How to become elite?

Hi, I am a member of team 1884, one of the only teams in the UK and the only team located in London. This is my second year on the team, and last year I realized that we were a good team with a good robot, but not great. I was just wondering how some teams manage to build these amazing robots. Is it because of engineers? the people on the team? the facilities? the money? great designing using CAD? I am just wondering what peoples thoughts are on how year in and year out some teams have amazing robots.

You’ll get a lot of different answers, as teams achieve greatness in many ways. But they all come down to one simple thing.

Work hard.

You’ll get a lot of different answers, as teams achieve greatness in many ways. But they all come down to one simple thing.

Work hard.

In other words, there isn’t a simple answer. It takes hard work to make all the changes necessary to make the jump. Some of those changes are big, some are small. Elite teams are usually strong in almost every way. That’s what makes them elite. Making the changes necessary to be strong in almost all ways is hard.

It’s up to each team to see its weaknesses and do what it needs to correct them.

A short answer is yes, it takes all of these.

Continuity in the core mentorship is significant in making a team strong because it will help carry the good practices through and there is a lot of knowledge that will stick around with the mentors. As a mentor I have seen 9 games played, other mentors on my team have seen 17 games. There are somethings you learn through longevity of involvement that make the design and prototyping phase go faster because you’ve seen things that work and can provide pictures of old designs or actual old robots to work with that have similar mechanisms.

Funding is important obviously but the important part is having enough to build what you need and go to multiple events. You don’t need a skyhigh budget that you brun through.

Facilities help, but you this like funding is something where you learn to work with what you have.

CAD is huge because if you can use it well you don’t waste as much money trying to build things that don’t work/fit, and you can learn to design for the fabrication methods you have available to you.

I few months ago, some members of the EWCP did an interview with some members of 1114. You might find some answers if you have the time to listen to the cast. Here’s the link:

Along with what everyone else has said, “finishing the build” early enough to do hardware, software, and driver development is important. A lot of teams will build a second robot to accomplish these goals. Others will build a more simple robot and just get it built in 4 weeks, and then work on improvements.
When/if you finish the build early, use the additional time constructively. Work on scoring drills and skills. Improve software where necessary. Many teams have a comprehensive strategy on what the software will do vs. what the driver/operators will do. The more tasks the software does, the easy it is for the operators, but the more development time needed to get it right. For the 2011 game, this might include pre-programmed heights, score and release algorithms, acquire algorithms… The same sensors to do these motions also are used for autonomous and thus increasing the reward. All of this requires quite a bit of effort and skills. There is a real art & science to tuning feedback control loops well and efficiently. practicing those skills in the off-season is a great idea.

From a driver perspective, imagine that you are playing a poorly tuned video game for the first time. Initially you will be very bad at it. After a few minutes, you should get the hang of doing some of the simple things. After an hour or so, you become proficient enough to get some timing to your actions, and begin executing strategy. After 10 hours, you are really quite good, and after 100 hours most would view you as excellent.
The problem is at a competition, you might have 2 practice matches with aroun 10 minutes of experience max. Then you may get 8-10 qualifying matches for another 16-20 minutes. That is only a total of 30 minutes maximum. This is why frequently you will see the 2nd round pick for the winning alliance get much better in the eliminations. Often this pick has only 30 minutes of concentrated stick time, but get an additional 15-30 minutes of stick time during eliminations.
For a team in the UK, I would try to keep the machine simple enough to finish early. A week of concentrated practice and tuning before ship day is equal to a tournament or 2 worth of experience with your machine.

For many of the elite teams, I’d have to say continuous improvement.

Find something about your team every year to improve–sponsors, facilities, members, funding, whatever. Every build/competition season, do the same for your robot (multiple competitions help, but you could probably get a similar effect by stealing ideas from competitions before your own).

Oh, and one thing you should probably be able to do, at least after a couple years of improvement: build a second robot. Between ship day and competition, drive the wheels off that second robot. This will give both a testbed for stolen ideas and a lot of driver practice.

Whenever I hear someone asking how they can get better (in regards to anything), there’s always an odd saying that comes to mind for me. “You can lead a cow to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Point of the matter is, we can tell you all of what we think the answer is, but it’s you and your team who is going to have to do the actual changing.

Now onward to the advice - Work hard (cliché, I know). You’re going to have to be willing to do anything to advance your team. What also comes with an elite team are amazing sponsors. The sponsors are where your budget comes from, and if they’re behind you, you’ll have the money to buy whatever parts you need. A good facility will also help you achieve an elite creation.

Most of all, remember to have fun! While we’re trying to promote science and technology, we’re also all High School students. Take a break every once in a while and go have a team outing.

Good luck to you!

In no particular order…

  1. Design your robot to play the game.
  2. Design your robot to be robust and repairable.
  3. Design your robot to complement teams that you will play with.
  4. Design your robot to effectively carry out your strategy for play.
  5. Practice, practice, practice!
  6. Know what your opponents and allies are capable of.
  7. Have extremely good luck.
  8. Learn from other’s mistakes.
  9. Be ready to modify any of the above at any time.

We have learned more from losing and that drives our design procedure and how we interact with the robot following each match. We have lost when a driver has missed an opportunity, or zigged when they should have zagged. We have lost because we failed to know what our opponent was capable of doing or because we believed an ally could perform a task they had never accomplished. We have lost when a component failed or an electrical connection has come apart or when an assembly didn’t quite achieve what it needed to achieve. We have lost to teams with better luck (for lack of evidence of anything already mentioned).
Don’t be fooled. Teams have won with no CAD abilities, little shop tools, few mentors or engineers, little money, few resources, few students, little software. They have done the best with what they had and became very good at driving and manipulating the robot.
And when luck fails them, other teams will recognize their potential and pick them. (That is a big thank you to all the teams that have done that.)

I think its pretty simple.

Make a robot that is a good robot. Then add something more. To get that something more you will need a lot more than physical resources. Its like adding feeling to a painting.

The thing is that something special is going to be different for every team and every robot.

Thanks for the advice!

You can always name your team insert something here “Elite”.

That is a sure-fire way of becoming elite, right? :rolleyes:

I kid only because legit advice was previously given. :wink:

A major thing that separates good teams from great teams is an effective strategy. Once the game comes out, read the manual, know all the rules, find all possible ways to score (which includes preventing teams from scoring. 2002 anyone?), and then narrowing down all the brainstormed ideas into one that will make you win in (hopefully) the simplest way. 469 in 2010 was successful because they analyzed the game and found a loophole of sorts that allowed them to exploit the game and dominate the field. Same with Beatty in 2002.
If you want to talk some serious strategy, look at this PDF on 1114’s website or talk to Karthik from 1114. I’m sure he’d be happy to help you!
On that topic… The FIRST Community is very helpful and you shouldn’t have a problem contacting almost any team and asking for some strategic assistance.

I agree. At the start of the season, decide what the strategy of the winning alliances will be, and build your robot to execute that strategy.

A bad strategy can make a good robot bad, while a good strategy can make a bad robot good.

Hard work and lots of time. If you are having fun, and those around you are too, you will improve!

Exactly–the alliance strategy. The other trick is to figure out one twist that a lot of teams will have trouble doing, or doing well, but will be incredibly valuable to an alliance. That way, even if you aren’t the first seed, you’ll be picked quickly. 469 in 2010 is a prime example–they could be beaten, yes, but if they weren’t picking first, they were picked first. You could also look at the half-dozen bar-blockers in 2004–very few missed eliminations entirely at events they were at.

That way, you’re a really good alliance partner.

Mentor-ship is the biggest part of being elite. If you have mentors who know how its done and how to teach kids how to effectively and efficiently design and prototype then you can achieve almost anything.

However, if you can’t control mentor-ship (because you just can’t) then be the student that just takes charge of it all. Common things that my team always takes into account in competitive though is:

-First(not FIRST*), you are not trying to just win. You are trying to be professional. Think of your team as a company designing a product for high paying customers(also known as sponsors). It’s supposed to work effectively while still looking like something made by a high paid professional.

-Never design a robot before deciding what it has to do.
When the game is released have all students read every rule and come up with strategies. 2010 was easy for finding strategies, front zone, middle zone, far zone, etc. By doing this you can then find what you think is the best way to play the game instead of, “Oh, but I already designed this robot…”

-Never design a robot (during season) that you don’t know how to build.
This year 973 went with an arm even though we knew that an elevator would probably be more effective. Why? Because we have zero experience with elevators and to design an effective one from scratch during season is way too much pressure. This allowed us to focus on other things such as the minibot, manipulator, and drive-train.

-Have a set of design patterns that you follow with all parts you make. Some things that we always follow when designing any system include: Everything that can be deployed can be undeployed (no way to get around the minibot), hole pattern on all tubes(usually on 1" face), design all parts from the machinists point of view(you are more likely to keep sponsors when they can just make the part without having to call or do any math), use the same size bolt everywhere(its easier to repair the robot when you don’t have to switch tools), etc…

-Build two robots. Not just for practicing driving, but to better understand how the comp bot will go together and what(if any) changes need to be made.

-Don’t be afraid to use someone else’s idea. Unless you claim it as your own, many elite teams won’t care if you use their idea, even if it looks exactly the same(well, at least my team wouldn’t care…).

-SCOUT. Scouting is as important if not more important than your actual robot performance. Even if your 90% sure you won’t be in the top 8, good scouting helps you win.

Hope to see you at champs next year.:wink:

Some habits of highly effective teams:
-Year-round meetings for training and development. You don’t want the first time you build a certain design concept (scriptable autonomous, telescoping arms, forklifts, mechanums, etc) to be during the competitive build season. You should have already tried it out and noted the advantages/disadvantages

-Consistent core mentors, as said above. High schools have a maximum memory of 4 years. Mentors that are around consistently allow your team to “remember” designs that did or didn’t work. They also have the advantage of greater age, education, and experience.

-Spend some time designing at the outset, but get that design built fast - by week 3 or so. Spend a few weeks running it until it breaks, then build it better/faster/stronger. Last year we managed a week or so of testing, and in that week we discovered a bunch of design components that overheated, or were too slow, or were too hard to change, and we had fixes ready for our first competition. 3 weeks of that style of upgrading and you end up with a top-end robot. As soon as a component is built, see if you can start testing it. Glue it to a wall, bolt it to the floor, just get it moving so you can find out how it’s going to fail.

-Get driver practice. I’ll bet that if I drove 1114’s robot this year, it wouldn’t matter how amazing it was - I’d be lucky to score a tube. Drivers can make an average robot great, and a great robot unstoppable. The top-end teams have their drivers training with their practice robots every night, just like a sports team.

-Don’t forget programmers: Just like drivers, a control program can be a force multiplier for your robot and can make a good robot great or a great robot an uncontrollable mess. This is another advantage of getting the robot built quick or having a 2nd robot built: your programmers can iteratively improve their program, fix bugs, and develop debugging/logging tools.

-Build 2 robots. Especially with the withholding limit rules, that means your iterative-upgrading process can now last all the way until your competition as you can test your 2nd robot to failure, then upgrade it. It probably only costs 50% more than building one robot, in terms of time and money.

The truly elite teams are the ones that can do all these things (and all the other things in the thread) very well year after year. Some of them take money (double robots, year-round meetings to some extent), some of them just take time, planning and effort (mentor recruiting, year-round meetings, driver practice, building fast)

All of the above.