This is true. Part of this is because schools don’t see STEMM as “critical” to a school success, as opposed to football. Schools that just opened have job applications for football coaches; STEM funding for extracurriculars is not seen to the same success. Maybe part of it is that football is seen as an “investment”. To attract parents to send their children to X/Y school. Sometimes culture can be a little weird.
It’s important to note that WPI != WPILib. WPILib was started at WPI, but currently there are not really any active core WPILib developers at WPI. It’s very much a volunteer community effort, with some support from NI and FIRST.
I decided to pull the data for my county (Kalamazoo County, MI). I found 16 High Schools that serve the county (not counting schools with less than 50 students) of these 9 have an FRC team. Most of the remaining schools are served by Kalamazoo County’s main community team 2767 Stryke Force. I also know that my team (4381) has students who are homeschooled or go to a private school which doesn’t have a team.
I was homeschooled and on a school based team, it certainly is possible. There are also at least 2 community teams in my city so homeschool kids can get access to FRC.
As far as sustainability beyond the financials, there are plenty of teams in my area that are affiliated with schools but are mentored by parents, alumni and other community members, without direct involvement of any school staff. Many if not most of those teams work in sponsor provided space or a space rented by the team. For my team, the school provides some financial assistance and a pool of students, we operate largely independently. I also want to note that mentors don’t need to be engineers or technical experts, all you need is someone to handle paperwork, and someone to keep kids from injuring themselves with power tools. If you keep a couple of non degreed mentors around for 5 years they’ll be better than any new engineer or programmer. Some of the best mentors I know are from the trades.
I think in theory, yes. But in real life there are many factors that go into developing a robotics program. There is financing, which can get difficult when HS are close together, or businesses are far away. There are Mentors, who often do double duty with many teams and run the risk of burn out. Volunteers, who can be hard to find and train with a large turnover. Space for teams to work in, schools will often stick teams in whatever empty room they happen to have which may be tight at best, or inappropriately dangerous for the type of tools teams are using at worst.
Finding a balance and people willing to work towards that balance is where the struggle lies.
Our team has opened up to students that don’t have teams in their school. Some drive 30-45 min to get there everyday. (Bless them) But our meetings don’t start until 5:00 or 5:30 because none of our mentors are teachers and all have full time jobs. But I think most schools only draw from their own district. (But in SE MI there aren’t many that don’t have a program now) That being said, we have a somewhat large team (FRC) and don’t turn anyone away.
However, with a limit of only 15 in FTC I have had to make the decision to turn away students from other schools because I know our district would be upset if we took them over a student from our own district. (And we don’t have the space or mentors to form a second team yet.)
The 15 student FTC limit has unfortunately lost us several students that I now worry won’t return next year. I understand the robot is small and only so many hands can be on it at one time, but there is a limit to how many can work on a FRC robot as well, and they don’t limit the number of students that can be on that team. So for us, FTC teams in the high school would be problem. (Not enough mentors or time mostly) And FRC can capture and inspire as many students as we can get even from other districts.
Being a michigan team, I do see the program as a “progression” or “feeder” for FRC. I can also see the differences between them as not necessarily one leading to the other. My MS students are no less competitive than my HS students, but they are FAR less experienced and focused. I would find it very difficult to have 6th graders and 12th graders on the same team. (It’s sometimes difficult with 9th and 12th) And even in FRC we find a large disparity between shoestring rookies and heavily sponsored veterans. (We went to the Detroit event last year and it was an eye opener to see what little teams really can have to work with)
While I actually really like the idea of a progression in learning, it’s obvious FTC was not intended for that purpose. And I think it’s a great alternative to places or people that don’t fit into the FRC model. (Finances, space, ect.) But I worry that starting something in-between would dilute the amount of competiting teams in areas that don’t have many to begin with.
In the spirit of improving the FRC team experience, I’d like to know more. What makes the android experience so seamless? We’ve tried to make FRC as easy as we can. WPILib is an all-in-one installer. Is the difference that you have to install the NI FRC Game Tools separately? Or is it the fact you need to image the roboRIO before you deploy code (I would assume you’d need to do something similar with Android though)? Is it a documentation difference?
Having used both, I definitely like the modern FRC setup better, but FTC’s android set up is pretty easy. I haven’t done it with the new control hub/driver station but I assume its similar. You install an app on the driver station and your software project makes up the app that runs on the robot. Basically all you have to do to develop for FTC is Download Android Studio, fork the FTCRobotController Project on github, add your code and deploy it to the phone.
It really comes down to a few things, FRC’s driver station model, a simpler sdk, and just less complex electronics in FTC.
In FTC, to setup motors and stuff, you just use an android app. You can even swap between different configurations for different robots. Just a lot easier than setting CAN ID’s on 10+ devices.
The dedicated driver station device for FTC is super great for just quick time from robot power on to robot driving. There are also third party libraries that allow you to control the robot from a computer (FTCDashboard) that give a wider range of choices catering to different skill levels then the DS app required for FRC.
Finally, the sdk is much simpler, but this is really just due to the simpler electronics. I don’t necessarily think the FTC control system is much better than the one in FRC (Its really comparing apples to oranges, they both serve different purposes). A lot of the control system complexity just comes from the variety frc offers which is a worthwile sacrifice to see competing products.
If you want some improvement ideas for FRC, i really dont have too many. The benefits of the FTC control system come from the lack of electronics diversity (you get brushed motors with esc’s inside the hub, servos which have some innovation, and sensors) that results from both a semi-closed ecosystem (FRC isnt fully open either, but allows coprocessors, pneumatics, a variety of officially supported speedcontrollers).
I hope that answers your question.
It really does seem like FRC has a more defined “thing” than FTC does—FRC’s thing seems to be the spectacle of being big, the big teams, big events, big robots, big fields, big whatever. FTC’s thing… is a lot of things that all happen to use the same program? Is it for feeder teams? Is it for younger kids? Is it more targeted towards community teams or school teams with lower budgets or less space? I don’t know the answer to any of those, as much as I’d really like to.
yeah personally looking back on ftc its kinda hard to see what ftc was as compared to frc, and i know quite a lot of other alumni with similar views
It seems to me that FTC’s main goal is LEARNING and FRC’s main goal is INSPIRATION.
There is A LOT of crossover, of course, but I think the subtle difference is really important to what’s going on.
It can be really hard to learn when everything is rushed and there is “idea glitter” sticking to everything. So FTC removes some of the spectacle and allows more true focus on details. As well as extra time for young minds to fully grasp various difficult concepts. But you end up losing some of the wow factor. (No one ever appreciates the details)
Where as FRC is loud and fun and fairly chaotic, and while you might not get the deeper learning that you might get if you had more time, you could be inspired to keep going when you otherwise might not. (Especially useful for those with short attention spans)
So I think both programs are great for different reasons. And while michigan views them as a progression, it’s obvious most do not. The different and vast age groups, however, almost insures they are used as a progression of sorts.
I think it would be nice if we could tighten up the age groups a bit so there’s not such a big gap. Especially in FTC. Maybe there could be tournaments that focus on age groups so it doesn’t discourage the 6th graders that have to compete against HS seniors.
No real major point, here, just a few observations.
I know a lot of FTC teams and they are extremely varied in their composition and purpose:
- our 2nd-year FRC team just started an FTC team of 7th-8th grader as a feeder team, because we had so many 7th-8th graders wanting to join the team but we wanted them to get a year of experience under their belt, first. They are learning a lot and really enjoying themselves. There is at least one school system with a big program who does the same thing (except they have about 4-5 middle school FTC teams)
- we have a lot of high schools who don’t have the mentor/experience/funding resources to run an FRC team and wisely choose to run FTC instead
- we have some high schools who run both programs but let the students choose which program they want to be in
- we have several middle school teams in our region, but not enough to justify and middle school division at the regional championship, yet – although I would be all for it once we reach critical mass and if it’s ever allowed
- we have a few really high-resource FTC teams that could easily be FRC teams if they wanted to, but they choose FTC over FRC for whatever reason
I think one thing that would be within the PDP’s power at the present time would be to have a middle school league and league tournament (assuming you have a good number of middle school teams in your region), and although they would have to play against high school teams at the state championship in the current system they could have a pretty darn good experience at the league meets and championship playing against each other before they have to play against high school teams.
I’ve also seen some middle school teams make some deep runs at regional championship events, so it’s not out of the question that younger kids can do pretty well against high school teams.
So as a mentor of a team who chose FTC over FRC for more than just “whatever reason” I really want to add my 2c to this. The team made these decisions long before I joined as a mentor in 2019 but we’ve talked about reevaluating it for a variety of reasons over the years. The conclusion always ends up the same: that we make the right decision of staying in FTC.
We’ve had several FRC teams over the years, including 1055 and 3135 as well as being involved with community teams. Our school supports us immensely and has over the years, but despite all of that, you’ll notice that our FRC performance isn’t great. It’s not a question of resources - we now have a CNC router, 2 laser cutters, 8+ 3D printers and god knows how much more in the budget between our two FTC teams and a MATE ROV team.
The timing of the season is especially poor for us - our finals are scheduled in mid-January, and we have a week-long spring break in February. I know there are plenty of teams who work around things like this, but given the atmosphere of our school - a competitive, expensive private school where students are encouraged to pursue many varied interests at once, it becomes increasingly difficult to match the expectations needed for a 6 week build season. Having the ability to spread this out over essentially the entire school year to accommodate all of our students and their tight schedules (and not have all of our mentors and students burn out) is greatly advantageous to us. This isn’t to say that there isn’t problems with this schedule - FTC kickoff is only about two weeks after our semester starts, so we don’t have very much of a leadin for training our rookie team or organizing for the season.
To go along with the expense of the school itself, we are also located in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Chicago, meaning that our school is increasingly limited on space that we can utilize. We’re incredibly lucky to have our current dedicated working space which is fantastic, if not a bit tight for our two FTC teams, but in no way could support an even remotely competitive FRC team. There’s not really much we could do to fix this problem either, outside of the school expanding it’s small campus (which hasn’t been popular in the very constrained neighborhood).
However, I don’t think any of the students on either of our teams are being shortchanged because of out decision. I can pine all day about how I miss the “spectacle” of FRC for my students, but ultimately I think we do an excellent job for hosting our league tournament to have much of that atmosphere on a fraction of the budget of our local regional. The state championship does this to an even better extent, even though it’s just in a community college gym, it has an atmosphere that can rival the Midwest Regional at times. We also host one of the largest FTC offseason events where we have teams from all around the country, and even some from Romania, come to compete.
Side note about CRI: Much has been said on Chief Delphi about the benefits that FTC could have with slightly larger fields or with 3v3. That’s why CRI exists. I’d highly encourage any of y’all to take a look at our many years of modified rules and stream archives for how this plays out. I certainly find myself surprised each summer on how different the game plays.
I don’t believe any of the students on my team are any worse off because the school has a FTC program rather than a FRC one. In fact, I think for our specific situation it’s significantly better. I do wish things could be better in many categories, including a better “show”, better advancement, better GDC decisions, and god knows how many other things that I could off for hours on. Even after all of that, I will defend this program and what it’s meant that we’re able to do for my students.
This is the thing that always gets me at the end of the day. I genuinely think that FTC and FRC can not only coexist, but coexist in a manner where neither is “worse” then the other, or provides a subpar experience to the other. However, and its a very complicated issue that has no singular person to blame, but time and time again I just get the feeling that either FIRST HQ or FIRST or the regions or some combination just… don’t care. There are endless conversations upon debates upon threads upon everything about the issues of FTC, ranging from simple to hard changes. FIRST asks for feedback and people talk to them, employees walk around and talk to teams who air their issues, there is the appearance of communication. Again and again we all get our hopes up for change only for it to be dashed again when it feels like nobody actually wants to listen. The result of this is it leaves the burden on mentors and region coordinators to basically pick up the slack themselves, but this is just not a great solution in a lot of areas (and also leads to incredibly inconsistent and varying experiences in the program)
I think this feeds into the FRC view on FTC too which is the issue. I honestly don’t know much about FRC compared to FTC but from an outside view it really does look like FIRST is at least continuously trying to improve things with the program. Don’t get me wrong, I believe they are with FTC too, but its so much more resistant to change and deviating from the status quo that it just makes FTC look backwards at the end of the day. It almost feels like nobody knows what FTC is supposed to be, so everybody is just pulling it in different directions with no clear goal. Some people want it to be a classroom program, others want it to be smaller scale FRC. Some people want it to be open COTS, others want it to be closed. This isn’t just people in the program, the actions of HQ and regions make it appear to be a division there as well. (I could write pages upon pages about appearances in FTC, its sad how bad of a reputation the Game Design Committee and HQ has gotten because of how their actions appear to teams).
Some day I need to sit down with a bunch of alums and mentors and actually write down all of the multi-year long gripes with the program. Try to open up a dialogue with FIRST asking them to please make at least the small changes to improve this program. Given I tried that with just how FIRST deals with COTS parts and vendors resulting in a 12 page ongoing document, I don’t think I have the time or energy to do that with any other concern with the competition. I’m not the only one, multiple people who have tried this basically have given up with the conclusion of it feels like an impossible task to get any change so why even try.
I’m sure a lot of the folks reading this thread would be very interested to read this document.
This is my first year coaching FTC, after many years of FRC, so I haven’t been to an Interleague event yet. But I found both our League events pretty underwhelming compared to even an FRC off-season.
- No team spirit - didn’t hear anyone from any team cheering in the stands. Very few students in the stands either, mostly adults
- No team branding. Most teams have a team shirt, most were not colorful or distinctive. No teams had buttons or other trinkets to hand out, no teams had more of a “team uniform” than a simple t-shirt with the name of the team & sponsors on it, no teams decorated their pits in any way
- The pits themselves were confusing - each team had a table with their team number on it. No one could tell which side of the table was supposed to be their pit, so almost every team used both sides of their table, with an invisible line separating the left half of your pit from the right half of mine. Fortunately neither we nor our next-door neighbors had brought very much stuff
- Very little scouting or pit scouting. I saw maybe half a dozen people over the course of the event who looked like they were taking notes in the stands during matches. 2 or 3 teams (out of 15) came by our pit to ask us about our robot.
Overall it just didn’t have the energy, excitement, or polish of an FRC competition. My students had a good time, but they weren’t hyped up the way my FRC kids have been in the past.
This is not particularly relevant to the topic of this thread but I had an almost identical experience at my first VRC competition this weekend. I have a feeling if in participated in either non-FRC robotics competition events would make me nowhere near as excited as they do today. The show is what made me stick around in FRC.
Agreed! FTC isn’t a bad program, but so much potential is left on the table by allowing the same deficiencies to persist from season to season.
Being involved in both programs makes it easy to see a difference in leadership that has existed between FTC and FRC. Frank listened to feedback and made positive changes happen. I haven’t seen that type of thing happen in FTC.
One thing I do wish was that there was some commonality between the 2 programs. There’s been a few years where I think it would’ve been good for our team to switch to FTC (low student and mentor availability) , but when I looked into it further it would’ve been a larger undertaking than just sticking it out with FRC.
Finally finished the document, there is a short summary and link to it here