Important Message to the FIRST Community

I’m writing you all to discuss a very disturbing turn of events that occurred at the Nationals. As many of you may have noticed, our robot (team 95, the Grasshoppers) had many problems and did not function as well as we had hoped. At one point, we weren’t sure we would be able to play at all. However, due to a very kind supplier we managed to limp onto the field and play most of our matches. (more on that in another post) We thought that at least we would have a chance to show some of the results of all of our very hard work. One of the features we had hoped to demonstrate is a jack system that releases when the match is done and the power is off, lifting us up above the top of the ramp so our wheels (which had been spanning both sides of the plastic, resting on the mesh to keep us there) will no longer be touching. The bottom of the jack is a flat piece of plywood, which we figured, could extend beyond the edge of the plastic in the same plane as the surface, even if we weren’t perfectly centered, and we would still gain the 25 points. It worked at the Manchester regionals, to the delight of all, including Dean (we have a picture of him with a big smile looking at it). In our only opportunity to do this at the nationals, it looked as if we had succeeded, but for some unknown reason at the time, the referee didn’t give us the points, and we lost the match and a potential 280 qualifying points. We were flabbergasted, thinking it was just a bad ref call. Unfortunately, it was much worse than that. We later found out that the ramps at the nationals had been altered from the published plans, and from the way they had been at the regional. The HDPE no longer was a half inch above the mesh, which we were told by Woody at the kickoff (I have him on tape saying this). Instead, a new strip of metal had been tack welded onto the top of the mesh and now extended above the plastic, so a flat plane extending beyond the plastic would now touch metal. No team updates had ever, to my knowledge, announced this. If so, I stand corrected, please ignore the rest of this post. To us, it was devastating. Our whole robot design stemmed from this playing field feature. I am at a loss to understand how FIRST could change an important characteristic of the playing field, at the last minute. This is not a simple “tolerance” issue, it’s a new piece on the ramp we were never told about. FIRST could have ameliorated this condition by allowing a touch to the top lip of the metal, but they didn’t.

FIRST holds the teams to a very high standard of accuracy in obeying their rules, as anyone can see during inspection. A variation of a millimeter, or a few ounces, will disqualify a robot. What they did here seems to me to be a double standard.

I am now in the very uncomfortable position, when trying to recruit coaches, (a homework assignment from Dean, by the way) of having to explain this double standard. Not to mention having to explain it to our sponsors. Not to mention having to explain it to our kids, who worked so hard, only to have the wind knocked out of them when we had our only chance to shine. Something along the lines of “FIRST is really a great thing, but you should expect to be blindsided by some change in the rules or playing field, and all of your work might go down the drain.” Would you join up with that caveat? This is not the first time we have experienced last minute rule changes, confusing and conflicting rules, etc., such as the rotating light debacle this year, and the number of cylinders allowed and the tether rule last year, and countless other waffles, flip flops, and avoidable ambiguities.

I love the basic idea of FIRST and what it does for our kids. Like many of you, I have devoted hundreds even perhaps thousands of hours over the past several years to FIRST. Events such as these unfortunately make me question whether to keep doing this.

I realize that some of you may accuse me of being a crybaby, but I’ll take that risk. I don’t think so. Some will say “this is what the real world is like.” In the real world, I would stop dealing with a company that did this sort of thing.

Here’s what I propose: I invite the FIRST community to respectfully protest what I feel is irresponsible, ungracious, unprofessional behavior on the part of those at FIRST who are responsible for these things. FIRST, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS KIND OF THING ANYMORE. This sort of behavior will eventually turn a lot of us away from you, at a time you are trying to grow. I am sure there are many of us, myself included, who would be happy to serve as advisors about these things. And I believe you owe a few kids an apology.

Lewis Sussman
Coach/Mentor, Team 95

I understand perfectly why this disturbed you. As a driver I understand how differences in the field, in the exact placement of bins, etc. can effect a team. This is one of the reasons fields are open to be viewed before the competition starts. As you may have noticed Team 66, the Flyers, with our robot Earl were not as competitive as we hoped to be at the beginning of this season. But that in itself is what FIRST is about. It is not truly about robots. It is not about who has the best animation and who was really working on the robot. And, it is definately not about winning and losing. FIRST is about bringing people together and making the world a better place. The true spirit was shown by your “supplier” who helped you get back on your feet. While these robots are important for the sake of bringing people together, that is their only true purpose. FIRST is about gracious professionalism, coopertition, and making the world a better place-one person at a time.

I wish you the best of luck in all future events. May the spirit of FIRST be ignited within you, and drive you to continue to make a difference.

Yours in FIRST,
David Butzin

at almost every kickoff meeting Dean Kamen points out that at some point in the next several weeks you might start to think you are involved in some sort of robot building contest

at which point you are in serious trouble.

Things like this (the ramp being slightly different) happen every year - its a part of engineering, it happens in real life too.

It sounds like you had a really awesome robot design concept - I wish I could have seen it. Unfortunately you depended on a very small detail in the ramp specification and it was your undoing. I can think of many things that might have happened to cause you to loose that match (ramp got bent, something caught under your bot, broken container in the wrong place at the wrong time…)

The graceous professionalism that FIRST pleads with us to extend is understanding that mistakes will be made, by us, and by them

the grace part is that we roll with the punches, and dont stop functioning when someone else makes a mistake, or does something wrong.

Everyone at FIRST is doing the best they can - all at their own personal expense of time and energy.

Whenever things like this happen, the best advice I can offer is to take a deep breath, take two steps backwards, and remember that FIRST is not a robot building contest.

The game is not fair, life is not fair, things dont always work out like we planned. I hope that winning and loosing is not the basis on which your sponsors and mentors support the team.

Sounds like you have an excellent team - FIRST events are really MORE exciting when you have many problems to deal with, and your team is spending every available minute in the Pits fixing your bot or making it better - from your post, your team did an excellent job of that - something to be proud of.

and that is where your team really learned what enginnering is all about - take what you have and make the best of it - give it your best shot, solving problems on the fly, thinking on your feet.

thats what your sponsors sent your team to Houston for, not to stack containers or to climb ramps.

And next year you will have learned alot from your experiences, and the experience of all the other teams too.

The ramp in Manchester was THE SAME as the one in Houston.
This metal strip was not a new change. They have been like this since the very beggining.

I was a ref in NH, and saw your robot, and saw it on the ramp doing it’s thing. The ruling has ALWAYS been that if a robot touches the metal edge protruding above the HDPE, it is not “on”.

That was how we called it week 1 in NH, that is how they called it week 6 in Houston.

*Originally posted by JVN *
The ramp in Manchester was THE SAME as the one in Houston.
This metal strip was not a new change. They have been like this since the very beggining.


We had a FIRST remote kickoff in Kokomo, so I had to line up someone to build the ramp here in Kokomo, confidentially. This person really paid attention to the details of the ramp, since he knew that our team and many others would be depending on his skill.

During the kickoff broadcast, I believe that someone mentioned that the only difference between the detailed drawings of the ramp and the actual constructed ramp was a 1/2" strip of steel for use as trim to cover the seam between the grating and the plastic. I remember this because the guy who put our ramp together asked me if I wanted him to add that strip after the kickoff was over.

I don’t recall that FIRST said that there was a 1/2" height difference between the plastic and grating.

Lewis… this 1/2" additional piece may have been the point of confusion and it might have been misunderstood as a height difference. With all of the Q/A and verbal description that goes on during the kickoff, this could be easily mis-interpreted.

Andy B.

in the kickoff they said the top of the ramp would be higher by 1/4 in give or take. That was due to the floor it was on so it could of been lower some regionals and other places higher

I can agree with all parties on this one. FIRST has a habit of making very slight changes to the playingfield which can effect the way robots work. One thing that teams must keep in mind going into a year is that the rules and the field may change at any moment, including at nationals. It is important that all teams build their robots to be compliant, give yourself plenty of space in design to be ready for such things. Where I feel the big issue with FIRST in this case is, was the lack of clarity in the rulings and so forth. Actually this whole year FIRST was very rough around the edges when it came to being clear and concise with the rules. It is important that everyone has an understanding of what the rules are, because the slightest little misunderstanding can cause what Lebanon has experienced here. It may be a good idea for everyone to put their heads together on this one and come up with some way to propose an easy way for FIRST to make sure every aspect of the game is completely clear, so that teams aren’t turned away when things like this happen. This includes the question and answer system, rules, and team updates.

One thing is for certain, we have a great tool here for communicating with FIRST what we feel will make the experience better and more rewarding for everybody. Lets not protest, but communicate to FIRST what we feel is the best way to solve this and any other problem in a constructive manner.

Congrats to all,
Andy Grady

I stand corrected. As I said to my team earlier tonight, “it’s not the first time I’ve had egg on my face.” I checked the kickoff video again and indeed, we were told that the metal was above the plastic by an eighth of an inch, plus or minus an eighth. My sincere apologies. It’s amazing how we all remembered this incorrectly, right from the beginning. Nonetheless, my plea to FIRST to be clear and consistent about these things remains in full force.

OK, here’s a more positive experience from the nationals: As I said in my earlier post, we almost didn’t get to play because of a number of difficulties with our machine, one of which was the lack of some proper size timing belts (we brought the wrong sizes with us). We didn’t discover this until late Thursday, in the pits, after working all day long, having forfeited all of our practice rounds. At 6:30pm, one of our coaches called a supplier, Command, and the phone was answered by one of their warehouse people, Wayne, on his cellphone, at home mowing the lawn. After hearing that it was for a FIRST team, he offered to go back to the warehouse, a forty five minute drive, to see if he had some in stock. It turned out that he didn’t, but then he contacted another company, Dayco, and convinced someone there to go back to their warehouse to see if they had some. They did. Wayne then drove 60 miles each way to drop the belts off at our hotel at about eleven pm on Thursday night. Consequently, we were able to at least play in our matches, which was all we were hoping at this point. Needless to say, this experience made our whole trip worthwhile.

definately send a letter of thanks to those people, and their supervisors

that sort of dedication to their work is almost unheard of!