that means that any Claw used in 2019 will require modification, which will have to be engineered by the teams (though I suppose a posting on the product page with some “suggested modifications” would be OK).
Like I said, my main concern is the timing, and that it’s engineered for this game. Move the release date before Kickoff, and two birds with one stone applies.
Whether or not more COTS in FRC is a good thing or a bad thing… well, that’s an “it depends” sort of question.
These are the teams that inspired me to take action with the Greyt line of products.
Whenever I work with such teams I struggle to communicate about what they should do as effectively they can only work with COTS products, or maybe some wood items woodscrewed together. It comes from a place of great FRC privilege when others suggest that they just figure it out. These teams are often 4-5 students who are barely engaged and a faculty member or parent who was expecting to just unlock the door each day.
Sure, they could put their engineering hats on and approach it from first principles… but they more likely will just give up as the tasks seems insurmountable. The reality of the competition once it sets in for them is far larger than what they were lead to believe during the registration process.
If they make it to a competition, they must now suffer the degrading experience of realizing that every single one of their alliance partners is unhappy playing with them. This further exacerbates the issue of them being overwhelmed with the competition.
The team I’m describing is not going to become a worldbeater if they use a COTS game solution… but they will at least be able to contribute in matches and make a difference. Hopefully this inspires them to figure out what these other teams are doing to perform at higher levels, seek out shop space, etc…
FIRST is too large and is recruiting too many unprepared teams to stick to its classical roots as a hardcore pure engineering challenge. Either the criteria for forming a team needs to change, or there needs to be even more encouragement of COTS solutions to help these teams. An analogy to the Vex Clawbot included in every kit of parts in a similar opt out fashion as the kop drive would be an incredible asset to the program.
It’s funny how much the release timing plays into this. I’m against it now because it’s a drop in solution for the game. But if this exact same lift stays available for next year’s game, I have no problem with it because it’s very unlikely to be a perfect drop-in solution.
Either way, good luck with your venture Adam. That gripper even reminded me of something else - you don’t need to actuate both sides of a gripper. Thanks for saving my symetrically-oriented-self an air cylinder on our design!
As a community, do we really think FRC will become more inspiring, on the whole, if teams under these conditions can simply buy their way to competitive viability?
Moreover, why would such a team subsequently become inspired to put more effort into the engineering side of the competition, when their success was enabled by expressly neglecting to perform their own engineering? If this hypothetical team shows up and wins handily against many teams that built their own mechanisms, what lesson does this teach?
You are correct that FRC has expanded too quickly, and that many FRC teams are unfortunately not capable of meaningfully participating.
However, I’m really not sure I can endorse this as the solution to that problem.
I do. If students are inspired by buying / implementing COTS components and this changes their potential career path because they got excited about STEM, then it’s still a net positive overall. I’ve seen first hand just how inspired thousands of kids are at VEX Worlds every year and one could argue it’s the biggest COTS robotics competition in existence.
How many times does Woodie say it’s not about the robot? I still think this is the case even if you buy the majority of it and assemble it rather than making it all by hand. There’s still a lot of learning happening here in this scenario. I think some people get upset because it’s not the type of learning they want on their teams. Every team is different and I’d suggest focusing on making your team the best it can be and let the other teams do their thing the way they want to do it.
If this helps even a handful of FRC teams stick around next year, I’m all for it. I’m tired of seeing teams compete for 1 year, get demoralized and discouraged because they had no idea where to start and quit.
Well done, thank you for trying to make FRC a little more accessible.
Are students under these conditions less deserving? Most of those kids are interested in Steam of some sort and found the news letter on the school bulletin intriguing. They shouldn’t have to deal with being less competitive than others because the state or local area pushed someone to start the team. The kids seen the opportunity at something interesting and took it. This is just one solution to a big problem. I’m going to hope for the best and assume that you don’t truly believe that kids in that circumstance are less deserving…I could relate this to so many problems with privilege in the world today but I will sip my tea on that one.
Of course they are not less deserving. As I outlined above, the good parts of the FIRST experience comes from the process. You don’t have to be competitive to get the good things out, just mentally buy in and participate in the process that is as Woodie Flowers once said “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” I think there is a false equivlence between raising the level of competition and raising the value that students get from the program. I don’t think FRC was twice as valuable to the students on 254 than it was to me and my team just because they won twice the regionals. That said, there is a floor effect where a team can get nothing out of the program. I think prefab gearboxes and the kitbot on steroids has helped a lot with this and at this point what can help most is more between team mentorship. I do think kids on well organized serious teams get more out of it. I don’t think prefab mechanisms help that cause.
It’s not a question of whether they’re “deserving,” it’s a question of whether giving them the experience of “success at competition” is worth cheapening that same experience for many other students, especially if, at the same time, giving them that experience actually provides them incentives not to challenge themselves.
I don’t think competitive success in FRC is “due” to teams merely because they exist. I don’t think FIRST maximizes inspiration by undercutting incentives to struggle and grow.
I would also ask that you refrain from your “tea-sipping;” I have worked on very low-resource teams before, and we never would have considered simply buying a competition-ready robot or primary mechanism. Far better to show up with a mechanism that may not work wonderfully, but represents the students’ own effort and struggles.
I admit, I have trouble empathizing with people who feel otherwise on this issue - it seems to me to be antithetical to the purpose of the competition.
I suspect we have been interpreting this somewhat differently; I have always understood this to mean “it’s not about the robot, it’s about the process that yields the robot.”
The potential issue people see with FRC heading in this direction is precisely that it undercuts the process.
In FRC, a team can show up to competition with a robot that performs abysmally, and still have had a hugely valuable experience. Why? Because it’s not about the robot - and, by extension, also not about the performance of the robot. Engineering failures, in many ways, are more valuable learning experiences than engineering successes. This is one of the lessons FIRST taught me as a student, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Attempting to improve teams’ on-field performance for its own sake is missing the point.