If you could change one rule - eliminate ship requirement discussion

OK, here is an interesting rule change. Changing this rule would give us these positives:

  • save over $1 million in team costs
  • eliminate the need to build “practice” robots
  • eliminate countless spare parts
  • increase the level of play in FIRST
  • allow software and autonomous development to flourish
  • eliminate the need for crates (for 90% of teams)
  • give teams more time to work on the robot

However, this rule change would also result in these negative aspects:

  • enable teams to create “copycat” designs of winning robots
  • provide another disadvantage to teams who live far from regionals
  • eliminate the “back to normal” time after the ship date
  • give teams more time to work on the robot (yes, it is a negative too)
  • robot loading on Thursday morning would need to be coordinated differently

Eliminate the ship date. That would be one HUGE rule change.

Over the years, I have wavered on this issue. However, I strongly feel that the positives outweigh the negatives now. With the added importance of software development and the increase of teams who build a second robot every year, we might as well just keep the robots with us to the events.

Andy B.

I think it would further unbalance things. Some teams have more resources than others, this will never change. The more time teams have for “build period” the more prominantly the gap will show. If I had a year to build something with a full machine shop, I could run circles around the guy with hand tools. If both of us only had one day, however, we’d be closer together. Think of a race. There’s no way I could run a 4 minute mile, and would have absolutely no chance of beating someone in a mile race if they could make that time. However, if the race was only 10 feet, I could probably hold my ground against someone who could.

Secondly, it would eliminate my favorite part of build period: the lack of sleep. For six weeks, I eat, breath, and sleep robots. If I had more time, it wouldn’t be as hecktic. I would also miss that 2am scramble before it has to be shipped in 15 hours.

Originally, my thoughts were that I liked this idea. I figured that since the well to do teams already are ahead, giving them extra time is probably giving them a relatively small increased advantage, whereas giving struggling teams more time would probably make them much more competitive.

After further thought, however, I think I was wrong originally. Right now, it’s the great teams that are using their time wisely. This is why they do so well. Many of the teams who don’t do so well are probably not using their time as efficiently as possible. By giving them more time, I don’t think this changes at all. It would just let the elite teams develop more of a gap between the lower teams.

I likened this to a post I made before where I opined that no matter what the FIRST defined weight limit for the robot is, be it 100 lbs, 120 lbs, 130 lbs, 200 lbs, many teams are still going to find ways to not make it inside that weight without drilling/cutting up their bots.

No matter how much time teams are given to complete their robots, teams are still going to show up behind the game. I also think this would put a large strain on teams who barely have the membership and mentor support to put together a robot as is. To ask them to spend 25-50% more time on the robot would be quite a task.

Karthik also brought up a good point during a discussion on the matter–mentor burnout. We all know that mentors are putting in tons of hours to help, on top of having day jobs (or class, in the case of the college mentors). I think giving extra time would just be more time that these people continue to go all out. It’s how we are in FIRST. Nobody is going to slow their pace and take it easy since there’s an extra 3-4 weeks.

If there was no ship, FIRST becomes a committment that spans over a quarter of class, and nearly a whole semester, counting competition. I think teachers and schools already think that six weeks is enough. a full quarter and a half of unabated robot activity would be unacceptable in many of their eyes.

I think creating something in six weeks is much more impressive, and much more challenging. FIRST teams have come up with some truly magnificent designs in a very short timespan. Given more time, more creative designs would probably appear. I think it’s much more impressive and inspiring to view masterpieces that are perfectly suited to play a given game in six weeks, than to see the same robots that have been tweaked a bit more, but took 2.5 months to create. Having these top few to look up to makes everyone want to aspire to greater heights. Seeing a whole horde of them due to having extra time wouldn’t impress me nearly as much.

I think there are some clear positives involved. Even though I see the gap widening between the “haves” and “have-nots”, overally level of competition would probably go up. Whether or not it would increase enough to make the extra time worth it is debatable. Overall, I’m not entirely sold on some of the major issues as seen above.

I have always voiced concerns about the “no ship” idea, mainly for the reasons already mentioned: 1)the rich will get richer by making better use of the added time, so the less fortunate teams will not be happy; and 2)the burnout factor will be significantly worse because the intense part of the season just got extended. I still feel that way, and I might regret supporting the “no ship” approach here…but what the heck, here is my attempt to brainstorm on Andy’s suggestion by making a few modifications. I’m
brainstorming here - please don’t think I am convinced this is a good idea :).

The basic assumption is, in order to save money, allow teams to bring their robot to their regional competition(s), allow them to take it home after the competition(s), and allow them to bring it to the Championship. Allow them to work on it any time after kickoff and before the Championship finals. FWOF. Fifteen Weeks Of Fun. Fifteen WithOut Family. FIRST Will Overwhelm Fanatics. Finally We Organize FIRST.

We have some problems to overcome, so we need some solutions:

Problem 1: Don’t let the rich get richer. If we give the fortunate teams more time, they will widen the gap to the less fortunate teams.
Solution 1: Peer-pressure historically experienced teams to compete at earlier regionals (make it a badge of GP-honor to be a week1 competitor, and try to reserve week5 for rookies and 2nd year teams). Maybe have a quantitative rating system. Also Solution 2 helps.

Problem 2. Prevent burnout.
Solution 2: Shorten the time between Kickoff and week1 regionals. Have regionals start the Thursday of week6. No rest after build season.

Problem 3: Allowing teams to work continuously on their bot will result in copying of the “winning” ideas and lack of creativity. (This already occurs now, btw)
Solution 3: Right before the start of regionals, require teams to issue a capability statement indicating what their robot is capable of or will be capable of. Not strategies, but functions. Essentially define the hardware they plan to run. Submit pictures. In the following weeks, disallow any big hardware (not strategy or tactics) changes that the team apparently copied from watching regionals. Allow any changes that didn’t require big hardware modifications. The problem is how to efficiently enforce such a judgement-intensive mess.

Problem 4: Late regionals will be in more demand because it will allow teams more time. Late registerers will cry “I got robbed of time” because the late spots will fill up.
Solution 4: See Solution 1. Old teams help the new teams by giving them the late season slots. Might need to tweak the regional schedule to balance the geographic regions. Life will still be not fair. Some will take advantage.

Keep in mind that this so-called “no ship” approach doesn’t eliminate shipping - we still need to get our bots to the show. But as Andy indicated, it would reduce the costs. No more expensive MCS bills (love this!). Plus, there would not be a need for a 2nd bot for practice/autonomous - this would be a time/money/fairness benefit.

The above was only brainstorming…


I know our team isn’t the only one who saw the “back to normal” time vanish before our eyes when autonomous mode was first announced. At least for software-oriented people anyway. Even though I really enjoyed it the first year or two, I’d be pretty excited if they just eliminated it this year. :wink: Our software team was working at least 20 hours a week (and usually a lot more) from kickoff all the way through the Championship. And after all that we still couldn’t cap that darn center goal (grrrrrr).

What if kickoff was shifted such that the time from kickoff to the first set of regionals was about the same as the current build period? Then we could pick up many of the advantages Andy listed without making the first quarter of the year completely unbearable for everyone…

Hmm…I think I’ll take robot-drying lessons from dlavery. :smiley: :smiley:

Seriously, transporting the robot without the crate is difficult at best. I mean, you need at least an SUV, if not a full-size van. Plus you need the tools. Now, you put them all in a crate and they are protected. Remove that requirement, and suddenly your shipping costs are reduced, but you need someone with a large vehicle to take robot and tools, then the people that vehicle can hold are shifted to others…not to mention that fact that if you use an open trailer, the weather may get to it (not that heat could not affect the robot in a van or anything), and then you may need a bailer for the robot. So now teams need lots of spare parts, and their costs go up due to making them. Plus extra transportation. You get the picture.

Also, wasn’t this rule used way back in the day? If so, why did FIRST change it (if you know)?

I’m with Ken on this one. I’m not a big fan of this idea either. Cory did a really good job encapsulating the “Con” side of the argument. But, I’m going to follow Ken’s lead and try add to Andy’s idea.

Many of the rules that we have in FIRST are only enforced by an honour code. The 25 lbs. of spare parts, and the restrictions imposed during the fix it windows are good example. Was there anyone making sure that all new code was retyped at the competition venues? Obviously not. We left it up to the teams to honour this rule. What am I getting at? We could impose some restrictions on teams via the honour code, that would make the “No Ship” rule a lot more palatable.

Rule 1: Tools down day occurs on the Wednesday before the 1st weekend of regionals. This means, no more physical additions or changes to your robot past this date. Software development, fabrication of spares, repairs and practice are still allowed.

Rule 2: After each regional you compete at you get three days to repair your robot.

Rule 3: This one is similar to Ken’s idea, where a team would declare certain functionalities, to prevent “copycat” robots.

These restrictions would help prevent the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” from growing too much. The tools down rule would definitely lessen the burnout factor, and prevent the build season from running for 3.5 months.

The big question is, would teams adhere to this type of an honour code? Would teams be able to stare at their incomplete robot and not work on it? At every competition, would people be looking at the dominant robots and wonder “Did they really put their tools down?” How much do we all really trust each other. I’m not too sure this is the best idea, but maybe it could work. I’d like to think that I have a good amount of faith in the participants of this program.

Again, I’m just bouncing ideas around, I’m more than fine with keeping things as they are right now.

That would only work if international teams all had their local regional. Not only we get our kits late (a week, usually), we need at least three weeks to get our robot to the US.
FIRST isn’t fair and we all know it, I just think a rule like that would make things too unfair.

To me, it would ruin the whole experience by eliminating the ship date.

Part of the challenge is getting the robot completed on time and getting it to the right weight. I also believe that it becomes less fun that way because instead of those late night’ers in robotics, you’ll be going to sleep at a reasonable time due to the increase in build time. Also, the whole “rushed engineering” process starts declining.You will begin to see less participation in the pits due to the fact that robots will be designed better and their won’t be much to do on the robot for some teams. Finally, you will see less team enthusiasm and team work because a lot of bonding goes on during those “late night’ers” and by eliminating them, students won’t be as emotionally involved leading to FRC events that just won’t be the same ever again.

GO 1403!!!

Adding 1 to the con list:

A lot of teams would have a heck of a time getting their robot to the competition. I mean, it’s not like you can tie a 130 lb robot to the luggage rack of a minivan or something. Transporting a robot like that would require some sort of a trailer, and a lot of teams probably don’t have those, I know we don’t. The purchase would be exceptionally expensive.

Baker, you certainly are a trouble maker. :slight_smile: Great thread here.

My 2 cents:

  1. I LOVE eliminating the cost and some of the stress.
  2. I like encouraging week 1, 2 for vets and have later weeks for rookies, BUT geography drives many of these decisions, not time. Rookies are likely to go to the close regional because travel is the other big expensive bear in FIRST.
  3. I too would be a little wary of widening the gap.

So if I had to vote, I’d vote to keep ship date, unless someone comes up with creative solutions to these other issues.

A box on wheel with amazing drivers will always beat an overly complex and hard to control robot with inexperienced drivers.

Therefore, I think eliminating the ship date would be benneficial. It would turn the build into a more casual time period, cutting out about 2-3 weeks worth of stress. I also like playing by the honor code, with something to the extent of a “tools down day” This would require the teams to have the same build deadline, as well as give many teams who fill the entire 6 weeks with building some time to program and practice.

Can you say working autonmous modes?!

Usually Andy has great ideas. Unfortunately he must have a short memory. He must have forgotten what it was like at ship time and how his wife was looking forward to him coming home. I know!!! He is trying to find another way to keep from those house chores.

I will go on record as saying KEEP the ship date. I really don’t see teams gaining that much by extending. The reason is that those that can, do and those that don’t, won’t. Yes I believe that the gap will widen. I also know that I as a mentor will have serious burnout and home problems if ship is extended. I also believe that ship is what makes this program so world like. Meet the deadline or you lose out. All teams are on an equal foot. Do what you will with your time but it still ships on time.

I also see a problem with the idea of “historically experienced teams” playing early. Who are they and what if there are no early comps nearby? I also believe that teams will send out more scouts and make changes to their robot after seeing others. This happens now and they can only build them at comps.

Enough of my negative (or positive, depending on your view) thoughts. Why not set up a poll just for numbers?

I think it’s wishful thinking to assume that teams would relax. I think this might happen with the teams I mentioned earlier that don’t manage time well, but all the well off teams are going to keep at it with the same intensity that they would during a six week build.

I like the idea of having a tools down date, but I doubt that teams will follow it out of the goodness of their hearts. Plenty of teams would keep working.

*“…It’s like life. You never have enough information. You never have enough time. The kit of materials is what you have in the warehouse. There are always competing things and you must have a strategy. We’ve created a microcosm of the real engineering experience.” *

Woodie Flowers, MIT Professor &
FIRST National Advisor

I think FIRST will find other ways to boost software development before they let you keep it until the regional.

For me, I could do a six week build two or three times per year but I don’t think I could do much more than six weeks in one “sitting.”

Why not use both systems. Keep the FedX for teams like our friends in Brazil, or out in the boonies, or without access to an SUV. They could benefit even more by having their bot shipped to a second event from the savings gained by others opting to BYO.

We in the Oakland County, Michigan area have two regionals that are less than one hour away, and four more within a six hours or less. We could save the rest of the country those extra shipping costs by not waisting resources by shipping ours across the street.

As for giving the well to do teams an additional advantage - I just can’t buy that. Not when I keep reading here that ‘it’s not about the robot’ & ‘it’s not about the competition’ - so why do the arguments always boil down to leveling the playing field? - as if we could. We have a 50,000 sq. ft. machine shop with three water cutters, eight CNC, 200 ProE seats, etcetera., and etcetera. They could cut the build time in half and we’d make the show. More time means nothing to us. But cash money sure does.

As to the fear of copycats: IMO, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Not only that, it’s one heck of a good way to even things out. A good idea is a good idea - and it’s often the case that the copy-cat improves on it. What could be wrong with that?

Recent and current events have led me to believe that we cut costs, or else .:frowning: . ! So, with respect to the parent thread, it’s not just one line item we need to examine, but any and all that waste resources.

I think you’re missing the issue.

If they have to ship the robot three weeks in advance, they get 3 less weeks to work on the robot than everyone else. It would have to be out of their hands 3 weeks before week 1 of regionals. That’s as early as ship currently is. If they chose to go to two regionals, or regionals and nats, the robot would be in transit, or the US from the end of feb. through the end of april.

That’s a huge competitive disadvantage.

And I think you are missing my point, which is that it’s not about a competitive advantage, it’s about whether there’s a competition.

In real-world engineering many projects have drop dead dates: trade shows where new systems will be introduced, military contracts with fixed delivery dates, other system designers who need your piece of the project by a certain date or they end up sitting on their hands until you deliver…

No matter how you slice it, we will end up with a drop-dead ship date. Whether its 6 weeks or 10 weeks, and the bot goes in a crate or a rented U-haul trailer, a deadline is a deadline.

And no matter how much time you allow, some people will always say “if I only had two more weeks…”